Pastor's Pen - January 2022
"Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
- Ephesians 4:24 NIV -
2022. It’s time for a new beginning, a fresh start. At least, that’s at least what many of us think as one calendar year turns over into another. Every January, many people commit to new year’s resolutions, determining to get healthy, live more sustainably, or break other bad habits. Most such resolutions last no more than a few days, though, because the arbitrary change of a calendar page is powerless to change our inner nature.
The letter to the Ephesians, however, points us to the deepest and most powerful source of lasting change: Jesus. To summarize Ephesians in one sentence, we could say that according to God’s eternal purposes, through Jesus Christ we are being brought into a new relationship with God, new relationships with one another, and a new relationship with the world. Our response to this gracious act of God is simply to receive it and live in its truth, like someone receiving a new garment and wearing it: “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
You might think of this “new self” in a personalized, individualistic way. Each of us has been made into a new person by Jesus Christ and each one of us is being led by his Holy Spirit into a new way of life. This is true (and it would be a holy and firm foundation for any lasting new year’s resolutions). But the original language in Ephesians suggests that the “new self” is actually our collective identity as the Church. A more literal translation of kainon anthropn in verse 24 would say, “new humanity,” and that’s deliberate repetition of Ephesians 2:15 which says Christ has made us one “new humanity.” Our new self is not an atomized individual identity. The new self is the identity we share in the Body of Christ.
So, Church, what does it mean for us to put on our new self together? This is what we’ll consider in the coming weeks at First Presbyterian Church of Berthoud. We’re going through some significant changes in our life as a church. More members of the congregation will take on active roles in ministry and I will begin working three-quarter time for the church. I genuinely believe that this isn’t just a pragmatic solution or a technical adaptation to a leaner budget. This really is an opportunity for us to put on our new humanity and live with a more faithful ecclesiology.
In the new humanity of Ephesians 4, each Christian has a unique gift (4:7) and the pastor’s role is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (4:12). That tells me that we are all ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As pastor, I am called to help you identify and use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you for that ministry. As New Testament scholar Markus Barth wrote in his commentary on Ephesians, “The whole church is the clergy appointed by God for a ministry to and for the world.”
What does this new garment look like for our church? How will it fit? Here are some of the practical and tangible changes that you can look for as our church goes through this transition:
Elders will begin preaching about once per month. In Presbyterian tradition elders from the congregation are “chosen by the congregation to discern and measure its fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life” (Book of Order G-2.0301). Preaching is one aspect of that ministry. As one who equips the saints for the work of ministry, I will still support and guide each elder who preaches in their preparation.
More Bible studies, book studies, and fellowship groups will be led by congregation members. I will still teach the New Members Class and other classes occasionally, but more of my energy will go to supporting volunteers who lead these gatherings.
I will remain available for pastoral care. You can still call me when there is a crisis or emergency, and I will still gladly visit with you, counsel you, and pray with you. Because I will have other time commitments now (see below), I ask that you please be proactive in scheduling such time with me.
I will write less for the church in 2022. As much as I love writing, preparing these articles each month and the weekly devotionals for the prayer email take a significant amount of my time. If you would like to volunteer transcribing prayer requests or writing devotionals, please let me know.
I will be in the church office less. But I will be out in the community of Berthoud more. Stay tuned for updated office hours and details about when and where I will be available for drop-in visits.
Many of the administrative tasks that I do will be shared with others in the church. To help with this, I encourage you to directly contact our elders or deacons if you have a question related to their respective areas of ministry in the church.
And now you. You will . . . well, what will you do? Throughout December we’ve considered some different ways in which God calls us. Do you hear the Lord calling you to something new as part of this change?
With the time that opens in my schedule from this change, I will continue serving Christ in a different form of ministry. For more than eight years I’ve coached leaders who are starting new worshiping communities within the Presbyterian Church (USA). For example, some of you know that for the past five years, I’ve coached Shayla Graham, pastor of Pine Ridge Ministries in Moorcroft, WY. In 2021, I went through a training program to be certified by the International Coaching Federation and begin coaching more broadly. As 2022 begins, I will now also be coaching a young adult ministry leader in Washington state, three students from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Adaptive and Innovative Ministry Certificate Program, a cohort of other new worshiping community leaders, and a non-profit leader in Pittsburgh. I pray that offering my services more broadly as a leadership and life coach here in our region will also provide opportunities for mission and witness. Please pray for me to this end, and if you know anyone who could benefit from such coaching, send them my way.
As we put on this new self, this new identity and way of doing ministry together, I invite you to think about these early weeks and months as an experiment. If this is a new garment, then we may find after some time in the fitting room that alterations need to be made. That is good and fully to be expected. The important thing is that we have been clothed with Christ in our baptisms (Galatians 3:27), made members of his body (1 Corinthians 12:27), and each given a gift to use for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Let us put on this new humanity and live for Christ’s glory.
Grace and Peace,