Sharing Stories from the Vitality Initiative

We are a people of stories. Stories like that of our ancestors wandering through the wilderness for forty year, moving from captivity to the promised land, but taking the more “scenic route” over and over again until they were ready to step into what God might be inviting next. Stories like that of Jesus meeting a woman at a well, only to discover the true living water and then to be so moved that the woman becomes arguably the biggest evangelist in the gospels and unable to contain the Good News but rather to share it with anyone who might listen. Stories like when two disciples were walking on the road one evening away from Jerusalem only to have Jesus meet them where they are at, and to spread the news that Christ is Risen indeed. Stories that show that God is active and up to something- for, with, and through God’s beloved people.

Learning from the Vitality Journey

These stories have grounded the journey through the first cohort of the Nebraska Synod Vitality Initiative for Congregations. They have helped the cohort imagine and experiment, opening the doors to new partnerships in their communities and new ways to look out and be in relationship with their neighbors. They have helped congregations to more deeply articulate who they are, so much so, that at least two congregations from the first cohort are actively in the pastoral call process now and will be very well served from their vitality journeys because they have done the deep work of discerning who they are, and have a better sense of what kind of partner in ministry they may be looking for to meet them where they are at and come alongside them in their continued journey and ministry. More broadly, these congregations have discerned what their unique congregational vocation is, recognizing that it might be a bit different than it used to be and that is a good and faithful story to tell too.

Together through the first cohort the congregations of: American Lutheran in Lincoln; Faith Lutheran in Seward; Holy Trinity Lutheran in Sidney; Immanuel Lutheran in Bellevue; Messiah Lutheran in Ralston; St. Andrew Lutheran in Lincoln; St. Matthew Lutheran in Omaha; and St. Michael Lutheran in Omaha, have dug deep. They have learned about themselves and about each other. They have come to know that they are not alone in facing the questions they might be wrestling with, and together they have encouraged one another to wonder about what God might be up to and have found a deeper sense of permission to try some things, to experiment, and to share their stories of how its going. I am looking forward to witnessing what happens next for each of the congregations and hope to share more of their stories in the months and years ahead.

What’s Next? And the Launch of the Next Cohort

Just as the congregations in this journey have learned and experimented, so has the synod at large. The second cohort of the Vitality Initiative will officially begin its journey next month, and the learning from the first cohort will help shape the approach we take with a few course adjustments through the wilderness during the second. More broadly, it’s clear that the synod at large needs to hear permission to experiment and ask questions. To hear clearly that no disciple and no congregation is alone, nor is any congregation alone in asking the big, broad, and sometimes tough questions that they might be asking. So, if there is one story that I hope comes through from this journey for the whole synod it is this- you are not alone. We are God’s people together. Reach out to your neighboring congregations and synod staff partners. Share your stories of joys and struggles. Share your questions and hold space for them to wonder, imagine, and try some things. Because in those spaces during the vitality initiative I have seen God show up and amazing things have happened and like I said, I can’t wait to see what God might be up to next.

To that end, the Nebraska Synod is excited to officially announce the second cohort of the Vitality Initiative for Congregations. This cohort includes the following nine congregations or parishes: American Lutheran Church in Ashland; American Lutheran Church in Fairbury; First Lutheran Church in Avoca/North Branch; First Lutheran Church in Lincoln; Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln; Holy Trinity Lutheran Parish with the congregations of Lexington and Bertrand; Resurrection Lutheran Church in Gretna; Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle; and Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln.

You are a Part of This!

Though these are the congregations in the cohort, the work ahead is not just limited to them. You have a role to play as we are part of the whole church and the Nebraska Synod together. Please pray for these congregations and their leaders. Pray for the courage to wrestle and wonder, to experiment, imagine, dream and sit with questions. Pray for the leaders of this initiative and the congregational coaches who are part of it too, as they walk with this cohort and create space to lean in, to share stories, and to step into whatever God might be inviting next. Together as part of the synod as a whole listen to what stories might emerge, and watch, ask, walk with and join in with your questions and wondering along the way.

Vitality is all about life, and the life of vital congregations is grounded first and foremost in the abundant life we know through Jesus Christ. It’s about life together as God’s people and the Body of Christ. So join in. For we’re all part of it. And stay tuned for more stories to come.