“Here I am, a servant of the Lord; Let it be with me according to your word.”
By The Rev. Herman Yoos, Bishop of the ELCA South Carolina Synod.
When was the last time you spent some intentional time in prayer with two or three others? For me it happened this fall when Pastor Ginny, Pastor Eric and Pastor Rick and I met at my house for a day of planning about how to best support and encourage our congregations of the South Carolina Synod.
Now I imagined we would spend the day talking about strategies and various pragmatic resources that could be used in coaching congregations; but to my surprise, we spent most of the day sharing scripture passages and being in prayer for all our congregations.
We began our day by praying for almost 40 prayer requests we received from pastors across the state in response to an invitation from Pastor Ginny to keep us in prayer and to share with us any of their prayer concerns. Each of us was asked to bring a favorite passage or prayer. The one I read was from John 15 from The Message:
“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.”
After reading each passage we would reflect on its significance for our lives and for our congregations. Then we would lift up and pray for 15-20 congregations and their pastors and deacons by name. After that we would share another scripture passage or prayer, reflect on it and again pray for a different group of congregations, pastors and deacons. We continued this pattern of scripture reading and prayer throughout the day until we had prayed for all 156 of our congregations.
And what were we praying for? The word that best sums up our prayers that day was congregational vitality, or to use the word for each congregation, to “bear much fruit.” Vitality is one of those words you will be hearing more about in the future. You can go online at www.congregationalsurvey.com to learn more about the Congregational Vitality Project. There you will learn that a “Vital Congregation” is one that has strong mutual relationships with God, each other and the world.” There is even an evaluation tool that can be used to help congregations discover their area of vitality or where they need to become more vital.
Another passage of scripture we shared was Jesus’ parable in Luke 13:6-9 about a fig tree that produced no fruit. In this parable a master said to a servant.
“Look, for three years, now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground? But the servant replied, “Sir let it alone this year until I dig around it and put manure on it. Then, if it bears fruit next year well good; but if not then you can have it cut down.”
Based on this text we began to ask ourselves questions like how do we help encourage the “figginess,” of each congregation, namely its capacity to produce more than one or two figs at a time? Why is it some congregations seem to be more “figgy” than others? What are the signs of a congregation that is seeking greater “figginess” in their living together?
Throughout this day of holy conversation, scripture readings, listening to God and one another, and prayer, we experienced a deeper sense of the Holy Spirit being alive and at work throughout the South Carolina Synod and its congregations. We left with a deeper sense of gratitude and partnership with our pastors and congregations and joy at how God continues to bear much fruit across the state. We also left energized and refreshed and refreshed as we discovered this day of scripture reading and prayer was something we wanted to do more often together.
Jesus once said “where two or three are gathered in my name there I am as well.” Imagine what might happen if all of us spent some intentional tome in prayer and scripture reading and in holy conversation with two or three others? How might such time together begin to build a stronger culture of prayerfulness vitality, and even “figgness” in our congregations across the synod? As we enter into the upcoming season of Advent and Christmas, may we continue to let our hearts and lives be stirred by the Holy Spirit each day, and may we find ourselves praying to God each day like Mary did when she said to the Angel Gabriel, “Here I am, a servant of the Lord; Let it be with me according to your word.”
– – – – –