[This reflection by the Rev. Joe Crowther, FLC’s Kairos and Associates consultant, first appeared in the September 2020 FirstWord newsletter, under the title “Rings on the Lake.”]

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.  –John 21:4-8

The power of the Gospel is often discovered in the seemingly insignificant, easily glossed-over details of a verse. Consider the passage above from John, for example.

The dust had barely settled from the explosion at the Easter tomb when Peter declared to his brothers, “I am going fishing.” Let the absurdity of that comment sink in for a moment. Jesus had just claimed victory over death, Satan, and Caesar’s imperial kingdom, and Peter returned to life as usual. When the resurrected Lord showed up to redirect this nonsense, he summoned the disciples to shore. John notes that they were only a hundred yards from the land.

This detail seems trivial until you remember years earlier and in a very similar scene, Jesus called the disciples to a two-fold mission: To “fish for people,” and “put out in deep water.” Hours after the resurrection, those responsible for the expansion of the kingdom were fishing in shallow water. Peter (the church) was ready. He had the necessary training and gifts. Yet it was essential he commit himself to the mission before him, lay down the nets and strike out for deep water.

First Lutheran currently finds itself on this same shore, faced with a remarkably similar decision. Like Peter, you have a multitude of reasons not to move forward boldly: transition in senior leadership, the world around us is unsettling and uncertain. The water is deep, to be sure. Yet FLC is like Peter is another, more important, way.

In January of this year, after carefully studying your congregation for over a month (using data from surveys, interviews with nearly 100 members, and the results of an extensive community audit), I submitted a comprehensive Listening Report to your leadership. The 16 pages* can be summarized in this way: “First Lutheran is ready.”

Leadership has determined that God’s mission for FLC has outgrown its current facilities. The congregation possesses all the markers of health that I look for to ensure a successful campaign. You have the resources, the will and the zeal to make this happen.

Most impressive to me is the list of First’s Top Ministry Priorities. The congregation said boldly, here is what is most important to us:

  • Advocating to improve the situations of those living in poverty within the community.
  • Exploring new and innovative ways to be church in today’s culture.
  • Collaborating with other area civic and service organizations to better respond to the needs of the community.
  • Working with other area congregations to increase our ministry’s impact in the community.

I have never worked with (or shepherded) a congregation with a more obviously missional, community-focused DNA. God’s Spirit has truly fashioned First Lutheran into a unique, faithful community that is postured to make a difference.

All of history pivoted with Peter’s decision to leave the shallows. Likewise, the future of First Lutheran and the community that you serve will forever be impacted by the decisions that you make next as a congregation. For decades to come, Decorah may look back to 2020 and see, in the midst of a year of trial and hardship, there are rings on the surface of the lake where First Lutheran made the bold decision to strike out to deep water.

Rev. Dr. Joe Crowther
Congregational Consultant – Kairos and Associates