Refection from Pastor Ryan:
Well, it’s Monday morning and I am here in my office. I have about a thousand thoughts running through my head at the same time and, for someone who is not good at multitasking, it makes things difficult. You see, on Saturday, October 10, we held our first worship service in Lincoln. Grace—in Bismarck, North Dakota—became a multisite church.
About three years ago our elder board started this discussion. We knew very little about what it meant to be a multisite church. So we read some books, we visited multisite churches’ websites, we met with others who have done similar things, and we came to the conclusion that we should pursue this more.
We started by praying. Not enough, of course, but it’s amazing that our God will still direct us even when we fall short in so many ways. Our prayers led us all over the area. Literally. We spent many months thinking that Mandan, our sister city across the river, was going to be the place. And then someone introduced me to a small community just south and east of Bismarck a few miles. So I took a drive through Lincoln for the first time.
What I saw there wasn’t what I expected to see. I expected to see a community of about a thousand people struggling to make ends meet. I was told that Lincoln was first built for low-income people. What I found was a thriving community with a population reaching closer to 4000. So I kept driving. I found the City Hall and a very large bar, but I found only one church. On this first visit I sensed God calling us to begin a ministry there.
Since that day, over two years ago, a new school has been built in Lincoln, a large gas station has been added to the town, and many new homes and apartment buildings are being constructed. And now, thanks to God’s faithfulness and grace, there is another church in Lincoln.
We’re nothing fancy. We meet in an enclosed park shelter. We don’t have any fancy programs. But we do have the best news to share. And that’s why we are there. We are simply there to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors.
To get things going in Lincoln, we started out by meeting key people in the community. We had lunch with the mayor. We arranged to get a tour of the new school from the principal. And a funny thing happened after that tour of the new school. We were just wrapping up, saying our thank yous, when the principal looked intently at me and asked me, “Have we ever met before?” She said I looked strangely familiar. I had nothing. Absolutely nothing came to mind.
A couple of weeks later, as we were planning our first event to get to know the people of Lincoln, I talked to the principal again about using the school and whether we could combine our event with a fundraiser for the school. As soon as I walked into the school she rushed up to me and asked me if I had attended Moorhead State University in the late nineties and if I had coached basketball there. And in that moment, a flood of memories came surging to me and I recalled that not only did I know the principal of Lincoln Elementary School, I had also coached basketball with her! Needless to say, I felt a little bit foolish, but not too bad since it had been over 15 years since I had seen her last. So we started chatting, talking about families, and I thanked God that he put someone in Lincoln not only whom I knew, but who would now be one of our greatest allies in getting this church started.
Since that day we’ve held more than a half-dozen events at the school, we’ve raised over $5000 for the community of Lincoln, and we’ve met hundreds of people. And I am praying that this is just the start of what God will have us do for the people in Lincoln.
So I sit here, two days after our first worship service in Lincoln, North Dakota. We had a good number of Grace–Bismarck people involved. They came to help set up, to lead in music, some simply came to worship with us. And although we had a good number of Grace–Bismarck people, we had very few Grace–Lincoln people.
So I have a thousand thoughts running through my head this morning. Did we do something wrong? What do we need to do more? What do we need to do less? Did we advertise enough? Should we have done this? Should we have done that? Was it worth it? For so few people, was it worth it?
My flesh was longing for the room to be packed. I didn’t know if there would be two people there, 20 people there, or 200 people there. I was hoping for 200. And for those who knew me the best, I think my disappointment showed. But then I was reminded, graciously reminded, that even if only one person in Lincoln, North Dakota heard the gospel where the gospel has not formerly been preached, it was so worth it!
No, I don’t know what God has in store for Grace–Lincoln. But I do know that I do not have the ability to grow his church. I need to let God be God, and let him do what he does best: save people from their sins—sometimes, one person at a time.
Rev. Ryan Nordlund serves as pastor of Grace Lutheran Brethren Church in Bismarck, North Dakota… and now in Lincoln as well.