Dear Five Oakers, I have SEVEN things I want to share with you (actually EIGHT, with the addendum I added about our Christmas services):
#1- What a great service this last weekend. I loved it!
- The whole Stocker family was represented on the worship team. Todd (dad) was on the piano. You've heard him speak at Five Oaks (he shared the story of losing their 16-year-old daughter a couple of years ago). Kelly (mom) and Maddie (daughter, she led one of the songs) sang. Nathan (son) played bass. Todd is a college chaplain and often preaches in a variety of churches on the weekends. We're always glad to have them with visit with us (they are part of our "close extended church family").
- You may have also noticed our guest guitarist, Ethan Lynn. He's a former guitar student of Justin from Michigan, but he's become a phenom at 13-years of age! Justin is happy to admit that Ethan has surpassed him in guitar skills and is one of the best guitarist's he knows.
- I preached on Philippians 2:12-13 and what it takes to sustain change in our lives: vigilant effort and inner transformation.
#2- I don't know what the final number is, but thanks to your generosity and obedience to God in giving tithes and offerings, we finished the year well in the black! I don't have final numbers yet, but this is such a blessing for ministry. A lot of credit goes to Brian Burquest (our Business Admin) and our staff for keeping expenses well below budget as well. Our Board also does a great job of overseeing the big picture and setting great goals. Way to go team!
#3- I'm very glad to announce that Casey Hayden is coming on staff (part-time) to lead the Jr. High ministry under Tim. Casey's dad, Dana, use to serve as our Outreach Director, and when the Haydens came to Five Oaks, Casey was in 9th grade. Casey has completed two internships with us, most recently this last fall, focusing on The Retreat ministry and Jr. High. Casey is a lot of fun, he has a passion to help hurting people and I love the way he thinks.
#4- The Student Ministry had an overnighter last week where they completed several projects around the church and some for our Impact Ministry outside the church. One of the projects was to label all the new chair Bibles. (I'll write about the translation change tomorrow.) They were also trained in CPR, making it the first 80 in a new push to train hundreds (or is 1000's?) in Woodbury. This was led by Five Oaker J.B. Guiton, the EMS Commander for the City of Woodbury.
#5- Great opportunity to grow your faith: You can download a Christian classic for free for this month, Knowing God by J.I. Packer, at ChristianAudio. This is a great book. I'm pretty sure you'll grow to know and love God better by listenting to it.
#6- We're starting a 6-week series this weekend that I think will have a profound effect on us. It's called "EVERYTHING (A 'Story of God' Series)." It's another run through the whole Story of God, but it's focused on how real peace, joy and purpose come from orienting EVERYTHING in our lives toward God. The Story of God was written not only to make that point but to convince us that it’s true! Basically we're tracing the thread of one of the mega-themes of the Bible through the whole story, starting with Creation and working our way to the New Creation.
#7- Look for the new Five Oaks University Catalog this weekend. We're offering some great classes, including Financial Peace University. I'll talk more about FOU next week.
I just want to add this one thing for those who are interested. I met today with our Programming Team to evaluate our Christmas services. We've received some very constructive feedback in person and via email and Facebook. I'm not exaggerating when I say that many people told us they loved it and, for some, it was the best ever. But there were as many people who went out of their way to tell us that they were disappointed.
We believe we could have done much better. In my opinion, we over-programmed the service (something we tend to do on these special weekends), which just feels disjointed for some people and moves us away from what we do best. We included elements that some people found offensive to one degree or another, and that's just REALLY dumb on our part (thank God he loves people who do dumb things, right?). And we didn't keep little kids in mind when planning a couple of elements that were scary, on a weekend where we offer limited children's programing!
This, I believe, spoiled (for some) all the GREAT elements that were represented in the service. Yes, many of you come to these kinds of services with such diverse and sometimes impossibly high expectations that it is truly impossible to please everyone (you know that, right?), but in this case we deserved many of the criticisms we received.
We are partners together in ministry, therefore you need to know that you can expect good things to happen if you bring a guest to our services. Too many of you didn't feel that way and you let me know very gracefully, keeping our partnership in reaching people for Christ at the forefront of your critique. THAT'S the kind of criticism I'm always going to listen to. Thank you!
Blessing to all of you. I love being your pastor. Henry