A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Possibility, abundance, and gratitude

When I was in the process of preparing for ordination, I had to take a whole battery of tests and inventories to both evaluate my mental and emotional health and help with the discernment of the kind of ministry to which I was called.

One of those inventories was called “Motivations for Ministry,” and it highlighted how motivated I was about various aspects of pastoral ministry. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that my strongest motivations were for preaching, teaching, mission/justice work, and congregational leadership. What I scored dead-last on, though, was stewardship, closely followed by evangelism.

I disliked stewardship so much that I actually wasn’t sure I should even go into pastoral ministry, given that it’s a necessary responsibility of being a pastor. But by the time I was done with seminary and ready for ordination, the call that I accepted was to the position of Associate Pastor for Evangelism and Stewardship at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City!

Partly, that happened because God has a good sense of humor. But mostly, it’s because in between those two events, I began to realize that I didn’t have a problem with stewardship (or evangelism); I had a problem with the way the church tended to think and talk about them.

When it comes to stewardship, the question of how to serve God with the resources we have, we should be talking about invitation rather than obligation, and abundance rather than scarcity. I realized that what we should be talking about is how to live lives of gratitude for all that God has already done for us, and lives of purpose that help us build up what God is doing and will do in our individual lives, our congregational life, and the community and world around us.

That is something I could get “motivated” about, and I have been ever since! Which was yet another reason I was motivated to accept the call here to First Presbyterian of Bethlehem. I was motivated to find a congregation that views our mission through lenses of possibility, abundance, and gratitude; a congregation that is motivated about discerning God’s call to us and stepping boldly into answering that call in confidence and hope.

With all that in mind, this stewardship season I am going to preach a sermon series diving into the four “mission priorities” for our congregation over the next two to three years. Those priorities are:

  • a vibrant and diverse worship life
  • ministry with children and youth and their families
  • ministries of compassion and justice in the larger world
  • and ministries of welcome, engagement, and discipleship for people who are looking for a church home or simply exploring Christianity or basic questions of meaning and purpose in their lives.

As “priorities,” these are obviously not the only things that we will be doing, but they are where we will be focusing our attention and activity as we step boldly into answering God’s call to us.

I’m excited about this series, and even more so about the ministry ahead of us as we strive to live lives of gratitude, generosity, and purpose as individuals and as a congregation. And I’m excited about the possibilities before us in this stewardship season to help us fully embrace our calling as a congregation, which you will be hearing more about shortly.

I am grateful for each of you, for this congregation, and for this ministry that we share together.
Thank you!

Grace and peace,