Sometimes we use tangible, physical language to talk about life in God’s Holy Spirit. One example includes physical battle lines in a war. When nations engage in battle, there are geo-political battle lines that are drawn…and then re-drawn after the conflict. Unless there is a perpetual standoff, the conflict comes to an end with observable ground being gained (or lost). The Apostle Paul describes the Christian life as a battle, “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, powers, and authorities in the heavenly realms.” How do we discern where we are in this spiritual battle, assessing our progress, gains and losses? The answer is wrapped up in the fact that spiritual realities have a way of showing up in observable decisions and behaviors. Said another way, looking at one’s behavior is a consistent and reliable way of gaining a look into someone’s spiritual life. Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Look at a person’s use of their finances and you will know what is going on in their heart. Since this is true for individuals, it is also true for the gathered people of God. What behaviors tell us about how Aspen Ridge Church is doing in the spiritual realm?
From a high level, we thank God for moving through us in the way of SEEKING God. We are seeing progress in the number of healthy small groups that identify with this local church on the weekends. We intend to be a church of small groups, all designed to learn, love and do. I am pleased to report that we have 80 small groups among all our age groups, and that our average weekend attendance was 358, a 19% increase from the previous year. Inviting friends and neighbors to gather with us for weekend worship is a sign of church health. Further, our small group ministry has been cultivating an evangelistic edge with the addition of “fun” group leaders, connecting with people in our harvest field on activities of mutual interest. I would also like to thank our Worship Arts Pastor search team for their diligent work in discerning God’s leading toward extending a call to Pastor Lawrence Pridmore and his family. Pastor Lawrence has been giving excellent servant leadership to our worship of God in assembled gatherings.
In the area of SERVING God, we observe a healthy and growing number of small groups that engage in service projects. We intend to serve God through our local church, toward our community. Among those who regularly attend Aspen Ridge, 72% are serving in many different contexts. Our student ministry alone has generated 17 service projects in our community! Additional projects include generating firewood for single mothers, providing meals for funerals, helping people move and supporting Christ’s ordinances of baptism and communion. Our service ministry team has consistently and regularly disbursed gifts from our benevolent fund to confidentially help those in need during a financial crisis. Over $17,000 has been given to things like shelter, medical expenses, auto repair, legal and counseling needs and food. These gifts went to 25 recipients, with three-quarters going to needs in our immediate church family and one-quarter to those in our local community. Thank you for your regular and sacrificial giving to our benevolent fund, received on the first weekend of each month.
In the way of SHARING the gospel message, I am pleased to report that we have held fruitful outreach events and ministries. I commend our student ministry for providing “Welcome Buckets” available as gifts for new neighbors. Additional events include special holiday services, outdoor community gatherings (like RidgeFest, Aspen Hollow and the MOPS Hop) and Vacation Bible School. God has used this local church to birth 49 faith commitments (16 adults and 33 children) in the past year of ministry. These faith commitments have led to 18 baptisms. Aspen Ridge sent out 16 students and adults to serve in a short-term mission capacity with Gary and Pam Sheveland in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I am so grateful to share that our people have a mind to give sacrificially toward our mission of inviting neighbors to find a home in Christ. In the first nine months of our ministry year, our giving is some $70,000 over budget projections. The pace for our giving in this ministry year is surpassing our trends for the previous year by 12%. Thank you for your generous giving! We are seeing new members of God’s forever family as a result of your faithfulness.
In sum, Aspen Ridge Church has gained ground toward every person in our community experiencing the love of Christ. Our progress is notable by small groups and service projects. However, there remains much additional ground to gain, God-willing. Our church leadership has asked Justin Cates to lead a strategic plan team consisting of Gina Zwingler, Hannah Garrett, Kathy Lewis, JD Bidwell and myself. This team is moving through a gradual, comprehensive and prayerful process that will identify strategic steps that may be taken in the next 5 years toward additional gains. Further, our leadership has begun exploring building upgrades, including a modified entryway with additional room for guests, a new family bathroom and also including the completion of a “center stage” upgrade for the Celebration Center. All this alongside previous building upgrades that help make our meeting place attractive for invitations.
All these opportunities are marked by prospective dangers and pitfalls. Our spiritual adversary would like nothing more than to bring division and dissention to Aspen Ridge. There are invisible challenges to our freedom in Christ, and many challenges for marriages and families. Spiritual freedom and forgiveness is always needed because we deceive ourselves if we think we do NOT sin. In many cases we battle illness and despair. Consumer debt has hindered many from being able to “live and give like no one else.” On a personal note, this has been a remarkable year for my family. We welcomed a new granddaughter on December 3, 2018 (Alice Wrenn Schibi). My wife recovered from a serious head injury and an extended stay in the Intensive Care Unit. I would like to extend special thanks to our elder and preaching teams for being so supportive and providing leadership and teaching in my absence.
In Christ’s Love,
Dr. Jeffrey Clark
Aspen Ridge Church