Taking the Next Leap

Four Changes in the Works for WECC
by Krystal Stoll
Change is inevitable.  In fact, by definition things that grow change, and science tells us that growth is an indicator of life.  Change, for an organization like ours, means an opportunity to seek out more effective ways of reaching people, of sharing our message about the Christ we love and serve.  
We have experienced a whole lot of change as a church in the last several months.  In fact, as a communicator, I’ve typed the word “change” so many times since last summer I’ve lost count.  And in addition to our change as a church, our culture is changing, shifting, faster than most of us can keep up with.  Brady Shearer, creator of Pro Church Tools, said that “Our culture is currently undergoing the largest communications shift in the last 500 years.”  That change has affected every single industry in some way, and the church is not immune to it.  We need to grow, to adapt, to continue to reach people with the message of God in a changing world.  People no longer communicate in the same way they did just 10 years ago, and to reach them we need to communicate the way they do. 
But change is hard, right?  It can be scary. It can be risky.  Growth can be scary and risky.  We clap for joy when a toddler takes her first steps and wince as she falls.  Then, later, we lie awake at night, worried, when she learns to drive.  Her growth is risky, but necessary.   As a church, taking risks is important.  Pastor Carey Nieuwhof has visited several churches that do really well at attracting and discipling the upcoming generation.  He took notes on what they all have in common, and he said this: “All of the churches I know that are doing a great job with young adults take risks. Big risks.”
As a congregation, I guarantee you we’ve weathered quite a few risks.  You don’t get to be around for 125 years without experiencing transition.  In order to see another 125 years, we’ll need to undergo some more.  Here are the four changes coming up for us:
1.  This weekend we will welcome a pastoral candidate and hear him speak to us for the first time.  We’ll have the opportunity to vote as a church body about whether to call him or not. We are excited, absolutely, but a bit hesitant, too.  Will he like us?  Will we like him?  What will his vision for the church be?  Where would he lead us?  What’s his name, anyway?  Does he wear a tie?!?!  Only the important concerns, you see.  Be sure to be in church and Sunday School this Sunday (starting at 9:30am) to get some of these questions answered.
2.  After four years as the WECC secretary, I am stepping down in order to spend more time at home with my family.  The Leadership Team has hired Linnea Fellows to take my place.  She will take over most of the things I’ve been doing and will have full dominion over the church office.  We’re still working out the kinks of what she’s comfortable with and what will need to be reassigned, but for right now, here’s what you need to know: 
  • I will continue to manage our social media accounts and the website.  And until Linnea gets her feet under her completing the tasks that affect Sunday service, she’s not prepared to take on the e-news.  Which means there probably won’t be a Weekly Wrap-Up next week or the following week, as I will be out of town.  We’ll keep you posted. 
  • You can email Linnea at l.fellows@wincov.org.  The following email addresses will also go to her:  wincov@gmail.com, info@wincov.org.  We would like to phase out that gmail address, so please update your address books.
  • I’m not certain what my role will be going forward.  I’m hoping to still serve in a communications capacity, but what that looks like is yet to be defined.  For the present moment, you can still send information for the church social media accounts to me at k.stoll@wincov.org.
3. The LT has agreed to the launch of a new program for our church on a trial basis.  It will be a central, online hub for everything we do as a congregation so that you never again have to wonder who to call to sign up for something or how to take a next step.  This new site will serve the needs of our congregation, while our main, existing site will be simplified to appeal to those looking at our church for the first time.  I am super excited about everything this central hub has to offer, and I hope you will be too!  Look for more on this to come.  Tentative launch date: June 1st. 
4. New ministries: The Mission and Outreach team is forming a new Connections ministry, designed to examine the steps that people take from first-time visitor (or even before that) to becoming an active participant in our congregation.  Their goal is to follow up with guests and help them to get plugged into life here at WECC.  If you are interested in helping make that happen, feel free to talk to me, Eric Sandberg, Julia Dahlke or Bix Baker–we would love to bring you in.  Also, a new Mom’s ministry is launching June 1st!  This will be a fellowship time open to moms in all stages, and is designed to be an outreach ministry.  Talk to Tiffany Messerli or myself for more details.
These are some big leaps for us!  They involve a little bit of risk, a little bit of work (maybe a bit more for some of us than others) and a lot of support from you as the body of our church.  Please pray as we work out all the details, and if you see something going on you don’t recognize or understand, stop and ask.  If nothing else, we want to know when we’re failing to make something understood. 
We are looking forward to the growth that this change will bring.  Pastor Paul Johnson taught us on July 31st that in a world filled with changes, Christ calls us to relationship with Him, to lead where He follows. It is this rock that will allow us to remain stable in the midst of turbulent times.  As we grow closer to Him, we’ll grow as a church, too, and that is an exciting thing!

The Benefits of Water

by Faith Johnson, Faith Community Nurse

With the Walk for Water event coming up soon, I thought it would be good to look at the healthy benefits of drinking water. While some information on the paybacks of water may be exaggerated, there is sound data to support a good liquid intake of fluids. Here are a few benefits and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,  2017):

  • Drinking enough water daily is good for overall health
  • Because plain water has no calories, it can help with weight loss and control when used instead of high calories drinks (like soda)
  • Drinking water prevents dehydration, which contributes to sluggish thinking, dry, lusterless skin and elimination difficulties

It has been alleged that water helps with weight loss. While it is not a miracle cure for obesity, a recent study at Harvard Medical School (Marshall, 2016) did demonstrate that people who drank water consumed fewer calories, which led to weight loss.

The facts are that water is good for us…physically and spiritually.  Without God’s presence, the Psalmist laments that he is like one who is in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water (Ps. 63:1). God promises that He will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground (Is. 44:3). Jesus said that the soul that was thirsty for righteousness was to be blessed (Matt. 5:6) and He invited that thirsty soul to come to him and never thirst again (Jn. 4:14). In fact, the whole message of the Bible is to “come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters” (Is. 55:1).

So next time you have a drink of water, thank God for physically providing you with good water to drink as well as watering your soul and quenching your spiritual thirst.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Get the Facts: Drinking water and

intake. From https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/plain-water-the-healthier-choice.html

Marshall, M. (2016). The big benefits of plain water. Harvard Health Publications. From



Thinking on Love

by Pastor Dan

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  —Ephesians 5:25.

Christ loved the church and He gave his life for the church. And He still loves the church. This is something for us to celebrate. Jesus has a special love and a special plan for his Church, including the each and every local body like us at Winthrop Covenant Church. Sometimes we forget that. We get focused on doing the business of the church, concentrating on the what we need to do next and where we need to improve and grow that we forget just how much God loves this church, this group of believers. I want you to think about that today.
Think about how loved you are by the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ. He loved you enough to die for you.
Think about the awesome plan that God has for you as part of the Church. He has a plan for you that includes the past, the present and the future. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds you that you have a future and a hope. Don’t ever forget that. You have an important role to play in this community, in this area, in this state, in this world.
Think about Jesus including you in his plan to reach a lost world. The local church is the hope of the world. God has no other plan than to use the local church to reach the lost people in this world. You are part of his Plan A…. and he doesn’t have a Plan B.
So as you move forward as a church into the future, having a candidating weekend with your next potential pastor at the end of April and making plans to keep reaching out to your area with the love of Christ, never ever forget … God loves his church, Jesus died for his church, the local church is the hope of the world … and all of that means you.  

Christ-like Discipleship


We’ve been looking at the disciples these last few Sundays now, which has gotten me to thinking. In fact, from time to time I’ve put myself into the shoes of the disciples; I’ve considered my life in relation to theirs; I’ve examined my faith in light of theirs. There were real men and women who followed Christ. There were real people who supported his ministry with their time, their energy, and their resources. People left what little they had to follow this radical teacher from Galilee.

And sometimes it amazes me – but mostly humbles me – to think that we have been called on that same journey. Our experience is not something separate, but wholly wrapped up in that first call to come. To follow. To serve. To submit. To love. To experience life with Jesus and his mission. It may seem, at times, that what we do is different from that of the first followers, but it’s not. At the core of our own calling is this: to lay down our self in order to pick up a cross.

When we distance ourselves from the disciple’s experience, though, we distance ourselves from the life of discipleship. These individuals walked with Jesus and talked with Jesus. They grew to depend on his teaching and wisdom. They saw the life that he lived and were called to continue that same life-giving life. They experienced life in community with each other and with God, himself.

And this is what I want. I want it for myself and I want it for the people of our church. I long for my life to be a continuation of what the early believers knew as discipleship. Far too often I trade being a disciple for being a Christian. I know that may sound like an odd statement (why is being a Christian such a bad thing!?!). But what I mean is that I trade the life-long journey of growing as a disciple for the status of being a Christian. We have the tendency to trade the daily transformative walk with Christ for going to church on Sundays.

For years, our church has had a variety of small groups/Bible studies/prayer groups available. These groups are so important, for a lot of reasons. Primarily because these groups can be a great source of discipleship! When done well, these groups can feed into our lives in a way that other things – including Sunday mornings – can’t. These groups can be opportunities for us to grow in three specific areas: fellowship, study, and service.


Sunday mornings are a great time to connect with others, but small groups take it one step further. Small groups allow opportunities to get deep into each other’s lives, if we’re willing to let people in. Small groups can often be inauthentic and surfacy, but also have the capacity to be a great opportunity to have deeper conversations.


Although we can learn lots on Sunday mornings, there are also limitations. In a small group, we can ask questions and draw from other voices and experiences that we don’t get in the church service. Also, there is a limit to how much we can study from the Bible if we limit ourselves to Sunday morning. Small groups offer greater opportunities to read and reflect on God’s Word together.


Okay, this is where we most often fail; and often because we just don’t think of service as an integral part of small groups or worship. But think about how much time Jesus spent caring for people’s needs. It not only forms the basis for Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 4:18-21), but our ability (or inability) to do this is reflective of what we do for Christ himself (Matt. 25:31-46)!

In my mind, there is nothing more formative for us as disciples, and nothing that reflects the original discipleship more, than these three areas. I believe a good small group (or whatever you happen to call it) is one that has a healthy mix of these three areas. A group that only studies and never takes the time to facilitate authentic relationships will never have the same kind of depth. A group that hangs out and studies, but neglects opportunities to serve others together will become an internally serving group. But wisdom is found in creating opportunities for all three of these aspects.

My greatest prayer for all of us, though, is that our discipleship would reflect those early women and men who left everything in order to live with and like Messiah.




In Pursuit of a Healthy Body

Over the recent months, I’ve begun to ask myself a question over and over: “What does a healthy congregation look like?” Granted, there are many intertwined answers to this. And the purpose of the question isn’t so much about definitively answering it, but to continually pursue a Christ-centered picture. And by having this question on our minds, we can be conscious of where we see health, and where we don’t.
Throughout my ministry here in Winthrop, I have had the privilege of having Lindsay involved with me in various counseling settings with couples. A lot of this has been pre-marital counseling, but we’ve also met other couples from time to time, both within and outside of our church, at various points for a variety of reasons. [As a side note: Because of the stigma of counseling, people often assume that you only counsel someone when their marriage is “failing” and it is often perceived that there is something wrong with you if you receive counseling. But let’s face it, we all need some good outside counsel from time to time. But, I digress.]
To be clear, the church – by nature – is inherently relational. We are not simply a bunch of individuals or families who happen to meet at the same place on Sunday mornings. The Bible describes us as an integrated bodily system that relates to one another for one common mission, under one common Lord. Without those interconnected relationships that work together, we would cease to be the church. And like any relationship, there are varying degrees of connectedness and health.
As we have talked with couples and have reflected on our own relationship, one of the key aspects of a healthy relationship is in a couple’s ability to communicate directly and honestly with one another. Every relationship experiences disagreements and tensions along the way. And if we value that relationship, we will be willing to enter into those difficult (even painful) conversations for the sake of the relationship. It is when we avoid or minimize those things that significant unhealthy begins to fester.
Church relationships are no different. We are designed to be a community. We relate to one another out of our common mission and being a part of the same Body.
So again we ask that question, “What does a healthy congregation look like?” In part, I believe we must say that a healthy congregation has healthy, life-giving conversations. Together, we are a group of people that come from varying theological perspectives, differing perspectives on the mission of the church, with a variety of personalities, and all of whom are at different points in our spiritual journeys. Add into this the fact that we have a natural tendency to be sinners, and we’re bound to have some issues along the way!
So why do we avoid these conversations and why, when we do have the conversations, do that go badly? What keeps us from having a meaningful conversation about our differing theological positions on a hot topic, for instance? In a word: anxiety.
In his book, “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times”, Peter Steinke talks about the role that anxiety plays in the life of a congregation. Because of our anxiety, we may tend to minimize or avoid. And when we are forced to deal with an issue, our anxiety keeps us from thinking deeply and meaningfully. Anxiety is related to our instinctual “fight or flight” response. In these times, we don’t think; we simply react.

If you’re curious about all this, I would highly encourage you to check out the book. It is written for anybody in pastoral or lay roles of leadership in any level. I share all of this, though, because I really do want to see the Church lead the way in being a healthy community. And we have to remember that that never means being a perfect community. Nor is a “healthy couple” the couple that never disagrees. Instead, healthy relationships are ones that purposefully do the good, hard work of working through the inevitable difficulties. And they do it not as individuals, but as one flesh or one Body.


An Intriguingly Simple Question


“Do you want to get well?” he asked. The onlookers must have been a bit perplexed by this question. Of course he wanted to get well! The man had been sitting by the pool for who knows how long, yearning to get in! Legend had it the waters had the power to heal. Even, presumably, someone who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. And Jesus has to audacity to ask if he wanted to get well? And yet, these words from John 5 are very telling.

Could it be that this man had lost any sense of hope that he really, truly could be made whole? Or perhaps he had become so used to his disability that he doesn’t even know how to live any other way. Or, as he suggests, he simply has no one to come alongside him to move him toward wholeness. As the story goes, we do know that at least the last one is true for him. But we also know that people who find themselves broken and beaten down in life often spiral into a sense of hopelessness (especially after thirty-eight years). And then Jesus comes along and says something like, “I see you here by the pool with all the others who are blind and lame and paralyzed, but let me ask you: Do you really want to be made well?”

And Jesus comes alongside us. We’ve been living in our sin for so long that it has just become our way of life and thinking. Part of us hates our sin and (if we’re honest) part of us likes our sin. An alcoholic can at the same time hate the alcohol that holds him captive and love the comfort he finds in it. The same is true for our sin. And Jesus asks us, “Do you want to get well? Do you really want to get well? Because there are things that you are going to want to cling to. And the only way to get well is to let go. If you only want to desire to get well, then we’re going to have some issues.”

The same is true in regards to Christian communities. Christian communities are inherently broken because they are always made up of broken, imperfect people. And so, as great as the church can be it is always going to be an imperfect community on a journey toward wholeness. Christian communities struggle with gossip and power dynamics and unintentional (and even intentional) hurts, just like individuals struggle with these things. In fact, many of these things can even become ingrained within the culture of a church without our realizing it. Like many other churches, Winthrop Covenant has accomplished some amazing things and has had some fantastic ministries. We have incredibly friendly and gifted people who use their spiritual gifts for God’s glory. But like many other churches, we struggle. We struggle at times to communicate in healthy ways; we struggle to have a heart dedicated to reaching lost and broken people; we struggle to forgive; we struggle to stretch out in faith. And like any broken person, we can struggle to have a vision of what it would really look like to be made whole. Like other broken people, we may become so used to living in broken ways that we don’t even know how to live any other way. Or perhaps we want to get well, but we just need someone to come along and ask – really ask – the hard question: Do you really want to get well?

The ECC has developed a pathway of Congregational Vitality precisely because they know that churches do not merely stumble upon health and vitality. And ultimately, the initial question of Congregational Vitality is “Do you want to get well?” And the question is really asking two things. Namely, do you think you need to be made well? and Do you want to put in the effort? The first question is one of perception (do we perceive a need) and the second is about intentionality (will we be intentional in our efforts to make changes).

As you may know, the Leadership Team spoke with Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality for the Northwest Conference, about moving forward on the Congregational Vitality Pathway. The LT has since decided to move forward on this Pathway. We believe there is a need, and we believe we have the effort and intentionality to move forward. Over the course of the next couple months you will continue to hear updates on this process and ways that the congregation will be invited into the process. In many ways we’re taking this a step at a time, following the leading of the Spirit. The Congregational Vitality Pathway is not a 3-step program to increase church attendance. It is a Spirit-led path that is born out of the heart of a congregation, and I believe it hinges on that question. Do you want to get well? And so I encourage us as a congregation to sit and reflect on that question as we move forward.

May the Spirit draw you deeper into God’s presence, sisters and brothers!




Schedule Oddities

This is going to be an odd season for me. I won’t be behind the pulpit for a while. Kinda. Technically, over the course of six weeks I will preach two sermons at Winthrop Covenant, and I’ll tell you why that’s a good thing.
Firstly, I’ll tell you why. On January 31st, we’ll have Women’s Sunday and Lindsay will be preaching (which I’m very excited about). The following Sunday (Feb. 7th), Dave Husby, director of Covenant World Relief will be with us to share God’s Word. We’ll have an Ash Wednesday service (where I will be preaching), followed by a pulpit exchange with the area Covenant pastors for the first four weeks of Lent. Todd Harris will be coming from Hutchinson on Feb. 14th, Doug Pierce will be coming from Lake Jennie on Feb. 21, I will preach here on Feb. 28th, and Keith Carson will be coming from Dassel on March 7th (meanwhile, I will be rotating around to each of their churches on those Sundays).
I think this will be beneficial stretch of Sundays, for several reasons. First, because I think Lindsay will do a fantastic job (I’m really trying not to pump this up beyond reasonable expectations, but it’s hard) and I’m looking forward to God using her in this way. Second, having Dave Husby out to Winthrop will be an important connection for us to have, not only to our denomination, but to how our denomination is serving and caring for our world. Third, having the area Covenant pastors will similarly help us to consider ourselves alongside our fellow Covenant churches, with whom we partner for the Gospel. It is helpful for us, as pastors, to see the ministry going on in Covenant churches in our own backyard, as well as for parishioners who get the opportunity to hear from other Covenant pastors.
The other byproduct of this that I think will be very helpful is that it will allow me to reallocate my time and energy toward other efforts. It will afford be the opportunity to connect in different ways, plan ahead, and consider new ministry opportunities. All in all, it may feel a bit different, but having seasons where things are out of the ordinary can be healthy and helpful. Many of us get stuck in certain routines and mindsets, and it is beneficial to step outside of ‘normal’ and do something new. Also, I do have wonderful colleagues that I know you will enjoy meeting. Blessings to you all!



Mission/Vision Update

Developing ourEvery once in a while I am reminded that there are many behind-the-scenes things that happen in church life. Often, there are ideas that are percolating in my brain, or perhaps discussions that take place in the Leadership Team or among Ministry Teams. Some of these things surface, others may not go anywhere. I wanted to take a moment to give you a look behind the curtain of my mind regarding one area that surfaced recently.
A couple months ago, several of us gathered together for an informal visioning meeting. The idea of clarifying/redefining our church’s vision has been around for several years. With our 125th anniversary coming up, it felt like the right time to move forward. The meeting was designed to be pretty entry-level. We weren’t going to be making any decisions; just get the mental juices flowing and get some thoughts on where our church is at. It was designed to be the first of several meetings. Then several conversations and an opportunity derailed the process.
You see, I connected with Jon Kramka (Director of Congregational Vitality for the Northwest Conference of the ECC) for resourcing, as he assists churches in this process. He happily gave me some resources and suggestions as I continued to imagine the next steps of our process. Shortly thereafter, though, Jon approached me with an opportunity to take part in a workshop called Navigate. Navigate is a workshop designed by the ECC for churches that are undertaking the Congregational Vitality pathway called “Veritas” (See below. I know this is a lot of info, but bear with me!). He had some sudden openings, and offered me a spot. From our conversations, I discovered that the Veritas process (again, see below for more info) is designed to culminate in a church being able to do the work of visioning. I have since agreed to participate in Navigate (Oct. 30th-Nov. 4th), which will allow me a better understanding of Veritas and connect me with other churches that are going through it, as well.
Beyond that, I’ve also had conversations that lead me to believe that there is more work for us to do as a church. We have remarkable servants in our church and we have a heart to reach people with the Gospel and care for people in Jesus’ name. At the same time, there are often elements in any church that undermine that desire. The culture of a church, communication issues, how we relate to one another. These are all “under the surface” issues that sometimes plague churches; things that we don’t always recognize or address.



Hooray! A new school year has begun! Students are filling the schools, busses are rolling down the streets and minds are being filled once again. The start of fall (or, nearly fall) also begins programing in many churches, as well. This year, our church will enter the new year with an all-inclusive theme: Shift.

Shift is a resource that comes out of the theme for this past CHIC and is an opportunity to restart our ministries with a common base and focus. We’ll be utilizing this focus throughout our Sunday morning experience, from sermons to Sunday School.

We all are familiar with the concept of conversion. We recognize that there is a “coming of faith” that Christians experience, though it is experienced in a wide variety of ways. Whatever biblical phrase we use (born again, new birth, new creation, moving from darkness to light or death to life) we all talk about this change that happens to us when we give our lives to Christ. We also recognize that once Christ gets a hold of our lives, it doesn’t stop there. God continues to shift our perspective of God, ourselves and the world. While we may be happy with our own perspective, God wants us to see things as he sees them. As I have been reading through the Gospels lately, we can definitely recognize that Jesus sees things in a way that the Pharisees, the tax collectors, the Roman authorities and even his disciples see things. And he calls us to shift our focus.

So, over the next six weeks we will seek to

  • Shift your relationship with God
  • Shift your relationship with people
  • Shift your idea of how God can use you
  • Shift your ability to see pain
  • Shift your perspective on the world
  • Shift into action

We will also be given the opportunity to serve. Throughout this six weeks, we will be collecting money through our Sunday School donations to support Project Blue. Project Blue is an initiative of the Covenant church in order to raise awareness of the need for sanitation and access to clean water throughout the world as well as to raise funds that will support the work that Covenant World Relief is doing to address this issue. This past July, Covenant high school students raised $126,000 for Project Blue! And now, we are able to build on that good work as we allow God to continue the good work of shifting our hearts. May God bless us on this journey! 



Communication CovenantLast summer, our Leadership Team created and approved a policy (though we sought to avoid using the term “policy”) describing our desired approach to communication. The heart of this policy, though, was more than merely setting up a procedure to express feedback. Honestly, the policy was created as an expression of the type of healthy communication we would like to foster among us as a church. For this reason, we call it a “covenant”.

A covenant describes a mutual commitment toward one another, which we have laid out. This specific covenant expresses our desire for those times when feedback or concerns need to be brought to the leadership of the church. But we hope that it is also an example of the kind of healthy, direct communication that we can have among us as a community of believers. Because really, that’s the point. The point isn’t to give you a checklist of steps to fulfill in order to communicate with the leadership of our church. The point is to express our expectation and desire to be a place where healthy, edifying communication happens. Since this is an ongoing process that we want to cultivate, I’d like to encourage us to review these commitments and considering what that means in our ongoing life together as a church.

Although guidelines like these can be perceived as discouraging communication (because it puts boundaries around communication in order to minimize unhealthy and destructive communication), I truly believe this covenant actually encourages and supports greater communication because it encourages direct and honest communication (which is by far more effective).

All that to say: please continue to look over this covenant. It was written as intentionally and succinctly as possible, so if there is something you want clarification on, please don’t hesitate to check in with me and ask. I’d be happy to dialogue. Many blessings!

Communication Covenant

Approved: 7/8/14

1) Feedback is to be offered with a presumption that it is a welcomed and healthy part of community life. We commit to bringing feedback in a humble and sincere way. Meanwhile, our leaders commit to receive that feedback with humility and sincerity.

2) Feedback is expressed clearly and directly to a Leadership Team member or Ministry Team leader. This ought to be done at a time when thoughtful clarification can happen.

3) Our leaders commit to understanding a) what the concern is, and b) why the concern is felt.

4) Our leaders commit to bringing non-anonymous feedback to either the Leadership Team or the proper Ministry team for prayerful consideration.

 5) Our leaders commit to responding to your feedback.