December 22, 2017
My Cornerstone Family,
As 2017 winds to a close, I feel a mixture of emotions: sadness recalling the past and excitement contemplating the future. In my previous letter, I talked about the change that has taken place over the past 26 years as I look forward to what God has in store as I transition from being your Senior Pastor to engage in the work of NXTGEN. In this letter, I would like to talk not about the past, but what lies in store for me.
If there is one word that I have heard repeated in the past year, it is passion. We live in a passionless world, where indifference and disinterest are marks of our age. While our word passion grew out of the Latin to suffer, it is equated with ardor, animation and even lust. For me, this word best describes the enthusiasm that has burned within me for my entire adult life and the exhilaration of looking at what lies ahead.
Since college, I sensed a call not only to be a pastor, but to raise up pastors. I love to teach and pour myself into the lives of others. I pursued that calling by moving to Milwaukee to pursue a Ph.D. so as to train others. In what may appear to be a break from that passion, I planted and pastored Cornerstone. Over those decades, God further refined me as I moved from the noble pursuit of academia, to mentoring new leaders in the church. As time ticked on, the passion waned as the dream fell into the shadows of my greying head. Then in 2015 the passion was reignited.
The opportunity arose to become the Director of the On Wisconsin Network, a church planting initiative in our presbytery to equip new leaders and supervise our burgeoning work of church planting. A critical function of that role was overseeing those beginning the academic portion of ministry preparation. My passion to equip pastors in the local context and provide them with the additional mentoring needed for effective ministry became a reality. On my sabbatical in 2016 I spent time in prayer and reflection determining whether it was both prudent and possible to see the final chapter of my public life spent pursuing the passion that was kindled when I was 19.
As 2017 progressed so did my vision. With encouragement from multiple sources, I saw the opportunity to replicate what we are doing with On Wisconsin in other presbyteries and, possibly, in other church planting movements. From this was born NXTGEN, a non-profit ministry to prepare men, local churches and presbyteries to proclaim the Gospel. This is done by empowering regional leaders to raise up the next generation of pastors. NXTGEN is committed to the Gospel, to build a community of scholar-shepherds for longevity in pastoral ministry.
I am developing a ministry plan and seeking funding to further this goal. I am contacting church planting networks and presbyteries, seeking likeminded leaders to take up the mantle of training our next generation of pastors. It is my desire to leverage our fine academic institutions while mentoring a cohort in the pastoral skills needed that cannot be instilled in a classroom. In addition to creating this model, I am writing curriculum not only for On Wisconsin but also for use in other presbyteries. In 2018, I will also begin to work with another non-profit, Flourish, where my NXTGEN material will be adapted to coach seasoned pastors. I have also been awarded a study grant to explore the possibility of establishing a training program for inner-city Christian workers that would confer a Bachelor’s degree and qualify the participants to be ordained.
While my new calling has avenues to provide some revenue for salary and operating expenses, given the nature of pastoral ministry, those in the cohorts and other presbyteries do not have sufficient resources to support this in full. For that reason, I am seeking a substantial base of donor support who would join me in this passion to reach the next generation for Christ. The Wisconsin Presbytery and the Session of Cornerstone Church have laid a great foundation for the work ahead, yet Janet and I would greatly appreciate your support. Your gifts will enable me to train pastors not just here in Wisconsin, but possibly in various regions of our country. Enclosed is a donor card that I would love for you to send back, indicating your willingness to pray for and/or become a partner in NXTGEN Pastors. Until NXTGEN receives its 501(c)3, so as to process tax-exempt gifts, donations may be made to Cornerstone with NXTGEN in the memo line. You can also read more as we develop this venture on our web page: ngpastors.com.
I would love to talk with you further about my passion. This new venture is certainly a change for all of us, but it is my prayer that you will continue along with me in this new journey. I will write again in the coming weeks of what stepping down as pastor at Cornerstone means for us, as well as a final thank you letter for the joys of the past 26 years.
In the Grip of God’s Grace,
December 6, 2017
My Cornerstone Family,
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, lived a generation before Socrates and Plato and had a profound impact on them. He is best known for his declarations that “everything changes and nothing stands still,” and “You cannot step twice into the same river.” He expressed what we all experience, and few enjoy, change. Our desire for constancy is one of the many places we grab what God alone claims, as Psalm 102:27 says of God: “you are the same, and your years have no end.” We long for what was, for what we recall. Some even experience change as an evil, when in fact, change is what it means to be human, created by God for His glory.
Change is part of our lives. Children long to be grown-up; adults long for the days of their youth. Yet, in the end, change is the only constant. Change may exhilarate our hearts or annihilate our dreams, but it never leaves us unaffected. Cornerstone is changing and both of those feelings may be the constant in the days ahead.
It is with both excitement and fear as I step away from what I have devoted myself to for over three decades. When Janet and I moved here in 1987 with a toddler in tow to begin the arduous task of my Ph.D., I could not comprehend what the future would hold. We spent five years working with one church plant and then grasped the opportunity to spearhead the next plant. This was a change I never expected. But God did. In 1991, while driving to my in-law’s fortieth anniversary, Janet and I settled on the name Cornerstone for the plant to which we felt called. It was a thrilling dream to lay ahold, even as it meant setting aside my academic dream.
Cornerstone: the name evokes stability, the unchanging nature of our Savior, resolute in building His Church. Through the years much changed. My hair is thinner, my waist wider. My sense of my sin darker and my love of Christ brighter. Those who call Cornerstone their home has changed. People come and go as vocations beckon them to other locales and hearts are drawn to other corners of Christ’s Body. Given my tenure of 26 years, those called to glory are few, but their presence still bears a mark in me. At times, I feel as though I am that static figure in a movie, while all around buzzes blurrily about.
Now it is my turn to step away, to be the one who changes. I will write soon of what the future holds, but for now, I wish to wistfully speak of the effects of this change on me and Cornerstone. On February 18th, I will walk down the same aisle I did with my daughter over ten years ago, when I handed her off to her beloved, Sam. As I did then, I will entrust this child to another, and step away in faith that while we all change…God does not and His promises to His people will endure. As with a young bride, whose eyes are on her future, the aging parent can hardly believe how the time flew by. I close my eyes and see children seated on the floor at Horning Middle School, who now have children of their own. I recall church picnics with hand cranked goat’s milk ice cream. Friendly softball games where the antics of those then in their thirties is hardly imaginable today as they embrace retirement. Progressive dinners, days at Lake Okauchee or evenings at Caribou Coffee, cell groups, home groups, shepherd groups…community groups, whatever the name, there was laughter and tears. As wonderful as all that has been, there was, at the center, the work of Christ in our midst. I will greatly miss worshipping with you, bringing God’s Word to you from the pulpit, in my study, and in your homes. The file drawers of sermons, studies, and notes are a light reminder of how full my heart is having served you these many years. No relationship worth pursuing is not without its pain, but for whatever struggles we have had as a family, for all the joys and pleasures we recall, we know that our rock and fortress is Christ, our Cornerstone.
So, as we increasingly talk of change, let us embrace God’s grace that is changing us, into His likeness and glory through this pilgrimage we have together. We know, that while our God is changing us, and that all change is directed according to His sovereign plan, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. In Him, we have the confidence in the midst of change.
In the coming weeks, you will hear more about what I will be doing here in Wisconsin for our Presbytery, equipping the next generation of pastors as well as my work on a larger scale with NXTGEN Pastors. There will be opportunities for you to encourage and support Janet and me in prayer and financially. I will also write of what our relationship will look like in the future and how we will continue our unity in the Body of Christ. As you read and hear in the days ahead of the changes in God’s calling in my life and at Cornerstone, please know that for all that will change, what has most certainly not changed is my affection for all of you. It has, in fact, only grown as we have changed together. As a father sends his daughter off to a new life, I set you free to continue to be changed by God’s powerful grace for His glory.
In the Grip of God’s Grace,
December 3, 2017 Update
Important Guiding Principles (for all of life, but definitely in transition):
- Pray often…pray more than you talk.
- Transition is not an event but a process. Cornerstone will be in transition for awhile.
- Transition is not the vision for Cornerstone for the next season. We continue in our vision to be a church that is
Renewed by the Gospel to serve one another and love Waukesha County
- Oneness is very important on all levels from the Session to the Diaconate, from the ministry teams to the Congregation. We all need to maintain peace and purity among each other and remain in oneness.
- Calling is what we are seeking from the Lord through this season of discernment. What is the Lord calling Cornerstone to? Who is the Lord calling to Cornerstone?
- Transition, of this magnitude, is new for Cornerstone. We are in this together.
Chris Vogel Transition:
Chris has been the Senior Pastor and Founding Pastor of Cornerstone for over 26 years. Words cannot describe how thankful and grateful we are for Chris’ tireless, diligent and fruitful work. The transition of Chris from Cornerstone to NxtGen is a bittersweet transition for Chris and Cornerstone because, while there is sadness in leaving there is also great excitement and anticipation for what is to come. Chris will be sending out a series of 4 letters over the next several weeks detailing his experience at Cornerstone, what transition will look like, his role with NxtGen, the Wisconsin Presbytery, and other opportunities. Please pray for Chris and Janet through all of the transition.
Model of Transition – Interim Pastor:
- Many options and models exist for transition and the Session consulted multiple resources.
- The best practice and preferred model for many PCA churches and for churches who have had a Senior Pastor for over 8 years is to use an Interim Pastor for 18-24 months.
- The Interim will focus on preaching, leading, caring, and preparing the Cornerstone body for the next Senior Pastor.
- The Interim will not be a candidate for the Senior Pastor position.
- No transition model is perfect and we know this may present challenges.
- Transition, of this magnitude, is new for Cornerstone. We are in this together.
One area that needs to be given close attention to is shepherding. If it is not intentional, known, agreed to, and committed to then it will be ineffective. We have decided to use a flock approach. Each elder has been teamed up with two deacons to assist in caring for a flock of members. You should expect regular communication from these folks via phone, email, text or face-to-face. If you have questions about this plan or how it will work please talk with an elder. You should receive an email from your elder next week.
Another area that needs considerable attention is communication. Chris will be sending out a series of 4 letters helping Cornerstone understand and process his transition. You can also expect regular communication from the Session in the form of
- monthly update during the worship service or right after
- fireside chats to discuss together in smaller groups
- quarterly congregational meetings
- regular updates via email, letter, facebook, website, and take-home documents following updates.
If you ever need further discussion or have questions about things please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any of the members of Session.
Important Dates (the dates farther out have more flexibility):
December 1st – Chris 50% time with CPC – Fundraising & Transition to NxtGEn
February 18th – Chris’ last sermon & the Vogel’s last Sunday with CPC
Feb 25th-June 24th – Ben leads and starts a series in Colossians
July 1, 2018 – Tentative start date for the Interim Pastor
July 1, 2019 – Tentative start date for the Senior Pastor search committee
July 1, 2020 – Tentative start date for the Senior Pastor
Opportunities to Partner Together:
Pray for, encourage, and celebrate the Vogels in this transition.
Pray for and encourage the Sinnards in this transition with roles changing.
Pray for the Session as major decisions and future directions are being weighed.
Pray for the Deacons as their roles are expanding and growing.
Pray for the families of officers who will have less time together and need extra support.
Pray for each other, that we would all love and encourage each other well and that we would bond even together as an uncommon family.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Brothers, pray for us.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-25
November 5, 2017 Update
Process of Discernment:
Over the past 3 months, starting the week after the Congregational Meeting on August 4th, the Cornerstone Session (Elders) have been in a season of discernment. This has not been passive but intentional and guided through the use of Paul Cornwell, who is a coach for churches in transition and has worked with Cornerstone in Peacemaker training. We have tried to be diligent, thorough, and prayerful in seeking the Lord’s direction and will. We totaled 52 hours of group time in this process and many more hours in preparation.
Here is the process that we went through, developed and guided by Paul Cornwell:
Phase 1 – Individual/Heart Focus
Many hours of preparation work on our own desires and demands, our hopes and dreams (some good, some self-focused), prayer for ourselves and the others on the session, and culminating in a 2 minute description of where we are and what we hope to get out of these transition meeting.
Phase 2 – Core Discussion
Created a list of Core Questions to be discussed, categorized them and then worked through each question ONLY discussing the question from the angle of our hearts, the congregations needs, options, and thoughts. We were not making decisions.
We created a list of 45 questions which needed to be discussed many with multiple sub questions under them.
Examples – How do we care for CPC’s needs by our communication during this process? What transition model is best for Cornerstone? How do we make sure Cornerstone’s day-to-day operations are seamless during this transition? What is the timeline for Chris’ transition? How do we care for the Vogels and Sinnards during this season of transition?
Phase 3 – Action Plan
Created a plan that outlined what we will do, what motivates these actions, taking into account who will be impacted by these actions and what goals we seek to accomplish through the plan. This is the Transition Plan put on paper.
Phase 4 – Implementation Plan
How will the Action Plan be implemented? Who will be sharing? When? What will be caring to share? How often? And many other questions were considered during this phase.
Opportunities to Partner in Prayer:
Since communicating last, the time the Session has spent together has been very productive and spiritually uniting.
Thankful for Paul Cornwell’s coaching and leading us through the planning and development of the transition implementation plan.
That the Holy Spirit has been active and leading the Session through very challenging discussions and decisions. We as a Session and church are better off for it.
Very thankful for the Session families; for their patience, support, understanding, love and prayers through the long hours of service and labors of love.
There are many more details to be finalized on the transition implementation plan before sharing across the whole congregation.
Pray for the time leading up to and during the next Session meeting on November 16th. A lot of work is in process, with limited time to finish the work.
The Session and Deaconate will meet together later this month to review the first draft of the transition implementation plan. Pray this time will be productive, honoring to our Lord and Savior, and a sweet time of collaboration and working together.
December 3rd is our first (of many) opportunities to hear more about the transition implementation plan as all the details thoughtfully come together over the months to come. Pray this time will be informative, well attended, and lead by the Holy Spirit.
There will be opportunities for the congregation to be very active in the transition implementation plan in the near and distant future. Please be praying how God will use you and impress upon your heart to take advantage of the many opportunities that will be available, especially through prayer
Continue to pray for your leaders and each other through this transition. It is hard to see our Senior Pastor of over two decades be called away to a new and exciting call. All of us will need each other’s support and encouragement through this time.
Upcoming Dates of Transition:
November 16th – Session Meeting, finalizing immediate details, and plans.
November 19th – Session and Deaconate meeting to discuss leadership and plan
December 3rd – Updating the Congregation, during the service, on Transition Plans.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. Brothers, pray for us.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-25
August 20, 2017 Update
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.
For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
The life of Abraham is the story of all of our lives…a journey of faith, trusting in God’s sovereign hand who leads and guides. When we read of it in Genesis, we may be enamored of Abraham’s trust of God’s call, wondering if that can be true of us. Yet, we have no other choice, but to trust.
At Cornerstone’s first public service on September 13, 1992, Chris’ sermon was from Genesis 12, explaining Cornerstone’s new journey as a church. This September 3rd, when Chris returns from vacation, we will open to that passage once again as we roll out our vision, beginning a dialogue as to Cornerstone’s next chapter of her journey.
Unlike Abraham, our journey is one in which we have the benefit of further revelation, of a greater degree of certainty about our lives. Nevertheless, as we are but limited creatures, lacking the omnipotence of our gracious God, there is a mix of what we know and do not know. What do we know that God is doing in Cornerstone?
Andrew Whitaker, after 2 ½ years of faithful ministry is seeking a new call. Andrew came to us from seminary, was ordained here, and served us well, not only in worship, but as he invested himself in our lives. He will be missed, but we send him out on the journey God is calling Christiana and him to follow.
- His last Sunday here will be September 24th.
- There will be a gathering on the 24th to say goodbye. The time and place TBD.
- The session is now discerning what our next step will be as we seek to fill that role. Please pray for us.
Chris Vogel, after more than 25 years of service is beginning his transition to his next work in Wisconsin. We hear and see Chris’ passion for training the next generation of leaders. As momentum has mounted, Chris is following God’s guidance and his heart on this new journey.
- While Chris’ transition begins, his work at Cornerstone has not now ended. He remains Cornerstone’s Senior Pastor and is her primary preacher at this time.
- There is much we do not know about this transition
- We do not yet know the length of this transition or who will be at the helm of this Body in the future.
- We do know God calls us on a journey and guides our steps even if we do not know where they lead. Change is hard, but God is good.
- Please pray for God to guides us all, especially the Session, to make wise and healthy choices, as He has through our 25 years.
- We, your Session, are committed to communicate with you in a timely and clear fashion. We are crafting a plan for healthy communication. Likewise, please communicate with us. Remember, we don’t have all the answers, but our God does.
- Ask your elders and pastors questions. We are here to listen and talk, but please refrain from empty speculation or gossip.
- What we do know is that, just as Chris was called to plant Cornerstone, he is now called to have a hand in the formation of the next generation of planters here in Wisconsin. Please pray for him…and us, as we participate and benefit from his work with us in the past and moving forward into the future.
Ben Sinnard has transitioned from Assistant to Associate Pastor. He has been and will continue to be a godly guide for all of us. He, with Chris, will have a voice in the transition as Cornerstone seeks her next Senior Pastor.
- Pray for Ben as he assumes more of the responsibilities as Andrew journeys on and in light of Chris’ path of transition.
- Encourage Ben as he seeks God’s guidance along this journey.
Depending on how one is wired, a journey may be exhilarating or frightening. For many of us, it is a combination of both. We have a firm and certain hope that, in Christ, this journey is one God designed for our good and not harm. Again, we kindly request that you pray for us, your elders, that we, fallen creatures, redeemed by God’s grace, will know the direction God has for us in His Word and by His Spirit.
We know these transitions may create a number of different emotions in each of you. They have in us. We want you to know that you can always reach out to us, grab coffee with one of us or chat on the phone. Please let us know if we can help you as we walk though this together.
Let us all continue to look to Him as we take these next steps of faith, for we are all looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Until that time, our new vision remains clear, that, by God’s grace, Cornerstone is:
Renewed by the Gospel
To serve one another
To love Waukesha County
Like Abraham, we are blessed by God to be a blessing. Let us join in prayer to that end, for His glory and the expanse of His kingdom. To God alone be all praise.
In the Hands of our Risen Savior,
The Session of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church