What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:5-7).
In his wisdom and grace, God was pleased to bring growth to his church here at ECC in 2018. While God is ultimately responsible for building his church and conforming us to his Son (see Matt. 16:18; Thess. 5:23-24), we have been called to play a part in his sovereign plan. He uses our prayers, evangelism, teaching, gatherings, encouragement, and various gifts as his eternal purpose for the ages unfolds. Our mighty God ordains not only the ends but the means to those ends.
At ECC, we passionately believe that God works by his Holy Spirit through his holy Word. We believe God sovereignly creates and increases faith in his people through his ordained means (often called the ordinary means of grace), which are vital for our spiritual health and growth. These means include the Word, proclaimed and applied (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-4:2); the prayers of his people (1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:1, 8); and the ordinances of baptism (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:3) and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:23-26) when we are assembled in his name.
Below are some of the ways in which we have prayerfully planted and watered, trusting God to give the growth.
Looking Back at 2018
After two years of preaching through the Gospel of Luke, beginning in January of 2017, we finally finished this series of sermons on the last Sunday in December of 2018. Working through this book verse by verse was an incredible experience. We saw God’s eternal plan of redemption in Christ unfold before our eyes. The message of salvation was heard being proclaimed to the poor, the outcast, and the sinner. As Jesus came eating and drinking in his kingdom, we tasted the bread of life. We felt the sorrow of the crucifixion and the unspeakable joys of the resurrection. All in all, our time in Luke’s Gospel was life-changing, both for me personally and for many others in our church as well. We also completed an eight-week sermon series in the summer through the book of Titus, looking at the connection between doctrine and devotion in gospel-centered churches.
Our Community Groups spent time studying several books of the Bible, including Titus, Philippians, Judges, Acts 1-12, and John 1-12. Several groups participated in various outreaches in our communities and contributed to the needs of our church in diverse ways. On Sunday mornings, our Line by Line class worked through both Colossians and 1 Thessalonians. In each of these gatherings, we not only learned how to read and study God’s word for ourselves, but also beheld the beauty of Christ and the gospel of grace on every page.
In September, we relaunched our Kids ministry. Using The Gospel Project, we began a three-year chronological study through the Bible. Through weekly lessons and resources for families, our kids have begun to see how God’s plan of redemption unfolds throughout Scripture and does so still today. Finally, our Adorned womens ministry launched in February for the purpose of seeing discipleship begin to take place between the generations in our church.
Looking Ahead to 2019
As we head into 2019, here are some of the ways in which—Lord willingly—we will continue building ourselves up in our most holy faith (Jude 20).
Having finished the book of Luke, we are now headed for the book of Acts. This series of sermons will show how Luke’s account of the birth of the church is ultimately all about the acts of the risen Lord Jesus. He is the exalted King of heaven and earth who is ruling in the midst of his enemies, pouring out his Holy Spirit upon the church for gospel witness, empowering and validating his apostles, and building his church through his Word to the ends of the earth. We will also begin another series through an Old Testament book, and alternate between major sections of each.
For Line by Line in 2019, we are planning on working through Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, followed by an in-depth study of the book of Revelation. These are two of the most under-appreciated and misunderstood books in all of Scripture (along with portions of Daniel and Ezekiel, which will also come up quite frequently in our classes this year), but it is our firm belief that all of God’s word is inspired, profitable, and understandable. With unceasing prayer, the help of God’s Spirit, good teaching, faithful interpretation, diligent study, and a willingness to be challenged and corrected, these books will prove to be incredibly fruitful and rewarding.
Beginning January 1, our Community Groups will again be reading through the Bible in chronological order using The Daily Bible. We will continue meeting weekly to study a variety of passages across all of God’s Word. It is our prayer that God would be glorified in this endeavor—that sinners would come to repent believe in Jesus, that Christians would be transformed from glory to glory, and that our church would grow in the grace and knowledge of our God and Savior.
The ECC Pastoral Residency
Finally, we will be launching a brand-new ministry at the church called The ECC Pastoral Residency. This will be an eighteen-month training program for men discerning a call to gospel ministry. The idea comes from Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Raising up faithful leaders to shepherd God’s people is an essential part of the church’s commission. The church must identify men who are called, evaluate their call, assess their character, and train them for the work of the Christian ministry. This residency will therefore seek to equip pastors for the local church by training them in the context of the local church, providing an opportunity for focused teaching, mentoring, growth in godliness, and gospel-driven service.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:9-14).
Over past few months, I have found myself praying this passage of Scripture constantly for our church. It is a beautiful expression of the heart of the Apostle Paul for the Colossian church. He prays for godliness, fruitfulness, knowledge, endurance, joy, and thanksgiving. It is a reminder of the grace of God that is ours in Christ Jesus by faith. Let this be our prayer as we head into our 75th year of gospel ministry in Elmira. Let this be our prayer for one another. And let us pray without ceasing that God would be pleased to glorify his name in our community through the gospel witness of Elmira Christian Center in 2019.
Matt Bedzyk serves as lead pastor at Emmanuel Community Church where he has faithfully served in many capacities for most of his life. He received his Master of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt and his wife Brianna have three children: Lorien Grace, Owen James, and Vivian Jane. In his spare time, you can find him reading, brewing coffee, enjoying music, and supporting Manchester United and OG esports.