Lakeside Church of Chicago is an unusual church in many ways, but in other ways it represents the multi-generational history of a number of evangelical congregations across America. Born in 1943 as a Japanese-American church, Lakeside was originally the vision of Moody Church in Chicago. Harry Ironside, the pastor of Moody Church at that time, and other Moody Church leaders had a vision for ministry to displaced and harassed Japanese Americans during the Second World War. The stories early Lakeside members can tell of those difficult days during the War are beyond imagination to most of us who know nothing of the suffering and pain such parents and loved ones endured. That a famous Chicago church had such a vision for people in Chicago is commendable and stands to this day as clear evidence of what a missional commitment can look like that reaches beyond politics. Such a vision is always called for in every era of social change, including the present.
But Lakeside Church, like many similar congregations in large cities across America, has had to grow far beyond its early roots in Japanese culture. It is now a ministering multi-ethnic congregation that still has a worship service in Japanese for a small congregation but has developed a much larger congregation that worships in English. I have gotten to know this English-speaking congregation quite well over the past seven years and thus I had the privilege of teaching them again this week at their 59th annual family camp in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I taught from Galatians 5:13-25: “Keeping in Step with the Spirit in an Age of Technology.” As in the past these dear people responded warmly to my biblical teaching.
Lakeside is shepherded by Pastor Stan Wiedeman, a Missourian who came to serve the church in the 1990s. Stan is a servant-leader with a solid background in Bible and theology. He is not personally ambitious for praise or promotion and clearly loves his people and the pastoral work that he does in Skokie. And he continually gives thanks to God for leading him to Lakeside and counts it a distinct blessing to serve this church now relocated from a different area of the city to their Jewish neighborhood in metro-Chicago. Stan is assisted by Dave Uchizono, a gifted young man who completed his M. Div. at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is presently in a doctoral program in philosophy at Loyal University in Chicago. Dave understands both culture and ministry in a refreshingly clear way. His numerous contributions to the church are regularly in evidence.
Lakeside’s English-speaking congregation not only to ministers to Japanese people but now attracts other Asians as well as a continually growing non-Asian constituency. Lakeside has, in other words, made a significant missional transition from being an ethnic congregation of only Japanese members to a growing and multi-ethnic church that has a heart and vision for its larger community. Time will tell how successfully their goals of continued growth through outreach will be reached but there is every reason to conclude that Lakeside Church will not die with the passing of an earlier generation of Japanese folks who made up the church for over six decades.
Lakeside’s family camp had three distinct groups. I taught the adults, of which there were about forty. The children’s camp had about eighty kids and the high school camp was made up of fifteen to twenty teens. Not only did new professions of faith occur during the week but several baptisms took place yesterday as a large crowd stood by the shores of Lake Geneva to witness public vows of discipleship. Today I go to preach again at Lakeside and thus look forward to another season of fruitful ministry with these brothers and sisters whom I have come to cherish as my friends in Christ.
Lakeside Church demonstrates to me how an ethnic congregation can retain its past, without driving away the older generation, while it leans into the future with a new missional vision that looks forward to an even better days of evangelism. This is never an easy road to take. It is much, much easier to simply let an older church die and then a new church can be birthed. I believe in new church planting for sure but I also strongly commend this older congregation for its growing love for Christ, its constant efforts to maintain unity in the bonds of peace as generational change takes place, and its missional vision for making Christ known through a vibrant and faithful congregation that seeks to live the gospel incarnationally as well as preach it passionately. Other historically ethnic congregations could learn a lot from Lakeside Church. May the Lord be pleased to prosper this wonderful church as it lives and loves the good news.