Photo: Lord of Life Church pastor Matt Blackford relocated from Fort Collins, Colo., to Elburn last November with his wife, Amy, and their 1-year-old son, Axel. Blackford began preaching at Lord of Life on Nov. 17, and has spent the bulk of his time visiting with members of his congregation and the community. Courtesy Photo
LA FOX—The new senior pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church is on a mission: he wants to build a relationship with his flock this year.
Pastor Matt Blackford began preaching at Lord of Life on Nov. 17, and he’s spent much of his time visiting with members of his congregation and the community so far.
“I think it’s really important for me to build relationships and build people’s trust during my first year in the community,” Blackford said. “I’m visiting now with several people in their homes, sitting around the table talking to them, sharing food with them. I’m calling people up and letting them know I am here. I’m here many evenings visiting with the youth, the adults, and the volunteers, so that they see that I care and trust my leadership. The church, in my opinion, rises and falls on leadership, and I take seriously the responsibility of how important it is for the pastor to be a leader.”
Blackford and his wife, Amy, moved to Elburn from Fort Collins, Colo., with their 1-year-old son, Axel, in November. After he was ordained in 2007, Blackford spent six years as an associate pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, where he was the director of Multi-Site Ministries and in charge of expanding the church to a second location in Gredley, Colo.
When he accepted the call to Lord of Life, he replaced Pastor Phil Ressler, who had served as the church’s senior pastor for nine years before heading to Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Old Bridge, N.J.
Lord of Life contacted Blackford in August to see if he’d be interested in the senior pastor position, and then invited him and a handful of other candidates to visit the church and meet some of the members. By September, the church had unanimously voted to extend a call to Blackford to be their senior pastor—and within weeks, the Blackford family began packing their bags for a move to Illinois.
“I like to say that it’s the good Lord who moved me here,” Blackford said. “I was really excited to lead my own congregation, and I saw that this church has a lot of key parts to do great things for the Lord. They are outreach-focused and very Bible-based.”
The same faith that led Blackford to Elburn led him into the ministry in 2003. Originally a graphic designer and artist based in Denver—Blackford has a bachelor’s in graphic design from Concordia University, Nebraska—he left the field to attend Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo.
“I painted murals all over Denver, and I had a successful business, but I missed being around people,” Blackford said. “I was facing walls all day. A close friend from college said, ‘Why don’t you consider using your gift for the Lord?’ I wasn’t married at the time, I had no kids, no debt, and I loved the Lord and the church, so I gave it a shot.”
He met Amy while doing his pastoral internship in Woodbury, Minn., in 2006. Her parents were members of his congregation and invited him to meet their daughter, who was headed to St. Louis University for a master’s in social work. For him, it was love at first sight—though it took her a little longer.
“I walked in the door of their house, and I thought to myself, ‘I want to marry this woman.’ I knew right away,” he said. “I asked her out that night, in front of her parents, and her parents didn’t say anything, so she said, ‘I guess. I don’t have anything else to do.’”
Amy worked as a hospice care social worker in Fort Collins, providing end-of-life care to the dying, until the birth of their son in 2012. The couple is expecting their second child this April, and Amy is involved in Lord of Life’s Mom-to-Mom group, which meets on Wednesday mornings.
Blackford said that she plans to become more involved in the church over time.
“We’re both still figuring out her role,” Blackford said. “We’ve only been here a month, so she’s getting to know the church on her own terms to figure out where she fits best.”
Both of them are excited to be in a church with many young families and vibrant children’s and youth ministries, he said.
Blackford hopes that building a strong relationship with the congregation at Lord of Life will provide the foundation for his ministry, which he describes as twofold: to care for his flock and to go make disciples.
“Caring for God’s people has a direct influence on how people then go out into the world and live their lives, at work and in their family, as parents and as friends,” he said. “By being in God’s word and in fellowship here, we are strengthened and influenced to go out and be the presence of Jesus in the world.”
He wants to lead his congregation to “be Jesus’ hands and feet outside these walls,” he said, so that they serve the poor and share the Gospel with others.
Parishioners may have already noticed more of an artistic bent at Lord of Life as well. Blackford still considers himself an artist and said he enjoys designing materials for the church, from the bulletin to the website.
At Redeemer Lutheran, he even incorporated his art into the sermons themselves, painting and preaching at the same time and encouraging some of the younger members to draw along with him.
“On Good Friday a few years back, I added the blood to Jesus’ wounds on a painting (during the sermon),” Blackford said. “A lot of kids came up to me afterward to show me their drawings of Jesus, and it was very powerful.”
He hasn’t painted during a sermon at Lord of Life yet, but he plans to—he’s interested in using art and technology as tools to help reach people, he said.
“I think it’s important to know what’s on the cutting edge to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Just like Martin Luther had the printing press as a tool, today we have the Internet and all kinds of technology that can help us to more effectively connect people with Jesus.”
Blackford said he is eager to get to know more church and community members, and he invites them to come to services and introduce themselves to him or to call him at (630) 513-5325.
Lord of Life is located at 40W605 Route 38 in Elburn and has worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Sunday School is offered during the 10 a.m. service, and nursery care is available during both services. For more information, visit the church’s website at lolchurch.net.