Yr C ~ Pentecost 22 ~ Psalm 119:97-105; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
We’ve been working on discerning the Needs of Faith United and renewing our vision for the future all through this year. We’ve done workshops, surveys, interviews, and discussion questions. You have generated a wealth of great ideas and a wonderful body of positive feedback. No great surprise, we all tend to like it here – that’s why we come! Our challenge though is to figure out how to serve the folks who are already here better, and discern what avenues of outreach or focus are the right ones for us to pour our passion into in this season of Faith.
Here’s what we’ve learned in a nutshell (keeping in mind that glorious bit of wisdom that says anything you can successfully put in a nutshell probably belongs there!). In the area of Needs you identified two key areas that need additional support and resources of some kind: children and youth, and pastoral care. That’s the nutshell. Figuring out what to do with that information is the challenging part.
Let’s start by saying that the current groups ministering to kids and offering pastoral care are doing wonderful work. What a gift it is to have the passion and dedication of the Joyful Noise teachers and the Pastoral Care team offering themselves in faith. What you identified is that you perceive a need for still more.
Our seniors tend to be the ones who have given their lives to the life and work of the church so it’s imperative that we support them when the need arises. We have a great group of visitors. Perhaps we need more of you to take up that ministry? Perhaps we need to create a position of responsibility around that area? Perhaps we need to hire or call additional staff? The need is there.
Same goes for our children and youth programs. Surely we know by now that in order for them to really thrive we need to nourish them with sufficient resources. And to grow and attract more kids we need to invest more resources into that area of our church. But will that be human resources in the shape of many more of you committing to children and youth ministry? Should we create a position of responsibility around it? Should we hire someone? Do we need a second minister? Can we afford it? Can we afford not to? What’s the best way to go about meeting the need? Answering those questions will be a critical part of where Faith United goes in the future.The other major question before us is about our vision for our future. In the visioning workshop we had a few weeks ago after church the group that gathered identified some pretty important themes for us to consider.
I asked them to imagine Faith United in 2 or 5 years. Take a second and do that – picture this room on a Sunday morning 5 years from now. Interestingly, not a single person at our workshop imagined we’d be smaller. That’s pretty rare for a mainline church these days! Some thought we’d be like now with around 160-175 in worship each week. Most thought we’d be in the 200-250 range. And a few dreamed of us being north of 300 each week. Growth was the common denominator. The only difference was the trajectory.
Now, here’s a really serious question I’d like you to ponder.
Why do you want to grow?
Why would we want 300 people here each week – a full house like at the fiddle concert a couple of weeks ago?
If it’s just to pay our bills then I’d want no part of it. If it’s to prop up the institution of the United Church or keep this building open I want no part of it. If it’s to get things back to how they were in the good old days colour me absent.
But! If you want to draw more people here because you’re on an incredibly life-giving and life-transformative journey that’s making you a better, kinder, gentler, more open, more caring, more joyful, more loving person and you’re seeing the Sacred in more and more places and feeling like the whole world would be much better off if they could have even a taste of what you experience and you passionately want them to experience it too, then a full house every Sunday is the best idea I’ve ever heard!
And if that’s really our goal – transforming lives – then I hope we can see that our ‘numbers’ don’t matter one little bit. But we also can’t avoid talking about numbers, so let’s do it.
There are only three ways that a congregation or denomination grows in numbers: immigration, births, and proselytism. Demographics tell us that immigrants these days do not tend to be mainline protestant folks if they have any religious affiliations at all, so we’re not likely to ever grow through new Canadians or even new Claringtonians(!). And seeing that our current age demographics in our churches skew toward those past the child-bearing season (unless some of you are looking to get busy filling up this place!) and those that do come in that way are vastly outnumbered by those departing our midst at the other end of life, we’re not likely to grow by birthrate.
So guess what? If we want to grow in numbers there is only one avenue open to us. Since you’re not likely to start producing babies, if you want more numbers then you need to start producing neighbours!
Another exercise we did at the recent visioning workshop was about our priorities. I described 6 aspects of church life that we participate in. All six are absolutely vital to our vitality. I’m going to say that again – we must, and will, continue to actively do all six of these things. They are: Welcoming, Spirituality, Learning, Outreach, Justice, People.
Welcoming is about hospitality, Spirituality is about personal faith growth, Learning is about…learning, Outreach is about sharing our gifts and resources with the community, Justice is about standing up for what’s right, and People refers to ministering to and with those who are a part of our faith community.
Which of those six could we leave out? Zero! Nada! We have to do all six, and we do! The question before us is should we pour more of our energy and resources into some of them and make it a focus for our church? So I had the folks rank the six areas, and what emerged was virtually unanimous – welcoming, spirituality, and people were overwhelmingly at the top of everyone’s list.
What we’re really talking about here is getting to the heart of what we’re supposed to be about as church – why we’re even here in the first place. If you want to know where you should be going you’d better have a firm grasp on why you even exist!
What is our purpose as a church? Is it to have a viable building? To enlarge our congregation? Or is it to make disciples of the Way of Jesus? Obviously (at least I hope it’s obvious) we’d all instantly say it was disciple-making – which we describe as: Loving God (communion), Loving People (compassion), and Loving One Another (connection).
That’s our purpose as a church: to help people grow in faith, in “the 3 Cs” – communion, compassion, and connection. Another way to look at it is to say our purpose is to resource your journey.
So let’s ask the question: how are we resourcing people’s journeys?
Our primary event is Sunday morning worship. What aspects of the faith journey are resourced on Sunday morning? – worship, learning (bible), caring, prayer, fellowship, we hear about or engage in opportunities to serve, and so on.
That’s a pretty good list! Those are terrific things for resourcing someone’s faith journey. You could say then that Sunday morning is an excellent delivery system for those resources.
But is it the only one? Is it the best one?
What about those who can’t access it for whatever reason?
How do we engage in our purpose for them?
What other delivery systems might we use to resource people’s journeys?
What other ways, days, venues, formats, etc. might be useful for resourcing someone’s journey?
How about a weekly Facebook bible study? Or putting our sermons up on YouTube?
Or offering alternative worship times or styles,
or emailing daily or weekly devotional resources,
or creating a house church network,
or beginning something like pub theology nights,
or using our website to coordinate service opportunities,
If we’re serious about our purpose then we have to get serious about exploring additional delivery systems for our resourcing efforts. Churches aren’t supposed to be in the business of making church-goers; we’re supposed to be in the business of making Christians!
I think we need to expand our concept of what church means and become more of a centre for spirituality in addition to being a Sunday morning worship space. Look, this isn’t my church, it’s yours, but if I could spell out a vision for the church it would be all about resourcing journeys – lighting the path for their feet.
We’ve learned that we have needs in the areas of children and youth, and pastoral care.
We’ve discerned that we have a general desire to grow in numbers for the purpose of sharing the journey of faith with more people.
And we’ve sensed a common nudge from God that while we touch all aspects of ministry we are feeling drawn to emphasize welcoming, spirituality and people.
Does that fit with what I’ve named as the purpose of a church: to nurture and resource spiritual journeys? You bet it does! Folks, Faith United is a huge good news story! We are on an excellent course. We’ve already got a pretty solid handle on ‘why’ – now we need to explore ‘how’.
How will we resource the needs of our younger and our older members?
How will we resource the spiritual journeys of people both here and out there?
And the big one: how will we resource each and every one of YOU as we encourage you to either produce babies or produce neighbours?!
I don’t have easy answers to those ‘how’ questions, but this seems a perfect time to bring scripture into the conversation.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
Scripture and church and the spiritual life guide us and equip us to do good in the world. Scripture, as we heard in Psalm 119, is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. It’s how we keep ourselves aligned with the body of Christ and don’t go off solely on our own way or our own ideas. Keeping buildings open is not part of scripture. Drawing people into an ever-deepening relationship with the Holy Mystery we call God and equipping them for their faith journey is the heart and soul of scripture.
Now the challenge:
2 Timothy 4:1-4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will (have no stomach for solid teaching), but having itching ears, they will (fill up on spiritual junk food), and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to (chase mirages).
So, we are urged to proclaim the message – share our story – say why it is that we are drawn to this place and how it helps us in our lives. And be patient while we do it because most folks seem to initially greet church stuff with an eye-roll. So they’ve turned away from the institution because they think we have nothing to offer them.
They’re hungry and thirsty for Something More, and because we’ve not done a very good job of communicating that we know about Something More they’ve filled up on spiritual junk food, and they’re chasing mirages. That’s our fault! We haven’t given them an option. Your neighbours and friends will never think differently about churches if YOU don’t offer them another view. The churchy word for this is evangelism, but don’t let that scare you. It’s just “faithvertising”.
Here’s how Timothy put it:
4:5 As for you, always (keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good), do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
We still have some work to do on this, but I think the way forward is coming into good clarity. It’s a path well trod by faithful people who have gone before us. It’s a path of caring, of deepening, and of daring conversations where your spiritual energy energizes someone else. It’s a path that is well lit by the foot lights of communion, compassion, and connection. I can’t wait to see where it leads…