Next week I will begin a new series of messages titled Answering the Skeptics. We live in a time where it appears that skepticism and challenges to faith are growing, and I believe it is important to have answers to the questions that come to faith and to us as people of faith. Is it possible to prove the existence of God? Is it logical to believe in God? How do science and faith relate? Are they incompatible, as some say? Is suffering the Achilles heel of faith? What are the evidences of faith, and what qualifies as evidence? What about the evil that is done in the name of God? Is it true that most wars have been fought because of religion? There are a many important questions to consider.
Today, we will take a few minutes and talk about vision. Our Scripture reading for this morning is one of the many examples of how Jesus kept a sense of vision in front of his disciples. And it demonstrates how Jesus taught his disciples that vision is not just an idea but a way of life. Vision is a set of guiding principles that provide the foundation for who we are as a church, as people who are followers of Jesus.
Finding a Student Minister. The difficulty in finding candidates for Student Minister is reflective of the growing scarcity of candidates for all ministerial positions. As a congregation, it is important that we begin to identify those young people who demonstrate the gifts that may be guiding them to ministry. My home church was aware, probably before I was myself, of a calling upon my life.
Children – what a blessing it has been to watch the work of the Children’s Education Committee.
Four Core Values – Children, Worship, Youth, and Welcoming.
Outreach and ministry – we are doing a lot of good things – Arriba Ninos, Christmas baskets and Angel Tree, God’s Kitchen, men’s shelter, and many others. Look for ways we can increase the outreach and the ministry of our church. Partner with other congregations and ministries when possible. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
To continue to emphasize the SHAPE test. The SHAPE test helps individuals to discover their spiritual gifts(s) and after discovering their gifts(s), to put them into practice. A number of you have already taken the test, and had an opportunity to discuss it earlier in the fall at our Dessert With the Elders.
To continue being open to people. Not all churches are open to people. Some churches, while professing their desire to grow, are a closed circle. When people ask me questions, they often begin their question in an interesting way – I want to ask you a question, and I want you to tell me the truth (as though I don’t normally tell the truth!). One of the most common questions I get is, when you are on vacation, do you skip church and sleep in? I am happy to report that when I am on vacation I always attend church somewhere. I attend because I enjoy it, but also because it is an important reminder to me of how difficult it can be to enter a church for the very first time, and we need to be aware of that difficulty. While visiting my mother-in-law several years ago I visited a church where not one person greeted me or spoke to me. From the time I got out of my car to the time I got back in my car to leave, no one said a word to me. I even walked around in the lobby trying to make it obvious I was a visitor. There were a couple of greeters at the door of the sanctuary but they were talking to each other and I had to find a worship program from a table because the greeters were so preoccupied with their own conversation.
Become a Green Chalice congregation. It puzzles me that environmental issues have become so politically controversial. I am not naïve to the reasons why, but it still puzzles me when we consider the stakes involved in the continued degradation of our environment. I grew up in a part of the country where it was very obvious. Strip mines that were never reclaimed and steel mills that filled the air and water with pollutants made our local environment particularly bad. We must remember that we are stewards of God’s creation, and as stewards we must care for what has been entrusted to us.
Build an ecumenical spirit in Shelby County. There is not much of an ecumenical spirit in our country. Ecumenism is one of the foundational principles of the Disciples. When Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and Walter Scott observed the religious landscape of frontier America, they were troubled at the division within the body of Christ. We should be more involved with other congregations and organizations in our community. When it comes to ministry, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We can partner with other congregations and with agencies and organizations.
Continue what we are doing. I can’t really think of a way to describe what we are doing, to be honest. I believe there is a spirit of welcome, of acceptance, and of love that is building on the past and growing our community of faith. The most important part of that, I believe, is to not get in its way. Many churches say they want to grow, but they really don’t want to grow; they don’t want to grow in ministry, in community, in outreach, or numerically. They create a closed circle that new people cannot break into, and they are unable to see that they are a closed circle of people.
I am not interested in “running” this church. My goal is to equip you to use the gifts God has given you in order to offer those gifts back to the kingdom of God. A “permission-giving church”. To empower you to be a spiritual entrepreneur.
To bring the Good News to people who are hurting. There are many people hurting, and not just economically. You only have to scratch the surface of the lives of others to find there are deep hurts.
I want to offer you a personal vision for the New Year, as it is a time of new beginnings and many of you are making resolutions.
Do not let the past define you. Some people don’t believe it’s possible to change, and they want your past – your failures and shortcomings – to define you for the rest of your life. Don’t let them!
You may need a fresh start today. This is the time of year when people think of new beginnings, but God provides a new beginning every day. Maybe you desire to come and ask for prayer. I recognize that not everyone is comfortable doing so, and that’s fine, but it might be helpful to someone. If so, come.