In 2003 we were at a crossroads and now in 2015 we find ourselves at a crossroads again. This is an opportunity to live into our identity as a missionary people, there three movements that I believe we must make in order for us to be able to be who God has called us to be.
The first movement is to foster spiritual maturity among our members. This means that we must go beyond providing space for the seeker but also provide opportunities for people to grow deeply in their life of discipleship. It also means that we must recognize that we are not a small church with its deeply interconnected relationships and ways of life. Instead we are a large congregation that is seeking to deploy a large numbers of disciples to make a difference in our city and beyond.
We must strengthen our discipleship pathways, our missional partnerships, and our worship life to include the discipleship needs of more mature Christians. We must also learn to practice honest assessment of our systems, pathways, and processes. Do they align with our mission of being a missionary people, of turning seekers to the servants? Are we doing that, how? Can we do it better? These are only some of the questions that will help us not just attract people who are seeking but retain people who are turning to servants.
Maturity in the life of faith includes emotional as well as spiritual practices that lead to growth in God’s love. I am excited to announce that on March 1, The Samaritan Counseling Center will be opening a satellite counseling office here at Grace Community.
This partnership seeks to bring to this part of our city much needed counseling services, as well as giving us an opportunity to model for the community that spiritual transformation and emotional healing are part of the whole that we call an abundant life.
Soon you will hear about some opportunities like care giving seminars for the sandwich generation, parenting workshops, and couples groups (to name a few) that will be birthed out of this partnership.
The second movement is to begin modeling “courageous conversations.” We must begin to become open to hear the stories of others, to be made uncomfortable when we recognize that our diversity is complex, and to open our doors to community conversations. It is my hope that our partnership with the Robinson Film Center, especially with their Faith in Film initiative provides us with an initial seed towards this end.
I also believe that our partnership with the Common Ground Community also provides for fertile ground as we seek to live justly, mercifully, and lovingly with one another.
We must model, GRACE, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, asking three key questions before we engage in conversation: Does it do harm? Does it do good? Does it build up the body?
It is my prayer that we become known in this community for our space-making and for our love in spite of difference. I cannot think of a bigger witness for the Gospel in a culture so divided and polarized. Can you?
The third movement is to become once again passionate for those who are not yet part of this community. In her episcopal address last year Bishop Cynthia Harvey said:
“You have to tell people about this abundant life in Christ; you have to tell people about your connection in the community. You have to share your own experience of the living God . . .You have to live this testimony by living out of your own life. Living and telling the story by how you live, who you are – to BE – is a telling of the story. When people meet us–before a word is uttered–they ought to get a sense that there is something extraordinarily different about us.”
This passion for those who are not yet here is what propels us to fruitfulness. To making sure that we together are part of the infrastructure that helps those who are not here yet find this community, enter into this community, find healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation in this community, then are deployed to do the same for others, to be agents of God’s justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and love, to be witnesses to the presence of Christ in the world.
In order to help us with shaping the structure we have been selected as one of 10 churches across the Annual Conference who are part of what is called the Benchmark Project. This project I believe gives us a helpful structure by which we can dream new dreams, and make a clear pathway for our ministry now and into the future. Chris Williams will guide this team and you will hear from this initiative soon for it calls us to grow by 10% in our average worship attendance by mid-year 2016. Cannot wait to see the fruit of this team’s work!
We find ourselves like those disciples long ago . . . I know I do! We are being called to the root of our identity as followers of Jesus. Leaving behind the comfortable, the familiar, and the self-centered is difficult. But I believe that we hear that call, and that we are ready to leave home and go on the amazing adventure called the Christian Church.
Next- A Generation of Missionaries: Our Prayer