Sunday 17th February 9am Worship
Series: Pathways to Growth
Bible Reading: Luke 5:27-31
Preacher: Phil Swain, Marty Cornford and Peter Mclean
Last week we started to look more closely at this idea we were introduced at Vision Sunday of “Pathways to Growth”. Basically, we are exploring how we help people move from their first experience of Jesus or the church, to feel welcomed, then through to a point of belonging and integration and ultimately to a point of commitment and a desire to serve Jesus and God’s mission in the world? And I suggested last week that we would have a few different sources or voices each week to help us to do this – and today I am so excited to have both Peter and Marty sharing alongside me as we look at this next section on the pathway – Belonging and Connecting. Last week we looked at how we welcome people – how we consider their thoughts and feelings at that critical first impression of faith or of our church. This week, we are looking at what comes next.
Lest say, Kamala who we learnt about last week, drops by our worship service and has a great first experience. She was warmly welcomed, she meets people who also have kids, her children had a good time at church, even her husband came and enjoyed the teaching. They have now come fairly regularly to church for six weeks. How do we make them not only feel welcome, but develop a sense of belonging – that they are connected to this place? This is a critical question because while many churches are good at welcoming, there are less who are good at this next step.
Le me share with you a confronting cartoon that came through on my social media a few weeks ago.
Unfortunately, this story is not unique. I know people who have been going to their church anywhere between six weeks and many years who feel welcome – but they have never found the connection or that sense of belonging. I wonder if this cartoon might resonate with some people here?
Maybe we should jump to our bible reading for today. Last week we saw Jesus inviting the prospect disciples to “come and see” – to check Jesus out without any expectations. This reading comes a few chapters further on – where the call of Jesus moves from “come and see” to “follow me”. Jesus said to Levi the tax collector “follow me”. Now we might think that those two statements are similar – come and see, follow me – but in the Jewish culture they are very different. I have explained this before – but in 1st century Jewish culture – many people who “check out” the spiritual teachers or Rabbi’s to see if they were good or helpful. And if a person made the decision to fully accept the Rabbi’s teaching, the Rabbi would invite them to become their disciple by saying two words, “Follow me”. But being a disciple was more than accepting their teaching. To be a disciple of a Rabbi, you left everything behind and lived life with the Rabbi. When Jesus said to Levi – “Follow me”, Jesus was actually inviting Levi to journey together, to experience life and faith together.
To me – this is part of what it means to move from Welcome to belonging. When we welcome someone we say, “It is great to have you here. Come and check us out”. But to connect with someone is when we say, “lets experience life and faith together.” Can you see the difference? I am going to invite Marty to join me on the stage and Marty is going to help us reflect on what it means to belong and connect with some insights on his time at NYALC.
Marty – NYALC
- Firstly – you better explain what was NYALC, and where and when was it?
- I saw some photos – one thing that stood out to me was the variety of people and cultures present. Was it easy to connect with people who were different to you? What things did NYALC do to help you connect (eg welcome ceremony)
- You seem to be close to your small group – what was about that experience that made you close?
- What do you think we could do as a church to help people find that sense of belonging or connection here – especially with people who are different to us?
One of the main points that we made when it came to welcoming was the importance of being intentional. Welcoming can happen naturally, but we need to also think about ways to encourage that welcome. The same could be said about belonging and welcome. We need to be intentional how we move people along this pathway and not slip through the cracks and feel like the lady in the cartoon.
I have asked Peter Mclean to come and share a little about our upcoming ALPHA endeavour and how ALPHA can be a tool not only to help people begin to belong to our church – but also to help people connect with Jesus and faith.
Peter Mclean – ALPHA
Thanks Peter. I think that this is going to be such a great opportunity for our church and I encourage you if you can to come along to the ALPHA training session on SATURDAY 6th APRIL 9.30am – 2.30 pm.
And I remind you that Thursday 7:30pm – we continue to journey with Kamala, Rosalie and Arno as they have checked out our church and now wonder what it next. Come along and very similar to last week – think about how they are feeling, what are the issues, what are their needs, and how can we help them become more integrated into faith or the life of the church. It really was great last time and we would love to have as much insight and interaction again.
To wind this up, I want to share three little gems that I came across when preparing for this sermon. Three insights that just deeply impacted me.
The first came from a TEDx video I was watching by Amelia Franck Meyer on the Human need for Belonging. She said that as humans we have a desperate need to have connection. Amelia works in the foster care sector and has seen what issues arise when kids don’t feel like they belong anywhere. She used this word that just jumped out at me when describing the experiences of being fostered. She said it is a subtle difference … but she has seen some foster parents who cares for a child, provide for their needs, make sure that they feel safe and loved = and that is good. But she has seen other foster parents “claim” a child, when the say, “you are one of us now, you are family! And we will fight for you! We will go the extra mile for you because you are one of us!”
I am not sure if I like the word, “claim” but I could see her point. Why did we as a church go above and beyond for Peter and Vivienne over the past month. Not just because Vivienne was dying … but because they belong here. They’re one of us. And we would do anything for our church family. Right? How do we make sure that people who are new to our community, or on the edges of our church – know that they are claimed, that they are a special part of the family. And how do we do that with more than just our words – we also need to do it with our actions.
Which leads to insight two – which is something I was told a long time ago by one of my mentors. He said to me that there is one thing more than anything else that he has noticed over his 30 years in ministry that helps people connect and stay connected to the church. I was all ears … what was this thing.
He said, “A friend. If people have a friend in the church, someone for whom the friendship goes beyond Sunday, then they will feel connected”. He said that one of his goals in ministry was to try and help all people in the church to find a friend. I think he is right. We need to not only welcome people, we need to befriend people.”
Which leads to my last point … In the Jewish culture, names have meanings. In our bible reading we met Levi. Do you know what Levi means? Well in the Old Testament we hear the story of Rachel and Leah being both married to Jacob. (Gen 29). Now Jacob loved Rachel and Leah felt … well disconnected. Like she didn’t belong. She felt if she had a son then Jacob would love her.
She actually had a number of sons, but when she had her third son she named him Levi – which means connect – because in her desperation she says, “Surely this child will connect me with my husband.” It’s a sad story.
But fast-forward to Jesus time – and he we have a story of Jesus calling a person who is quite different from him to be a disciple, to live life with him … and his name was … connect. Levi. And Levi – who is so used to being an outsider – is so impacted by this sense of belonging that he wants his friends to also experience it – so invites them to a meal so they can meet Jesus too. Levi becomes the one who is helping connect others.
And in a final twist – back in the Old Testament when Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land – they realised the importance of helping people connect with God – in their faith, in their lives and in their worship – and to remain connected to each other. They thought this was so important that they assigned one of the 12 tribes of Israel to do this job of connecting. Do you know which tribe became “the connectors” … Levi.
Do you know who the modern-day Levi’s are, the modern-day connectors? Us – the church. This is the challenge for us as individuals and as a church. Let’s search out those who are outsiders, on the fringe, new people at church, old people at church who have never quite felt like they have belonged … and be connectors. Let’s befriend people and be serious about living life together. Amen.