Vision Sunday 2021 – where we cast a Vision of where God is leading us as a church this year. We have decided not to let the experiences of 2020 impact on the way that we approach 2021! We will be affirming the core aspects of our Vision as well as acknowledging the challenges before us. Phil, our pastor, will be sharing three words which will help animate our Vision – considered, growing and just.
Theme: Vision Sunday 2021
Series: VIsion 2021
Bible Reading: Romans 12:1-18
Preacher: Phil Swain
That Bible reading is one of my absolute favourites in the Bible – and while I am going to touch on it, I am not going to do it justice today. Maybe I might need to come back to it and do a whole series on this Chapter – a little like I did with Romans 8.
Anyway … Last Sunday I shared the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. If you missed it, it’s on the web but in summary … the planning and execution of these journeys varied. His first journey had step by step plans which were followed through without much hassle. The second journey was also planned, but they encountered lots of changes, disruptions, even promptings of the Holy Spirit which meant that the plans had to be adapted as they went. By his third missionary journey, Paul has a general direction but in Acts 20:22 Paul said, “ compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen when I am there”. At the evening service, I asked the question, which of the three journeys is most relevant to where we are as a church. Should Vision Sunday we about making detailed plans and committing to stick to them? Is it about making plans but be open to adaption if things change? Or is it about setting a general direction because ultimately with the uncertainty of this world at the moment, we are not sure of what lies before us?
The Night Church congregation voted the second one (with a little bit of 3). And I would agree with that. 2020 was a crazy year with huge disruptions in society and the way we do church. The lockdowns and closure of many of the church in-person activities meant that there we changed the way we did things … and for some, that was hard. But as the video at the end of last week’s service reminded us, we don’t want the experience of 2020 define what our 2021 is going to be like. God is not finished with us yet. God is still calling us forward.
Which brings us to Vision Sunday. What is God’s vision for TUC and what is the direction God is leading us for 2021?
A bit over three years ago, just before I arrived, you as a church discerned a Vision framework of one main and three addition key areas that we felt God was calling us to pursue as a church.
- (Main) Faith and Discipleship – because we are a Jesus-centric church. All we do is because and for Jesus.
- Children, Youth and Families (and Young Adults)
- Generations à Pastoral Care/Seniors
- Community Connections
Last year in our October retreat, Church Council prayerfully considered whether this Vision was still valid and we all affirmed that it remains strong. These focus areas are part of our Church DNA – the core of who we are and what we do. It is on this foundation on which we build Vision 2021.
At the retreat we were also asked what we should prioritise moving into 2021. Not to say that all areas of church life are not important – they are. The Apostle Paul would say that all the towns he visited were important, but he also knew how to prioritise his time – staying in some towns longer than others – to make the biggest impact. In the same way, Church Council prayerfully discerned that moving into 2021, our priorities should be
- “Young Adults” – as a church we want to “grow young” by journeying with, encouraging, resourcing and empowering the young adults in our church; and
- “Being a good neighbour” – embracing what it means to be a lighthouse church and a just church and reaching out to other churches, our local community and beyond.
I will expand on these in a moment, but I thought that using these priorities, we could refresh our Vision Framework wording to:
- Key Focus – Faith and Discipleship
- Growing Young – Young Adults, Children and Youth
- Being a Good Neighbour (to the local community, other churches, and justice issues)
- Caring and Connecting / Pastoral Care
I believe that these four key focus areas are clear and strong and sum up succinctly where God is calling us.
However … there is something that I need to add. While I affirmed early that we cannot let our experiences of 2020 shape or influence the way we approach 2021, I think we also need to be real and acknowledge that as a church we are currently facing some significant challenges. These challenges are not overwhelming, but they also can’t be ignored.
In our Bible reading from Romans 12 – in verse 9 Paul says that our love must be sincere. This word comes from two Latin words: “sine” and “cere” which literally means “no wax.” In ancient times potters would sometimes take wax and fill in the gaps in broken or cracked pottery and paint over it – pretending that there was no problem. The issue was that when someone bought this pottery and put something hot in it the wax would melt and it would leak. Good potters distanced themselves from this practice by saying that their pottery was “sine-cere,” meaning it was pure with no wax. As a church we want to be “sine-cere” … we don’t want to just pretend that everything is perfect but rather we want to address the cracks, invest in fixing them so that we can move forward in strength. If we are going to live faithfully to the calling that God has given our church, I think we need to take a moment to look at these challenges before us.
For example, as we move into 2021 – we need to address the staffing shortage and the changes we have had in volunteers. We have known for the past 2 years that some of our momentum has being stifled because of the huge workload our ministry staff and volunteers were covering. We embarked on a big audacious goal of employing more paid ministry staff and also to build up our volunteers but just as this was progressing forward – COVID hit. Now 12 months later, and with Jonty finishing up, we have even less ministry staff and it’s emerging that a side effect of the COVID changes is that the pool of volunteers serving and helping in the church has also got smaller. I don’t say this to make people feel guilty – just acknowledging that this is the reality we are in and is a challenge that we need to address so that we can continue to have momentum moving forward.
Another challenge that we need to be real about is that while we all strongly affirm our desire to “grow young” – to continue to be a church full of children, youth, young adults and families – as a church we find ourselves at the end of a cycle where for the past 15-25 years we are been blessed with an awesome group of families, kids and young people. These young people are now young adults and we as a church need to be encouraging the next wave of families and young people. The challenge is that is not something that just happens. It will require a significant focus and investment. I totally believe it can happen, but it will be challenge.
And the other big challenge I see, it this idea of reconnection (although that is not quite the right word). As a church I was in awe of the way that our church coped with and adapted through the pandemic.
During 2020, we have seen people discovering different ways of connecting to the church family especially online. For some, these new ways of connecting were helpful but others struggled with a feeling of disconnectedness. One of the things that God has personally been speaking to me about is that 2021 should be a time when for strengthening connections … but I don’t think that is “reconnecting” people back in the old way but rather working within these new reimagined ways of connecting and finding ways to strengthen the connection.
As I said above, I don’t think the word “reconnection” is the right word … so I made up a new word. “Neo” is the Greek prefix for new, revived, modified … so how do we as a church understand and help people to neo-connect with TUC. I think the challenge before us is to encouraging these neo-connections are critical in the areas of:
- Youth groups & Young adults
- Worship – especially as we continue hybrid and a section of the congregation remain online
- New people who have connected during 2021 … especially non-geographically
- Senior centre / 10:45am service attendees and those newly watching online
I share these challenges with you, not to make you feel overwhelmed or down – but rather to be real and say that yes, there are some challenges before us. But the Bible affirms that with God, all things are possible. God is calling us forward, and that means addressing these challenges and with God’s help and guidance and with the amazing people in this congregation, we can overcome these challenges.
As your pastor, I also wanted to add some of my own thoughts and discerning as to where God is leading us as a congregation this year in 2021. For me, I sit under and are driven by the four focus Vision area that we highlighted before but I wanted to offer three words that I have been coming back to over and over and how these three words might help shape how we move forward our vision in 2021. This is particularly relevant for our main focus on Faith and Discipleship but also works for the other three as well.
Considered – our faith in Jesus is not one where we are just told what to think and believe but one where we encourage people to activity work out their theology – or as Paul said in our bible reading, to participate in the “renewing of our minds”. (Romans 12:2). Being an inclusive church, we recognise the breath of theology and understandings within our congregation. We encourage this transforming renewal of the mind through conversations and exploration – drawing on important sources such as the Bible, theologians, church teachings, and our own intellect and reason. We believe that through wrestling with issues of faith together that the truth of God is revealed. As such I am going to encourage all our groups, preaching, bible studies etc to encourage conversation, listening, inquisitive questions, mutual respect and an openness to hearing God speak through the Bible and others.
Growing – As a church we embrace the NSW Uniting Church Synod goal of being a growing church. We wish to spiritually grow in our personal relational in Jesus, communal grow together in our care and support of our church family; practically grow as a lighthouse church in our influence and impact within our local community and with our sister churches; and numerically grow in the number of people connected and transformed by our church.
Part of this growth includes the empowering for all of us to discern when God is personally calling us to grow and to serve.
And the last word is:
Just – As a church we are committed to walking the way of Jesus who had a bias towards reaching out to and helping the poor, the marginalised and those who are suffering injustice. Half of Paul’s encouragement in Romans 12 are about reaching out beyond ourselves and helping and serving others. We wish to be a church who helps our members and community be aware of issues of justice and encourage and empower people to respond in a way that is right for them and in a way that makes a difference.
I am running out of time here – which is part of my problem with a vision Sunday talk – and so I am going to push some of the discussion and the more concrete steps emerging out of this Vision to next Sunday’s sermon … I hope that is ok. Please connect in next week as I will be sharing in more detail the things we can be doing as a church:
- To encouraging relational communities and strengthen connections to each other and to God and in doing so strengthen our discipleship process.
- To actively work together to be a church that “grows young” – including how we can develop and implement strategies that engage and retain teenagers and young adults, and develop “sticky faith” within them, thus invigorating the entire church.
- To raise awareness and creating opportunities to respond to God’s love by being a good neighbour to people, communities and churches around and beyond us – and in doing so, embrace what it means for us to be a lighthouse church.
It will be great next week – please come back and listen to part 2. But I just want to finish on those three words again … considered, growing and just.
As we move through 2021 – I am going to use these three words to remind us of our calling and to help us engage with and move forward our vision. It is my prayer that at the end of 2021 that we all will have a more considered faith, we will have a growing faith and we will have a more just faith.