Sunday 3rd February 9am Worship
Title: Vision Sunday
Bible Reading: 2 Kings 6:1-7
Preacher: Phil Swain
Did you get the point of the kids talk that I did earlier … I hope so because it really is the key to Vision Sunday. Vision Sunday is not about my dreams for this congregation or Jonty’s passions. Vision Sunday is about GOD’s VISION for this community. The power of Vision Sunday is to set a common direction for 2019 in which we can align our dreams and passions and all be heading in the same direction for the glory of God.
That’s it. That is what Vision Sunday is about. So, what is this Vision? Over the past 2 to 3 years, we as a church have put in a lot of time, prayers and energy into discerning where God might be leading us. After much prayerful discernment and discussion, I cast at last years Vision Sunday this very simple Vision … and you can see it in the booklet… Our Vision is…
For this era of ministry and mission at TUC, we discern that God is leading us to centre all that we do around the core of
- Faith and Discipleship – deepening our own faith and discipleship and growing faith and discipleship in others.
Around this core will be three foci which we will prioritise:
- Children, Youth and Families – building faith and discipleship in children, youth and family
- Generations – pastorally and spiritually supporting those who are moving through key transitional points in life, especially our seniors
- Community Engagement – building a sense of community and connection within both our church family and local community
This Vision is not just words. For the past 12 months, every decision we have made has been done in the content of this Vision. This has been the thing that has aligned our different dreams and passions and ideas so that we are all generally heading in the same direction together. As our kids talk showed us … there a common vision or direction is a powerful thing. And we are starting to see this Vision produce fruit in the life of our church. Last year we also spend some time as a wider congregation working on our mission priorities – which ideas and new initiatives we felt we should focus on first.
We came up with 5 top prioritises and another 7 secondary priorities. You can see this list of 12 in the Vision booklet. The exciting thing about this list is that you can see that many of these priorities have been started, a few are ready for implementation in the next few months (such as the playgroup which is starting in 11 days times and Alpha which is running in term 2) and a few of them have been completed (such as the amazing database and library for resourcing intentional faith development). This is worth celebrating and once again shows you the power of a common vision which is pointing us in the same direction.
And now as we move into 2019 … we believe that our Vision from last year is still relevant and true for us as a church. Note the first 10 words of the Vision statement … for this era of ministry and mission at TUC. We believe that we are still in this era which this Vision is the direction that God is leading us – that this is our Vision for 2019 as well. That we are to continue to work through our priorities and bring this vision to life.
Now, you might be thinking … if we are just continuing the 2018 Vision, then … why are we having a Vision Sunday talk this year at all. Because God has been stirring something additional to our Vision. Over the past 4 or 5 months, God has really speaking to me, and I have affirmed this with Church Council – about another way of looking at our Vision which we believe gives us even greater insight into how our Vision can help us to grow and move forward together. This perspective I have called “Pathways to Growth”
Whether it is a person coming to faith in Jesus or connection with our church – the pathway to growth is the experience from their first encounter with Jesus or the church right through to them having a deep sense of commitment, ownership and contribution. I believe that our church can experience significant growth – both spiritually and numerically – if we are more intentional about these pathways to growth.
The idea of growth pathways is not new. Business – especially in the retail sector – use this idea. They talk about growing their business through analysing each step of the customer journey – from the moment the customer walks through the door or clicks on a link through to them being a loyal customer who is advocating for your product. They have consultants to look at each step on that journey to make sure that they are doing the best that they can do to find, connect and keep customers.
Now, I wish to be clear that the church is not a business. As a faith community we are all about relationships and volunteers … but I think that we can learn something from this idea of growth pathways. I wonder if we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that a person’s journey into faith and belonging to the church family just sort of happens organically. And while for some people it does, I think that we can make this journey better and more fruitful if we hold up these pathways next to our Vision and explore the questions that emerge.
So in 2019 – holding alongside our four foci of Faith & Discipleship; Children Youth and Family; Generations (esp Seniors); and Community Engagement we are going to ask specific questions around:
- First Impressions / Welcome:
Goal: People feel welcome
If a new person went to our website, or walked into our complex or attended a group or event or had a question about faith – what would their first impression be like? What do we improve on to make that first impression better? What would encourage them to continue to explore? Note that there is an aspect of Evangelism here.
Goal: People feel like they belong
How do we move a person from feeling welcome to finding a connection? How do we encourage friendship? How do we create easy pathways to be more integrated? How do we bring people to faith in Jesus? How do we help them growing in their faith? Do they feel loved and cared for? Note that there is an aspect of fellowship & pastoral care.
Goal: People love our community and want to contribute
What is our process for creating a sense of ownership within our church community? When people want to contribute, is there an easy process for identifying gifts, training, and providing opportunity for people to serve? How do we “send” people to the wider mission of God? Note that there is an aspect of empowerment and mission here.
These three areas can be flip around to also speak of how we connect with the local community.
There is so much in each of those three points about evangelism, about growing our church, our real and deep relationships with people, our being a sending community … so much that I am actually going to send the next few weeks unpacking these with the help of some other people in our church. But for now, I want to bring this together by using a biblical example – that weird passage that was read for us in our bible reading earlier – and show you that these intentional pathways to growth are not new but can be actually found in the bible.
I love this beginning of 2 Kings. In the space of about 6 chapters, so much interesting stuff happens – Elijah is taken into heaven by a fiery chariot, Elisha is jeered by a gang of youths for his lack of hair and they ended up being mauled by bears, A widow has a never ending jar of oil, a boy is returned to life, Naaman is healed of leprosy by washing in a dirty river and then in our reading we have an axehead floating. And who said the bible is boring! But today I want to focus on today a group of young people called “The Company of Prophets”. Our reading today started in verse 1, “The company of the prophets said to Elisha…”
How much do you know about “The Company of Prophets”?
There is some debate over whether they are one group of people or there were a few franchises (In 2 Kings 2 it talks about the CoP@Bethel and the CoP@Jericho) but what we do know is that they were young people who were basically prophets in training – not yet recognised as proper prophets. For whatever reasons – in 2 kings they decided that there was strength in numbers and started hanging out together and in chapters 2,3 and 6 we see these young prophets being led through a pathway of growth by another prophet Elisha. Let me step through it.
In 2 Kings 2 we read about the CoP first encounter or experience of Elisha … and it happens on one of the most significant and intense days of Elisha’s life. Elisha has been trained by the superprophet Elijah, and this is the day where Elijah is being taken up into heaven. And in the midst of all this emotion and the final hours with his mentor – the young CoP’s approach Elisha – not once, but twice – and share one of their prophecies with him, “Did you know that today the Lord is going to take your master from you?”
First impressions count. This is not a good time for Elijah and of course he knew. He could have brushed them off, or ignored them or frustratedly expressed “You’ve already told me once … I don’t have time for this”. But instead in verse 2 and in verse 5, Elisha affirms their prophecy – “Yes, you have discerned this correctly and yes – I know” and even had time to invest in their development, “but don’t speak of it to others yet.”
First impression count. Because instead of feeling shunned or excluded, these young CoP wanted to find out more. So, they stood at a distance and watched Elisha’s and Elijah’s last moments together. Elisha didn’t send them away – instead if they wanted to just observe from the side lines … they were welcome to do that.
And in that time of checking Elisha out, the CoP experience something divine, they see God at work in Elisha, and they want to know more. They started forming a connection with Elisha. But then something interesting happens. They have an idea. They want to go searching for Elijah – something that Elisha knows is a waste of time because Elijah has taken the fast chariot to Heaven – but the CoP insist it is a good idea. Let me read from 2 Kings 2:16-18.
16 “Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.”
“No,” Elisha replied, “do not send them.”
17 But they persisted until he was too embarrassed to refuse. So he said, “Send them.” And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. 18 When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, “Didn’t I tell you not to go?”
This is not uncommon. When people start to feel at home in a community, then they feel comfortable sharing their ideas or push a point of view. Even through Elisha knows won’t work – he doesn’t want to squash their enthusiasm and so he lets them try their idea.
When new people join our church community, they will come with their own ideas and passions and dreams. Is it part of the process of connecting and integrating them into our community to let them try things, to allow them to space to grow and learn … even if the learning comes through mistakes that we might be able to predict?
Elisha must have been good at making the CoP feel part of his faith community because by the time we get to 2 Kings 6, the CoP are a regular part of Elisha’s life and gatherings. I am sure that Elisha and the others who also gather have really been blessed by the CoP’s youthful enthusiasm and energy. But now they suggest that it is time for them to go and do this on their own. As hard as it would have been for Elisha and the rest of the gathering – they show it what it means to be a sending community.
In verse 2, Elisha backs their idea and as a community they gather around to bless them and send them. In verse 4, Elisha affirms that they are not alone in this endeavour and that the community will continue to support them (Elisha even goes with them to help them get set up). The community gave them resources to help them (such as the axe that sunk into the river). And when things went wrong, the community prayed and asked for divine help to move forward. It is a good model for encouraging the gifts and skills of people within community and as the miracle of the floating axe head showed, God blesses this model of sending out.
It is a fairly simple example – but I liked how Elisha was open, receptive but not pushy as the CoP first encountered him; then as they became more connected he allowed them to be a part of the community – even backing their ideas when he knew it was not going to work. Then ultimately, Elisha had encouraged the CoP to develop their gifts and leadership to a point where they were ready to serve beyond the community – and were sent with support and resources.
As I will show you over the next few week, Jesus did the exact same thing with his disciples. He provided an open and non-confronting first experience, then drew them into a journey with the community, and then ultimately sent them out to continue the larger ministry.
I love the direction our Vision has set for us in Faith and Discipleship; Children, Youth and Families, Generations and Seniors; and Community Engagement. I believe that God will continue to bless this vision. But I wonder what ideas or questions or things might emerge if we hold alongside this vision this idea of Pathways to Growth?
- How do we make sure the first impression of people who come through our doors or attend our groups are a positive and loving one?
- How do we not just allow people to observe our faith but how do we move them to a point where they find their own connection with Jesus and a belonging in the family of God?
- How do we integrate new people further into the live of our church community?
- How do we identify and empower people’s gift and embrace what it means to be a sending church?
These are good questions which, as I said – I with the help of others – will explore more over the next few weeks. I am even setting up some one-off taskforce groups to help us get to the details of what this might look like here. It is my prayer and hope that six months from now – Sunday 4th August … I can stand up here and we can be celebrating the growth that our vision and these pathways might bring.
Sound like a plan?
Are we willing to embrace this vision and help bring this vision to life?
I am going to lead us in a prayer of commitment and then we will show our commitment through communion.
God of our present and our future,
today on this Vision Sunday we look forward with hope.
We thank you for your vision for what we could be.
Stir us now to embrace this vision boldly,
Push back the horizons of our dreams;
And empower us to work together to bring this vision to Life.
As we embrace this vision
Fill us with strength, courage, hope, and love.
In Jesus name.