Rev Phil Swain – Turramurra Uniting Church’s Vision for 2020.
Preached at Turramurra Uniting Church on Vision Sunday, 2nd Feb, 2020
Reading: Matthew 22:34-40
Jesus in our bible reading was asked … How do we make sure we are right with God? What do we need to do to make sure that the things we are doing, the ideas that we have, the words that we speak … that they are good and godly? Scripture is full of laws and wisdom and advice and verses all telling us what to do and not do … but what is most important?
Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself” … or even more succinct … Love God, Love others.
We stand at the beginning of a new year. 2020. And I have the habit in ministry of setting aside the first Sunday of February as Vision Sunday – a time to remind ourselves of the calling or Vision that God has placed on this church and how this Vision might be enabled or implemented this year. Vision Sunday is also about making sure we aligned with the words of Jesus. How have we been – and how are we going to continue to – Love God and Love others.
This is my third Vision Sunday here at TUC. In Vision Sunday 2018, I had the privilege of casting a Vision Framework that you as a church had been discerning and refining in 18 months before I came. This Vision Framework had one main and three addition key areas that we felt God was calling us to pursue as a church. Can you remember what they were?
- Faith and Discipleship
- Children, Youth and Families
- Generations à Pastoral Care/Seniors
- Community Connections
For the past 2 years, this vision Framework has remained strong and valid and continues to form the foundation of Vision 2020.
The question is … how have we gone as a church under this Vision? Jesus said that we can tell how good a tree is through its fruit (Matt 7:17-18). So, have we seen fruit, or good outcomes, or growth at TUC under this vision? The exciting news is that the answer is YES!
For example, we can look at the specific goals we set at our mission planning days in 2018. We set 12 mission priorities to work towards over the next 18 months.
- Alpha / Youth Alpha Course
- Social Events
- Start a Playgroup
- CareNet – Systematic Pastoral Care
- Resourcing Intentional Faith Development
- Adapting the Chapel into a Venue
- Welcoming church foyer / coffee
- Communication/ Signage/ Marketing
- HUB Idea – Linking with the community with our complex
- Rural Connection
- Community Engagement Team
- Social Justice Team
If you look at this list, we can see that we have done ok. We have run Alpha, started the playgroup, developed a library of resources to build faith. The chapel is turning into a beautiful space for worship and gatherings. We have strengthened our rural connections and initiated a social justice and community engagement team. Sure, there are still things to do … like the good coffee machine … but let’s celebrate what has happened here. The vision and our commitment to the mission priorities have made a big difference – it has produced fruit.
And we also have seen growth. Spiritual Growth through intentional teaching, preaching and exploring the Bible together. Relational Growth through hospitality, small groups, prayer and social events. Growth in the Impact we are making and the way we engage the local community. AND Growth in numbers. Last year we continued to grow both worship attenders and people connecting with our church.
We give thanks to God for this blessing of growth. Let’s celebrate this growth. In a time when so many churches are not growing – lets appreciate the blessing of growth that God through this vision has brought.
But, as we acknowledged last year at our AGM, this growth has also brought the problem that our resources – particularly our awesome volunteers and our ministry staff – are being stretched to capacity. So last July we set a Big Audacious Goal … to increase our finances to allows us to add a new ministry staff member to our team – a half time minister of the word or chaplain to focus on the senior ministry and pastoral care. We embarked on the Imagining Hope program in August/Sept last year and today, I am so excited to be able to update you on the results from Imagining Hope.
As a result of the Ministry Fair, we had 64 people sign up to an additional 166 volunteer rolls … many of whom are still serving – still loving God and loving others – and are making a difference.
But in terms of the finances … you pledged to give an additional $40,000 a year or $750 a week to help us achieve our Big Audacious Goal. Did those pledges flow through? Yes – and I am overwhelmed with the result.
For three months leading up to Imagining Hope our giving – in the plate, envelopes and direct giving through EFT was just under $71,000. In the three months after Imagining Hope – the giving increase by $11,500 to $82,500 or the equivalent of an extra $47,000 per year – and nearly all of that is in direct giving which is reliable and stable! And this increase is more than enough for us to press the go button on employing a new staff member.
This is an amazing story of blessing. There would be not many churches around, and I can’t think of one Uniting Church, who could say that they have increased their giving by $47,000.
So, we start 2020 in a great place. Our vision is strong. Our finances are strong. Our volunteering is strong. The impact that we are making in the church and community is growing and our numbers are still growing. We are in a good place and we give God all the glory and thanks for this amazing blessing.
So .. where do we go now? What should we focus on in 2020 so that this momentum of growth and life continues? How can we make sure that we are focused on Loving God and Loving Others? Where is God taking us this year?
I have been prayerfully pondering this for the past 3 months, and Church Council have been involved in a number of discussion on this too, and we want to share a little this morning of what we discern is God’s direction for TUC in 2020.
[Much of the things that I am just about to share are in the handout]
1. Refining or Renewing our Vision
As acknowledged, as a church we are in a good place and we believe that our Vision focus is strong and valid. We do not feel the need to be changing our Vision significantly, however, we have discerned that it is time for a “Vision Check-up”. This check-up is a chance to review and refine our Vision so that we can continue to grow and for the Vision to be clear and effective.
I came across a great analogy to explain what I mean – and yes, it is a play on the bad puns that everyone thought I was going to use – how do we make sure our Vision is 20/20.
A few years ago, I had the harsh reality wake-up call that I was getting older as I did the “hold the piece of paper at an arm’s length so that I can bring the words into focus” move. I had to admit that my eyesight was getting worse and I needed to go to an optometrist. Has anyone else had that experience?
If you haven’t let me try and explain what they do. They put you in front of a machine – called a phoropter – you are looking at this blurry poster of letters. But then they start to twist some dials which switches the lenses in front of your eyes … and then asks, “Is that clearer”. This trial-and-error approach, try one lens, “is that clearer”, tweak it a bit, “what about now”, twist the dial a little more, “clear now?” keeps going until you have a perfectly clear eye test in front of you.
Wikipedia describes a phoropter like this – a device used by optometrists to determine the best lens prescription on each eye during an exam. It works by changing different lenses quickly to see which lens brings the person’s vision into the sharpest focus. Just like a phoropter, in the first part of 2020 we aim to take a closer look at how we are enacting God’s Vision within the many TUC programs, activities and groups – to twist some dials (so to speak) – see if we can make the vision here at TUC into the sharpest focus.
In terms of a church’s mission… what would be the dials that we could turn or tweak to help make our Vision clearer? I think the obvious answer is our bible reading again.
Dial #1 – How is what we are doing helping us to Love God?
Dail #2 – How is what we are doing helping us to love others?
We could use these two questions to bring our Vision into the sharpest focus!
In the handout, I mention four dials or lenses – two based on our bible reading and two more – that might be helpful to assess and possibly “tweak” things:
- Spiritual Renewal / Growth. How are we helping people love God – to grow in their faith and discipleship and find renewal and refreshment for their souls?
- Relational Connections. How are we helping people to love each other – to connect deeply with each other, with the church and with Jesus?
- Unfinished Business. Are there elements of goals or mission priorities from our 2018/2019 Vision that need to be completed?
- Impact vs Investment. What investment of resources are needed to create the biggest impact or effectiveness from a group, activity or program? How can we create the “biggest bang” for the investment?
At Church Council in a few weeks time, we are going to be working out the best way to do this but it is my hope that it will all help us not only see the vision clearer, but as I have discovered with my glasses, it makes life so much more easier and more productive. This “Vision Checkup” will culminate in a “refining our mission” planning day/session in May 2020 where we can all bring our voices and ideas to find the best way to renew, refine and refresh our vision.
What does this look like in practice? An example is that last November our Church Council did this in relation to the way we welcome people and help connect people into the life of the church. We span past us several different creative and innovate welcoming and connecting ideas and two really jumped out to us – aligned the clearest and sharpest with our Vision and the goals we were trying to achieve.
And so, we are committed to doing these two ideas in the first part of 2020. Would you like to know what these two ideas are?
The first is to create a new section on our website for people who are “checking out our church”. Research tells us that 90% of people will check out a churches website before walking through their door. So we want our website to be as informative and helpful and welcoming as we can be. This welcome or newcomers section will have clear information and videos about who we are as a church, information about our worship and activities and most importantly, a step by step understanding of what they will experience if they come to our church. We hope that this extra information – combined with the work of the welcomers and friendliness of our church family – will allow people to feel more comfortable and welcome when they walk through the door.
The other initiative is TUC 101. A simple, 2-hour introduction session (most likely over lunch at the Manse) which highlights the Church’s history, values, vision and activities. Church Council and I are going to put this together over the next month or so and the goal is to run it every 2 months and encourage all newcomers (and eventually all TUC members) to attend.
The clarity for this decision on how to move forward came from this review process. We hope that undergoing a similar review process in different groups and activities – such as CEW, bible studies, worship teams, seniors centre, flea market, even our CYF activities – we can renew and refresh the way our Vision is enacted to make it even more efficient, effective and fruitful.
2. Being a Lighthouse Church
The other key element of Vision 2020 relates to this idea of a lighthouse church that I hinted at last week in my sermon.
I am not sure if you realise that TUC is one of the largest and strongest Uniting Churches in our region (and state) and we are still growing. As such, we believe that God is calling us in 2020 to embrace what it means to be a lighthouse church.
Just as a lighthouse helps people that will never step foot inside the lighthouse itself, a lighthouse church reaches out beyond itself and helps people, communities and others churches. During 2020 (and most likely in years to come) we hope to discern what this might look like at TUC and reshape some of our mission and ministry to reach beyond ourselves in a significant and impactful way.
Some people here might recognise this as a bit of a “blast from the past” as this is not the first time that TUC has talked about being a lighthouse church – or the “light on the hill”. The wider Uniting Church sees us as a key strategic church, one that has the capacity to influence and resource the regional church and beyond. I am not being critical, just stating the reality, that I think over the past 10 years I think that lost some of clarity of what it means to be a lighthouse church. and now God is calling us to rediscover and embrace this.
I wish I could give you a number of clear ideas or examples of how we will do this, but I think this is something that we need to work out together as a church – and I am going to encourage Church Council to find space in 2020 for us to explore this.
But to get us thinking of what it might mean for us to step up and be a lighthouse church … here is some things we might consider:
- Our external giving & support of missionaries
- Enhancing our local connections and relationship with schools, day cares, new developments etc;
- bringing our social justice ethos into sharper focus;
- enhancing digital/ social media footprint;
- better connect with, support and grow other churches and congregations in our area/ region and
boosting our influence at a regional and national level.
An example of this time of ministry might be TUC supporting the UCA Saltbush project – resourcing and encouraging rural congregations. We might be able to offer people, resources or even 2 weeks of our ministry staff to work and support in a rural church—benefitting the wider church, not just TUC.
I am excited to say that TUC has just been linked up to project reconnect and will be co-ordinating a months’ worth of worship resources and video sermons for use of the rural church (Aug 2020). We are also having ongoing dialogue of how we can support the nearby Uniting Church like St Andrews. This is what it means to be a lighthouse church and I look forward to seeing the “lighthouse” ideas and initiatives that God might stir within our church over the next 12 months.
2020 Vision – Where to Now?
I always seem to have a problem to talking too much in a Vision Sunday talk … so if you missed some of the mass of information I have just shared, let me see if I can summarise all this for you:
- As a church we are in a good place. Our Vision is strong and we have seen growth. We are ready to launch into 2020.
- Our main key goal for 2020 – in response to the amazing generosity of the increase in giving – is to appoint a new half-time pastoral and seniors minister. We will be particularly focused on this in the first 6 months of 2020.
- Our second key goal is to review and refresh our Vision and mission priorities. To finish the goals from 2018/19 that need to be finished, to do some strategic tweaking on our churches groups and activities if needed; culminating in our church wide “Refining our Vision” Planning Day (May 2020) to refresh and renew our Vision for the years ahead.
- And the third key goal is to do some exploring of what it might mean for us to embrace being a lighthouse church – a church that reaches out to support and resource God’s mission beyond TUC.
Sound like a plan? Are we willing to embrace this vision and help bring this vision to life?
I say again, we are in a good place, but lets never loose sight of what it most important … and that is the wisdom that Jesus gave us in the bible reading. Above all, we are to love God and love others. And while yes, I encourage you to be willing to share your ideas and passions and participate in God’s Vision and mission here at TUC … I more encourage you to simply Love God with all your thoughts, words and actions and love all people – both those here at TUC and beyond.
May God continue to bless our church this year.
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.