Vision Sunday 2024

Vision Sunday 2024

Bible Reading: Mark 8:27-9:8 / Preacher: Rev Phil Swain

Vision Sunday 2024 is an important day in our church year – a time where we cast a Vision of where God is leading us as a church for the next 12 months. Vision Sunday aligns with the key passage in our journey of the gospel of Mark – the question question of Jesus “who do you say that I am” and the follow up challenge to follow him. Our pastor Phil will use this passage to remind us again the core aspects of our Vision as well as sharing the direction for 2024. We hope to stir within us a passion and energy to work with God to bring this vision to life!

Vision Sunday Documentation

Today is Vision Sunday – a day where we talk about our church’s values and goals and how they might shape what we do over the next 12 months.  A bit like a rudder on a boat, Vision Sunday sets the direction in which we are heading in for 2024.  Vision Sunday help us to keep moving forward.

But before we get to that, I wanted to link Vision Sunday into what we have been doing with the Narrative Lectionary as we move through the gospel of Mark – and in the way that God seems to weave things together, it seems to be the perfect time in our Mark journey to talk about Vision and Mission.

Last time I preached I hinted at the importance of the passage we had today.  I said that everything in the first 8 chapter of Mark build up to this reading and then everything in the last 8 chapters flow from this passage – everything pivots on these verses.  The first 8 chapters of Mark is all about people looking at Jesus and asking the question, “Who is this man?”  Who is this man who is teaching with authority?  Who is this who is healing people and doing miracles?  Who is this man that even the winds and the waves obey him?  Who is this man?

The people in general are struggling to work Jesus out – hence the answer to Jesus’ question in Mark 8:27 “Who do people say that I am”?  Maybe John the Baptist reincarnated, others say you are teacher or a great prophet like Elijah … really they have no idea.  

But then we get to the pivotal verse in the gospel of Mark – Mark 8:28.  Everything has been building to this point … Jesus asks his disciples – “What about you?  Who do you say that I am”?

Peter steps up and makes his declaration, “You are the Messiah!”  In the light of the previous 8 chapters … it is clear, you are the Messiah – the one who has come to save us and to reconnect us with God.  You are the Messiah!

I think that when Peter made this declaration it should have been like Christmas Eve when the Spirit Meter hit the top – the crowd would cheer, there would be streamers exploding and everyone would be celebrating!  A big sign would drop down so everyone would know that Jesus is the Messiah.

But instead, the reading pivots in a completely unexpected way.   Peter makes this declaration and immediately Jesus warns them to not tell anyone about him and then begins to teach them how the Son of Man much suffer things, be rejected by the chief priests and religious leaders, and be killed … but will rise again.

What?  What just happened here?  This is not the pivot we were expecting – and neither was Peter.  Peter took Jesus aside to question this weird turn of events … and Jesus says to Peter “Get behind me Satan”.  30 seconds earlier, Peter was top of the class for getting the “who do you say that I am” question correct, four verses later, he is now being called Satan?  What is happening?

Very quickly … I think that there are two keys that unlock this for us – and will also help us as we look at Vision 2024 today. 

The first key is actually linked to the story that comes directly before our Bible reading today … Mark 8:22-26.  Jesus meets a blind man at Bethsaida and places his hands on him to be healed. 

Jesus asks him, “Do you see anything?” and he responds, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”  And then Jesus puts his hands on again and helps the man to see clearly.

Just like the man’s vision – I think Peter insight about Jesus being the Messiah is correct but he is not seeing the big picture about what this means.  Jesus response was helping fill in the bigger picture for Peter and showing that being Messiah means going to the cross.  And if Peter and the others who wants to follow the Messiah, they too will need to pick up their crosses; they too will need to lose their life to find it.  Jesus was helping them to see things more clearly.

We are not told what the disciples response to this surprising pivot was … I wonder if they felt confused, overwhelmed, maybe unsure.  They were already struggling following Jesus in the first 8 chapters and now Jesus turns towards the cross and asks them to follow.   I would have felt unsure or inadequate.  I definitely would have felt overwhelmed.  Where do they start?  How do they even take the first step with Jesus?

The Bible reading continue and helpfully gives us a second key to unlock this bigger picture … the transfiguration of Jesus.  Peter, James and John are led to a mountaintop where they have this spiritual experience of seeing Jesus glorified – we would equate this as drawing close to God in worship or feeling like we are in the presence of God in a rich and real way. 

And in this moment – God answers the “who do you say that I am” question about Jesus.  God says “This is my own son whom I love”.  The disciples, in a literal mountain-top experience sees Jesus in glory and God speaks to them and encourages them in that time of worship to simply … listen to Jesus.  Listen to him.

And that is what Kevin and I and Church Council have been humbly doing at the end of last year as we attempted to discern God’s calling for our church in 2024.  We prayerfully listen to Jesus and ask God to reveal to us the vision, the direction that God is calling us to head as we move forward together as a church.

In your Vision Sunday flyer you can see what we discerned, what we heard or felt the Spirit of Jesus saying or prompting.  We discerned that God was still calling us to invest in the five key focus areas that we identified in our churchwide Vision planning of 2022.   These five areas were:

  • Faith and Discipleship
  • Growing Young
  • Pastoral Care and Connections
  • Small Groups & Support
  • Being Better Neighbours / Community Connections

But this is pretty broad and covers a lot.  Could we ask Jesus to help make that Vision a little clearer for 2024?  Looking at this larger vision … What might God be particularly calling us to invest in or focus on this year?  Kevin is going to give his answer to that via video in a moment, but I’d like to share my ponderings.  For me, as I prayed and discerned – a word and a picture emerged.  The picture was the tree and the word was growth.

Six years ago when I was first called to be the minister here, the church had a strong vision of growth.  Both Church Council and myself felt that God was calling us into an era of growth … and for those next two years we saw that vision come alive.  There was growth numerically, growth in energy and engagement and there was growth in our outreach. 

Unfortunately COVID put a halt on some of that momentum … and the past few years has more been about re-establishing connection and how we can be a lighthouse church.  But I feel that God is reminding us of that vision of growth again and that in 2024 we should be looking at these five key areas with the particular focus on growth – numerical growth, spiritual growth and growth in the feeling of connection and community.

So where does the picture of the tree fit in?  Well, trees grow – but I think that the picture helped me as well as church council to help the focus of the vision be even sharper.  Let me explain.

I had this picture in my mind of a huge tree with branches reaching wide … but as I pondered this I thought, those branches will break off unless the core of the tree, the trunk of the tree is strong and the roots are deep.  So, if God is calling us to be reaching out and growing, then we must also be about strengthening our core … and the place to start in sinking our roots deep in Jesus.

One of the things that I love about our church is that we are Jesus centric … Jesus is at the heart of all that we do and say.  Jesus is the foundation we build upon and without Jesus we can do nothing.  So, as I cast this Vision this morning I want us to be a little like the disciples and have that transfiguration experience … to draw close to God, to experience Jesus in all his glory and to be reminded to listen to Jesus.

I encourage you with the words of Paul in Colossians 2:6-7 NLT

 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

If we want this Vision of growth to be brought to life this year, we first have to make sure that our roots are deep in Jesus.  Then we can start considering what it means to strengthening the core … making sure that the trunk would be strong enough to sustain any extra growth within the branches. 

In my reflection, to me this was about making sure that we as the church family were spiritually strong and were helping others to spiritually grow.  This was about making sure that we as a church family were striving to care and support and love each other and that all felt connected and part of this community.  These are the sort of things that are key for a strong core.  Is this making sense?

And if we strengthen our core then these wide reaching  branches have the capacity to grow and make a difference both within but more importantly beyond our church.  In our discussion at Church Council end of last year, we felt God clearly speaking to us and saying that we needed to continue the “growing young” journey we had started last year and that God was calling us in particular to continue to reach out into our local community – to continue to be a lighthouse church.

And so we ended up with this picture and these key phrases that shapes our Vision 2024 … God is calling us as a church to grow through being established and rooted in Jesus; to grow through strengthening our core through spiritual growth, care, connection and support; and to grow through continuing to grow young and encouraging and supporting our children, families, youth and young adult; and to grow by continuing to branch out into our local community as a lighthouse church.

Is this resonating with you? 

So how do we bring this Vision to life this year?  What are some practical ideas on how do we practical move our church forward?  What is an idea we could do to stimulate growth through strengthen our core or growing young or reaching out?

This is the tricky part of any Vision Sunday talk.  We get excited about the bigger picture of what God is calling us to do, but when we start to get to the practical details … many of us feel a little overwhelmed or unclear of what we can do.  And maybe, some of us are still feeling tired after the last few years and unsure if we have the capacity to take on more or to give generously of our time, energy and resources for God’s vision. 

In the light of this, I wondered whether this Vision Sunday might be more fruitful if we – instead of proposing a list of ideas or projects that would move us forward in 2024 – that we instead suggest a series of questions that we offer all the different groups and ministry areas within TUC to consider.   Our hope is that these questions might prompt one or two small things that we could do or things that we might tweak to move our group or area a step forward within the vision.  It makes sense that these ideas come from the people who are involved in these ministry areas or groups because they are people who would ultimately bring the ideas to life. 

So, Kevin and myself have worked on five broad questions to help us reflect on Vision 2024.  Not all of these questions will not be relevant to every group or ministry area but we are hoping they might prompt one or two small things that might bring growth and momentum to our church and to the Vision.

Is this making sense?

You have already seen these questions as they are listed in the Vision 2024 Flyer – let me quickly run through them for you…

The “Strengthening our Core” Prompting Questions:

  1. What is one small thing we might do or try to grow?  How might we increase the number connected to our group or ministry area?
  2. What is one small thing we might do or try to spiritually grow?  What rituals, practices or other ideas could we share in our context to be more helpful in connecting people with faith and Jesus?
  3. What is one small thing we might do or try to strengthen or deepen the sense of community in our group or ministry area?  How do we show love, care and support for each other in all parts of our life?

These questions will mean different things to different groups or ministry areas – but I believe that they can be helpful.  For example – what is one thing that we could do here at the 9am worship service to grow numerically?  Or does it make sense for a group to consider a ritual or spiritual practice that helpful to those attending?  Or what might be one little thing we can tweak to enhance the way we show love and care to all people who we see at our groups?  See how it works? 

Kevin did some thinking on this and while he couldn’t be here today, we have a short video of one of his responses to these questions…

The “Growing Young” prompter question is all about building on the work we started last year with our Growing Young program:

  • What is one small thing we might do or try to attract and encourage people who are younger than us?  How do we encourage intergenerational connections and conversations?   How do we include and encourage children, youth, young adults, and families?

This question might not be as relevant to some groups – but it still a good one to ask.  What does it mean for the your group to encourage intergenerational connections and conversation?

Likewise the “Reaching out into our Local Community” question is a good one to consider:

  • What is one small thing we might do or try to build or strengthen bridges or links beyond our group or ministry area into the local community?  How can we help raise awareness in our local community of what we offer?

Part of your answer might be to work alongside or align with some of the specific events that we already have to help us to do this (such as the Carols) but maybe God might stir an idea that is completely left field and that you might be keen to give a try.

One of my giftings is that I am an ideas person – these questions prompt many ideas in me … but I really feel that God is saying to me to pause and let you and the groups that you are involved in to ponder these questions first.  But can I add –
I am more than happy to chat with any individual or group about these questions, or to help facilitate these ponderings. 

I encourage us to all reflect on these questions and if any great idea emerges of something that your group or ministry area can try … well – you are the ones involved and so I empower you to just give it a try  … because again…  it is ultimately you who will be part of bringing this Vision to life.

Kevin and I and Church Council are keen to be kept in the loop so that we can share emerging ideas and stories with the whole church.  It is our hope that we will be able to give a Vision update at the July AGM whether this idea has worked and whether we are seeing some growth.

I do get excited on Vision Sunday and sometimes I just need to stop … so let me finish with the question, the challenge and the encouragement that Jesus gave to his disciples – because we too are Jesus disciples and this word is for us too.

Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am”?

May we all know that Jesus is indeed our saviour, our helper.

Jesus gave the challenge, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

May we today commit anew to this – Yes Jesus we want to be your disciples.  We commit to following you.  We commit to being part of your Vision for this place and our community.

Lastly Jesus gave the encouragement – that we are not in this alone.  As we continue to worship God, Jesus invites us to come up to a Spiritual mountaintop; to experience the fullness of his glory, to be surrounded by the saints in the very presence of God – and to hear God speak to us … “This one that you are following, this is my son!  Listen to him”. Amen.