“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)Dear Friends,
Advent season is here. We prepare for Christ’s coming, remembering the immeasurable love of God. God comes to be with us! Matthew reminds us that Jesus is called “Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” God came for a reason, found in the quote above. God came to save us; to reconnect us, and reset us on a course that leads us and others to life. There is an agenda and plan to God’s coming and what God is doing. Shouldn’t that be the same with us? Over the past few months I’ve been lifting up my vision for MUM to you to consider. I come now to the third and final focal point of my vision:
Setting an intentional Discipleship Plan/Vision for MUM: Our Mission Statement is: “Serving God, Sharing Love, and Changing Lives.” How do we live that out?
We began working on the plan last year when PAC asked the congregation to think of scriptures that should be foundational to our ministry together. Your response was wonderful! PAC spent several meetings reading, engaging and praying about those verses, focusing on the question of what core values are represented in those verses. At the end of that time of reflection they came together and named the following values:
Love: Receiving and sharing the unmerited love of God (grace), that all may hear and be drawn to a new powerful relationship with God in Christ.
Service: Offering ourselves in service to God and inviting God to use us in our service to others; with the goal that people may see God’s presence, hope and love in and through us.
Hospitality: In the words of Robert Schnase, “Out of genuine love for Christ and for others, <we> take the initiative to invite, welcome, include, and support newcomers and help them grow in faith as they become part of the Body of Christ.”
Transformation: To commit ourselves daily to let God change our lives into the image of Jesus, and offering spaces for others to experience God’s grace so they may commit to joining this journey of transformation along with us.
Peace: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.” To work for God’s peace and justice (Shalom) in all we do that others may experience God’s peace through us.
We will be spending the upcoming year looking at our ministries in the light of these Core Values and making plans for the next 5 years. We invite you to join us in the conversations. What a great way to get ready for Advent; the “coming of God” to us. May we open ourselves to the “Light of the World” that Christ’s light may shine in all we do!
Advent blessings, Ed
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb. 13)
That’s the funny thing about strangers, you never know who you might be talking to! Jesus challenges us in his famous parable, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” He’s talking about “God’s family.” That’s bigger than our definitions of: “my church,” “those with whom I feel comfortable,” “those who agree with me; those in my social status, gender, identity, or political affiliation.” They are God’s family. God created them, and sent Jesus to redeem them (and us with them). Our job as Christ’s Church is to carry on Jesus’ mission. That makes hospitality central to who we are called to be.
This fall I’ve been sharing with you my vision for MUM. “Radical hospitality” is central. It’s not just something we “should do”; it’s what MUM should be known for outside our “walls.” Who did Jesus refuse to love? Who did Jesus refuse to serve? If we define ourselves in the Way of Jesus then we should show hospitality to all. Genesis tells us that all human beings are created in God’s image; created “good”! If we believe that, then our job is to remind everyone of their goodness; that they are God’s child and to answer God’s sacred call to grow into what that means.
Robert Schnase in his book Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregations points out that vibrant congregations practice “radical hospitality.” “Out of genuine love for Christ and for others, their laity and pastors take the initiative to invite, welcome, include, and support newcomers and help them grow in faith as they become part of the Body of Christ.” The Apostle Paul tells us that the “body of Christ” is diverse and has been intentionally created that way. Each serves the part of the whole and no one person sees all of God. Instead the Holy Spirit comes through each part of the body. Through our God-given diversity we are challenged to see a bigger and truer picture of God, others and ourselves. God’s community challenges us to break out of the arrogance and self-centeredness of our egos and become “God’s people”; defined by the “Way of Jesus.”
You don’t have to look hard at our world today to see how that “Way” of being together would set us apart in a world that is building walls of exclusion. Walls justified by our own self-understanding of “rightness” or “our truth.” Walls to close out “others” who make us uncomfortable because of: race, culture, status, doctrines, sexual identity, or political agendas. Walls built by our fears, not our faith. Hebrews (above) reminds us that when we wall out others, we can wall out the true presence of God. We block ourselves from God’s mission.
My vision would be that every human being who enters MUM would experience the hospitality and welcome that Jesus extended. To ALL. Not only LGBTQ, but also across the “liberal”/“conservative” walls, racial walls, socio-economic walls, or “right thinking” walls that we create. Let us seek to be “God’s family” not just “MY” Church and give thanks for our God-given diversity!
Happy Thanksgiving, Ed
“We’re not keeping this to ourselves, we’re passing it along to the next generation—
God’s fame and fortune,the marvelous things he has done.”(Psalm 78 – the Message)
In the Book of Proverbs we read, “Without a vision the people perish.” So, I hope to explore my vision for MUM with you over for the next few months. As the Psalmist reminds us, it is our job to insure that we are passing on the faith to the next generation. So… an important part of my vision is:
Ministry to our young families, and Young Adults: Since 2016 serious conversations have taken place in our staff and leadership about a need to welcome and connect with younger generations. Most of our current ministries, focus on the needs of our existing congregation which has steadily aged. There has been a noticeable absence of our children and youth in worship. Our Sunday school has been in steady decline for years. We discussed that holding Sunday School and worship at the same time meant that children are not able to be in worship to learn and experience; to grow.
The MUM Congregational Survey in 2017 showed that many of you have the same concerns. 72% percent of respondents felt it was time to change in order to grow and reach the community. The top 4 changes shared: 1) Changes in music, more upbeat, “Contemporary.” 2) Youth – people want to see more involvement and more opportunities. 3) Shorter family worship time with some sort of Sunday school for all kids in worship. 4) More fellowship opportunities for all ages (we agree that we need more for the younger members in the 25-40 range).
Making a priority of ministry to younger generations is critical if we are to pass on our faith to future generations. So, last year we began taking several steps in this direction:
Share the Love Sunday: A shorter, more kid-friendly service on Communion Sundays, as part of Sunday School, with an opportunity to participate in a mission and fellowship.
New position of Director of Discipleship (Justin Boothby): “Responsible for inviting encouraging and supporting the growth of Christian discipleship in the church; specifically focusing on our Children/Youth and Young Adults. Helping the congregation explore who we move from “membership” to “discipleship” focus/mentality. Our DCD is still responsible for the Sunday School, now with the help of our Superintendent Tricia Shelton. We’ve now added, to “Create a sustainable Young Adult Ministry that is inviting to those in the community as well as our congregation.”
New position of Director of Praise Worship Ministries: Valerie Wilson is serving here along with leading our choir. The goal is to: “Lead people to encountering the presence of God in worship by providing musical and creative leadership for all contemporary worship services and events at Monroeville UMC. This to include portions in blended music on Sunday morning Worship and creation of new worship opportunities for the congregation and community.”
There are very challenging tasks! God’s call always pushes us to grow as we seek to reach others with the Good News! I believe that God has sent us those who have those gifts in Justin and Valerie. I know that I’ve been blessed by them even in this short time I’ve been walking with them. As you get to know them I know you will be, too.
“Without a vision the people Parish…” Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
It was a turning point in a meeting of a church that was in serious decline. They has asked one of the “Conference Consultants” to come and help them. The consultant came, held a retreat and offered a way forward. But it would cost something of them: time, money, and openness to the change. There was one of those “everyone looking at the table” moments. Honestly, I didn’t think they would do it. Until someone asked the “Wiseman/spiritual leader” of the church. What do you think, Merle? He responded by quoting the scripture above. “The Bible says, ‘without a vision the people parish’.” That was it. The congregation decided to move forward. With God’s grace they did!
Some people in the congregation have recently suggested to me that it might be helpful for me to share my vision for MUM with the congregation. As there is too much there for one newsletter, I thought I might dedicate the next several months to sharing my vision. What I am going to share has emerged over several years of conversations with people, leadership of the church, the Spiritual Life Weekend (2016), our survey last year.
So my vision? My focus over the past 3 years has centered around three areas:
Ministry to our young families and young adults: There continues to be a need to better support our young families. How can we be responsive and supportive to this active community?
Hospitality to guests and visitors: How might we intentionally welcome and integrate those seeking a closer relationship with Christ into our community of faith?
Setting an intentional Discipleship Plan/Vision for MUM: Our Mission Statement is: “Serving God, Sharing Love, Changing Lives.” How do we live that out?
I will be exploring these areas over the next few months. But as I reflected on these things a deeper question came to me. Why am I seeking this? What’s my motivation for the vision?
A consultant friend of mine once shared with me that when congregations call him there are three predictable needs: a shrinking and aging congregation, need for numerical growth, and need for increased financial support. He asks them why they want to grow and finds mostly they want to continue what they are already doing. He offers to go door to door and ask people to come to their church because they need “bodies in the pews and dollars in their collection plate.” “How do you think that will go over?”he asks, and then continues:
My point is that churches that exist just to survive will fail. Churches that focus on just serving the people they have, will fail. Somewhere along the line these churches forgot their basic reason for being, and they settled into patterns that were more about surviving than thriving. Go figure! But churches that are clear about their mission and passionate about pursuing that mission are the churches that are alive and thriving.
30 years ago I came to MUM as a salesman and found a congregation that through their Service to God, the Sharing of Love, God Changed my life. The reason I seek a vision for MUM is because I believe God continues to use this Community of Faith to transform lives! I want THAT to continue! That’s exciting! What’s your motivation for your vision for MUM?