During my first elders’ meeting with the other elders of the church in early 2019, Albert asked, “What is your vision for the church.” Where did I see the church in five or ten years? I shared my desire to emphasize outreach and missions, but I told the elders that I did not have a five or ten year plan for TCATS. I wanted to get to know the church, first, which takes a couple years.
It takes at least two years, sometimes longer, for any transition when a new pastor comes to a church. The congregation has to become familiar with a new personality–a pastor who is not like the previous because no two people are the same or do things the same way. The incoming pastor has to get to know not only the church members, but attenders and the community at large. Added to these challenges, The Church at Sunsites lost her previous pastor, Ted, to cancer not long after his retirement. And, 2020 shook us all around again, making everything more difficult. We needed at least the two years we have had together before any real vision-casting was done. Approaching 2021, I was looking for signs that the congregation was ready to really get moving for the cause of the Gospel and relight the lamp at the top of this lighthouse in the desert.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish,” Albert reminded me during an elders meeting in the later half of last year. The verse is Proverbs 29:18, and by it Solomon instructed his son to provide direction to his son. Vision is direction. We know our purpose (glorify Christ) and mission (expand Christ’s kingdom), what is our vision or direction? Albert’s question was the first sign to me that we are ready to develop vision for this chapter in the life of The Church at Sunsites.
I have been working hard to share the Gospel and promote the ministries of The Church at Sunsites. I have been building relationships in our community, and trying to plan ways to reach our community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All of the sudden, quite a few people I love seemed really angry with me about something. I responded badly because of my experiences at previous churches. You remember the Sunday I repented during the sermon and couldn’t hold back my tears? That was because of all this. The experience was sanctifying for almost everyone. I became a better servant, and I think it finally brought those who wanted to work as a team together as local church servant-leadership. “God had a reason,” Steve said with a smile on his face. Skin grafts and organ transplants require time to take. After two years of healing and struggling together, I think TCATS was finally reborn. The general frustrations of 2020 helped with that. I sat with the deacons, and they started talking about godly vision. That was the second sign. The deacon body and elders were unified–not in a passive way but in a very active way.
Our study of 1 Corinthians (a study I’ve been planning for about a year), could not have been timed more perfectly. God seems to work like that. A church member approached me and said, “You know, it might be good for us to talk about the basics of church.” Such was Paul’s goal as he wrote to the Corinthian believers. This church member was concerned that we were merely doing church rather than being the church. This, matched with other comments about people not feeling like they were part of the church or frustrated because things were not as unified as they once were, were together the third sign. Congregation members are beginning to ask, “What is our purpose.” Others desire to be more involved in the ministry of the church. That’s good! All of the emotions, angst, and frustrations were necessary parts of the transition (and the mourning process). Events and meetings the church did with Ted kind-of fell away. The church hurt, even experiencing difficulty amidst the pastor search committee before I came, and needed time. Some of what we did, we did from a place of stress and obligation rather than with heartfelt sincerity; yes, even me. We honor Ted and his ministry. The grieving process was tumultuous and will doubtless have invisible residual effects on us, but we can now look to the horizon. Family, I am proud of you. In the past couple of months I have seen amazing forgiveness, a rejection of gossip, and a willingness you have to consider others more important than yourselves on all matters. We have rediscovered what it means to live full of the Holy Spirit. There was a sweet spirit before. Though 2020 was rough, there is now an even sweeter spirit in The Church at Sunsites (if that’s possible).
As we consider our vision, here is my commitment to you:
- I am devoted to you in all things,
- I will lead in the vision we develop together,
- I will not run without you,
- I will consider you more important than myself,
- We will run the race our Lord has given us together,
- I am always available to you because this isn’t merely a job, and
- I am on your team for your good unconditionally.
I want to do things well. I want our vision to be a biblical one. I want it to be the vision of Christ and of the whole congregation, not only me.
In our constitution, we have already described our purpose and mission.
The purpose of the Church is to glorify Jesus Christ through worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry (Constitution III).
The mission of the Church is to seek to lead the people of Sunsites and surrounding areas to Christ as Lord and to expand the work of the Kingdom of Christ into all the world by meeting the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of persons near us and supporting the work of other like- minded churches by our participation both personally and financially (Constitution IV).
We can summarize these by saying our purpose is to glorify Christ and our mission is to expand the kingdom of Christ. Biblically, that is the purpose and mission of the church. What about vision? What is our end goal? What tangible outcome are we working toward that we can grab hold of, invest our time and finances in, and invite others into? Our purpose is to glorify Christ. Our mission is to advance Christ’s kingdom. What does that look and feel like?
I’m going to do something a little crazy and ask you to recall the sermon from the first Sunday of Advent–”Hope.” Do you remember what the messianic hope was? Peace and justice on the earth—measurable outcomes of the Gospel being worked out. That’s vision. God’s vision, what His Gospel work is accomplishing, is peace on earth and justice for all people. People don’t realize that their participation with the true church body accomplishes very real results in the world—results that every person and nation long for. Worldly institutions, rulers, and social means of justice are failing. Christ is not. The world desperately needs the church and the vision laid out in the Old Testament. In large part, the church in America has lost sight of Christ’s vision. It separated out of the world, became religious, and stopped speaking into the world as if the Gospel actually accomplishes peace and justice among the nations. It comes together to glorify Christ by neglecting the world. Christ gave His church her mission because that is how He is accomplishing His own vision. We are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. The church drives peace and justice in the world by carrying the Gospel message of hope. Through Gospel proclamation, Christ is conquering the world just like He promised in the Old and New Testaments.
What does that mean for our valley? Well, most churches I know of spends their time condemning the world and sharing a defensive Gospel, “If you don’t want to go to Hell, come to Jesus because the whole world is being destroyed and that’s your only hope.” When Christ spoke to Peter, He told Peter that He would build His church through the ministry of the apostles and the gates of Hell would not be able to stand against it (Matthew 16:17-20). Gates are defensive structures. Christ and His church are placed in the offensive position against the gates of Hell. Christ promises success. If we take on Christ’s vision for our valley and continue to expand the kingdom of heaven on this earth through making disciples like Christ instructed, we will be, perhaps, the only local church sharing an offensive Gospel, “Come follow Christ. He will save you and use you to renew His world. This is how we see peace and justice in our time.” What a different, hopeful, proclamation! Now, there’s something I can invest in! The best part… It’s true, and it’s Christ’s vision for the world—including our valley. The church is the institution through which the world is being made new. We are charging against Hell and its gates cannot stand.
What a Biblical Vision Means for Our Valley (and all the places we expand Christ’s kingdom through church planting and web ministry)
- Since Christ is building His kingdom, broken homes unite,
- wayward children return to Christ,
- people experience less anxiety and more joy,
- people become less condemning of others,
- friendships are restored,
- conflict between individuals, households, and different philosophies is lessened,
- marriages are mended,
- parents raise their children well and wisely,
- people begin to care for the resources God has provided,
- people no longer live in fear,
- crime rates lessen,
- trade becomes fairer,
- people become better at their trades,
- people become more generous and less stingy,
- and so much more.
All because the Gospel accomplishes Christ’s vision for the whole world; It is effective. If our vision reflects Christ’s, we can invite people to invest in The Church at Sunsites. Such a vision calls parents to raise their children in a healthy church. We want the generation following us to be prosperous and experience the kingdom of heaven coming to earth—something the world has not been able to accomplish through its own education, training, or workforce. We desire Christ’s blessings to radiate from The Church at Sunsites to our valley, county, state, country, and world such that we don’t condemn the world to destruction but see Christ conquering and renewing the world through peace by making disciples of all nations (cf. John 3:17, Matthew 28:18-20).
Vision drives the events we plan together, the outreach we do, and the missions we are involved in. Vision provides structure in an otherwise mad world. The vision we develop together on January 14 will help to establish the place of The Church at Sunsites in the kingdom of heaven in our day and in the future–like the vision of the church under Ted provided the path on which we continue to walk and the foundation on which we continue to build. Family, let’s get to work. Love you.