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Providing Evidence of God's Grace

“When Jesus cries out to his Father, "Why have you forsaken me?" he has come to an edge. Is he going to curse or embrace? At a certain point the question becomes not: "Why did this happen?" but: "How do I work with it?"”  ( — Lynn Crawford, "Broken Gold: The ideal landscape," Tricyle, Spring 2012) 

 

Dear Valley Methodist Friends,

 

We’re enjoying a remarkable season of volunteer spirit and enthusiasm in our church.  Vacation Bible School, summer choir, landscaping around the sanctuary, the shoes-for-school-kids drive, Hearth Homes paper drive, lots of work done at Camp Twinlow during the All Church Campout.  Wow!  And all this during a time when, all across America, growing (or even sustaining) attendance and participation in churches like ours has never been more difficult.  Seems to me, we’re way beyond saying ‘why did this happen?’ and well on the courageous path of asking ‘how do I work with it?’ 

 

In every generation, the church of Jesus Christ faces unique challenges.   In 1853 a little church near Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River faced huge challenges.  Alcoholism was rampant in small logging camps like Vancouver.  The congregation knew they needed a strong foundation right away or their community would be left without the light of Christ.  And they had to figure out how to hold Sunday services where it was warm.  They chose the biggest of the small log cabins owned by the members of the little church.  Today that church is Salmon Creek United Methodist, Vancouver, WA – a diverse and thriving congregation, who states their core purpose with these words: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” – also the mission statement of the United Methodist Church.

 

In the late 1930’s Spokane Valley Methodists were meeting as two separate, smaller churches –  Opportunity and Dishman. A district superintendent felt God’s leading – these two small fellowships could become one church. God’s grace could do much more with one stronger church. Land was given on the corner of Raymond and Main, and Spokane Valley Methodist Church was born.  It grew and grew for thirty years.  In 1968 the numbers stopped going up.  

 

In every generation the church is made up of diverse people who see their church’s calling and challenges very differently.  And yet in every generation the church manages to find that special “something” (expressed in common language) to form a strong identity for the whole – something everyone can hold onto. As an important new study book puts it, “Every group needs identity, something to hold onto: a mixture of shared experience, compelling story, art, and core commitments. […] When diversity becomes the point, churches often just unravel.”   (Weird Church, p. 46) 

 

Today we are Spokane Valley United Methodist Church.  We state our purpose in a few words.  We also print these words in nearly every publication in our church; and as your pastor I welcome visitors with these words at the beginning of every Sunday morning worship service.

 

OUR CURRENT PURPOSE STATEMENT: “Spokane Valley United Methodist Church is here to make disciples of Jesus by reaching out and serving others one life at a time.” 

 

As you read that again today ask yourself first, what do you like about it?  It says great things about us, doesn’t it?!  Then ask yourself, are there any gaps in the statement?  Ways the current statement doesn’t connect with where we’d like to be five years from now?  Does it give us enough energy, focus and vision for the next five years?

 

A Purpose Statement should be able to provide every committee, team, small group, Council and Board in the church with a way to be part of a great movement of the Spirit.  Each group wanting to contribute their indispensable part to the great work of God given to the whole. 

 

On August 2nd, a very pleasant summer evening, an informal “Food For Thoughts” event was held in our Chapel.  Everyone who was there volunteered to come, and everyone was invited and welcome. After burgers, salads and dessert, we heard former Lay Leader Kay Fischer tell the story of how our current purpose statement had come to be. Current Lay Leader Madelyn Bafus gave a report from the Ministry Revitalization Team.  We chewed for awhile on some proposed language for a NEW Purpose Statement which might (if approved) guide our ministry for the next five years.

 

The new language (below) was, as Madelyn described, inspired by a Scripture verse in the Book of Acts: “When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.”  Acts 11.23 (NIV) We talked in table groups, and then Margie Collin helped the whole gathering wrap-up the evening with some big group sharing.  We gave the conversation to God in praise by singing, “Be Thou My Vision.” 

 

We now have . . . NEW TEXT FOR CONSIDERATION:  

“Our Purpose: to provide evidence of the grace of God by

inviting people to follow Jesus, love others, and transform

the greater community.”

 

It’s just new text for consideration.  We’re still a long way from adopting changes.  Much more prayer and conversation is needed before we know whether God is calling us to change the Purpose Statement at all.  And if God is leading change, then what language will capture what the Spirit is saying? 

 

The new text clearly states what our current strength is and what the weekly rhythm of our church life needs to be (providing evidence of the grace of God).  God’s grace is real!   It’s not just an idea or a belief or a symbol on the wall.  United Methodist Churches are places of grace.  We are a spiritual house in which heavenly grace is obvious, and noticed, and available to bless all; every first time visitor, long-time member, and community member in need – each and every week. It’s not enough to be a great institutional United Methodist Church.  Our future is in being a place where the Spirit is evident, the Spirit of Grace.  The new text deeply challenges us to BE this, to “provide” this evidence, to make God’s grace real in Spokane Valley. To keep it real. The proposed text says that our spirituality IS our strength. 

 

The next part (“inviting people to follow Jesus, love others, and transform the greater community”) captures the full lifestyle of a Christian disciple.  While the current statement is great in saying we’re reaching out and serving others one life at a time, it doesn’t say much about what we want to do with them once we’ve reached them, once we’ve served them.  Make disciples of Jesus?   Yes!  But what is a disciple of Jesus?  The NEW text tells us: a disciple follows Jesus, loves people, and works with others to transform the greater community. 

 

Every part of our church life, every committee, team, small group, Council and Board can grab ahold of that purpose.  Some help others to follow Christ, some help us love one another, some help us reach out to transform the greater community.   Some do all three.  If new people hear those words, they’ll know how Christ seeks to influence us AND them. Would you be glad to invite people to a place where this was said from the pulpit every Sunday?  Let’s talk about it.  Let’s work together to change the proposed text where we need to.  God is with us.  I hope we’ll have a new purpose statement within a year.

 

It’s not “why did this happen?”  But rather, “how do we work with it?”  And here’s why I love this moment in our church’s story so much – because you provide me with evidence of the grace of God for my life, each and every week.  Hope I can do that for you too.  What a great Fall it will be!  Gratefully,

 

Your Pastor,

Mike