My vision for the future involves a corporate threefold challenge toward inward transformation in Christ-likeness and identity, outward expanse of the influence of the Gospel within the local community, and strengthening our upward connection with the will of God. God’s call toward inward transformation in Christ-likeness and identity as a child of God is a call to every believer. Understanding this call is a crucial element of College Avenue Friends’ spiritual vitality and depth, and is the core from which any effective ministry will flow. Things like personal holiness, integrity, and the fruits of the spiritual life in Christ must be experienced firsthand in the life of the believer before they can move outward and ripple spiritually through our world. As Jesus reminds us, we should be more focused on the plank in our own eyes before we will be able to help others. We must be challenged to pursue opportunities for inward depth and spiritual formation, putting ourselves in a place where we are malleable under God’s grace. My vision of a transformed and vibrant church is one that is growing both individually and personally, as well as collectively and corporately. I believe the key to numerical growth is to focus on spiritual growth, for a personally growing church will better meet the spiritual needs of our community.
Secondly I want to focus on the outward expanse of the influence of the Gospel in the community. This is the very mission of the church, and stems from God’s heart’s desire to reach and redeem the world. After all, He was so moved with love to redeem the world He sent His only Son to die and save it. We as a church need to be challenged to bring the Gospel with us in our daily walk, not only in our thoughts and actions, but also in our words as God brings occasion. As I hinted last week, the “hesed,” or loving kindness/steadfast love of God is one that must take the expression of action. God gives us a measure of His grace for us to steward, one for which we alone must exercise in love to those around us. We are called to develop the kinds of spiritual reflexes that allow us to boldly move as the Spirit leads to reach those God has placed in our lives with Jesus’ redeeming message of love and reconciliation. As Christians, we are often known for what we stand against, rather than what we stand for. It is time to reclaim the latter in the eyes of our watching world. We need to be a people of a message, the message of the gospel. I feel God wants to use me to equip the church toward engaging the local culture and community in ways that are bold and genuine, but nonjudgmental and unpressurized.
My vision of outward evangelism is much more interested in building bridges than fences and encouraging creativity in reaching and discipling those outside the church that God has placed in our lives. I plan to be looking for opportunities for “servant evangelism” within the community of Oskaloosa. Our church is a big supporter of foreign missions, but as the mantra of our age reminds us, we must not only “think global” but “act local.” Not everyone can go to a foreign country to serve Jesus, and the good news is most of us don’t have to. We are all called to ministry of some kind right where we are. We must find creative and intentional ways to put our light back up upon the bowl of our community. Service projects that demonstrate the ways the Gospel is working in our lives and Jesus’ love for the world are a great way to begin to build relationships with those around us who do not know Christ, or His life-changing gospel. Quakers are historically known for service that demonstrates the gospel. I want to challenge us to move in this direction, and to do so in a way that all of us, both young and old, can work together to the glory of God.
Finally, I am committed to strengthening our upward connection with the will of God. Obedience is at the heart of our corporate walk with Christ, and we must learn to listen to God if we are to learn to obey Him. As a community of believers, we must be a community of prayer, of sincerity and intimacy, and one that stays “in the conversation” with God in constant communion. Listening to the “still small voice” often takes practice and intentionality, and takes space. My vision for the church is one that fosters an unhindered and free “yoking” of not only the individual believer with experiential knowledge of the will of God, but of the entire community of faith as the body of Christ. I want to push us a little further in the direction of trusting our mystical experience, and toward a deeper trust that we may faithfully devote our lives to God in holy obedience. I hope to push us to deepen our experiences with open worship, corporate discernment, and worship as business.
I truly believe that Christ is still our Present Teacher, that we may still sit at His feet and follow His footsteps, that He gives us “ears to hear” His will for Oskaloosa. Some of this strengthening of our relationship to God will lead us toward strengthening our relationships with each other. I hope to push College Avenue toward being a community of greater openness and authenticity, that we may be a community where sin is confessed and struggles are known; that we may be a community that lifts one another’s needs up, both in prayer and in deed. In the early church they spent a lot of time together. They ate together, traveled together, and grew in Christ-likeness together. I desire to provide more opportunities for us to break free of our isolated culture and at times shallow Sunday morning greeting routines. I believe God wants us to be rooted deeply, both to one another and to Him. I want College Avenue Friends to stretch toward being a place of radical hospitality and fellowship, where the love of God is made known through us and among us.
While this vision is a lofty one, and is largely devoid of specific programs and promises, I feel it gauges spiritual growth in ways that are both practical and measurable. This vision reflects not only my heart as a pastor, but also my goals in a long-term sense. Feel free to critique it or help me improve it! I feel a deep sense that discipleship is a fundamental part of what God is calling me to do, and that modeling growth in these three areas will go a long way toward making disciples who make disciples as they journey with God through life. Numerical growth and other such measurable data are good to be aware of, but the true measure of who we are as a people is our faithfulness to God and to His gospel. We must also be intentional in counting those among us who are truly being discipled and who are actively building (and being built up in) intentional relationships.
I see these values as ways to “put some skin on” what discipleship means to me. These are the values I feel called to uphold in 2014, though this is the sort of work that may be relevant for a lifetime. However mysterious the details remain of how this will look as lived out together in love, I trust that we will discover the path together. If you feel God’s flame burning in your heart with passion about how we might specifically live some of this out as a community, I would love to sit down and talk about it. Remember, I am simply “a minister among ministers,” not really “the” minister. I am however, passionate about finding new ways (and strengthening old ways) of helping to empower and equip any one of us to live out his or her calling. May God bless us as we seek His face in 2014. May this be a year that Jesus’ presence is made known in Oskaloosa, through His church at College Avenue and a fresh chance for us to look a bit closer at our relationships, those inward, upward and outward, and to strive for greater depth as a community.