Binoculars are one of my favorite things to take on a hike. The magnification lenses, focus, and the entire design of binoculars is geared toward one ultimate aim: to look out on the horizon for where one intends to go. But the view gained does a number of things. It helps us see not only where we are going but how to get there. This gives us valuable perspective that helps us keep on track. And, depending on what the goal is, it can help us see the importance of every small step we might take on the journey. When we see the big picture–rather than just the next patch of trail our feet are about to land on–it can break the tedious monotony of all the steps along the way. As the people of God, we follow the steps of Jesus and are shepherded by him, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to the journey before us.
Proverbs 29:18 reminds us, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.” Vision is the bridge between the present and the future. Getting ourselves into a good position to get a big picture view can take a bit of work, but the fruits of what we gain from clarity can help us avoid obstructed paths and spare us from suffering needless dangers. Straining the journey metaphor a bit further, I want to clarify the difference between vision and goals: If from a good lookout point one could see the vision or ultimate aim of the journey, one might also survey the path that leads there. Goals are like touchstones or trail markers along the way. Hikers might use a checklist of landmarks to help make sure that the steps they are taking really are leading toward that big X on the map. Goals are simply the things we strive for that keeps us on the path. They change along the way, but help us know we are continuing to chase after the vision guiding it all.
We have been looking at vision– many of you know–ever since I have arrived. Even before I arrived here I wanted to learn who College Avenue Friends Church is, what we value, and how we fit in God’s vision for our neighborhood, local community, and the William Penn University community here where we serve. The elders (M &C) and I have taken great strides in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the church. We have used tools like World Cafe style meetings to hone down and put into words the vision and values of our church. This work was distilled and refined into seven key statements we display proudly both on the wall and on the web. But this journey of discovery was never intended to end at a bit of ink framed on the wall, or filed away in some dusty archives. Like a set of binoculars, our vision and values statements were made for a journey. From this conviction our monthly meeting challenged our body to put all this work to a tangible expression; to use these statements–in some way–to connect and unify the ways we will live out our calling, and as a tool evaluate and refine our goals annually. Here are those statements that were produced from this intensive process of listening for answers to questions about who we are, and the vision and values we are striving toward as the Quakers of the Oskaloosa community God has called to this place:
OUR VISION AND VALUES STATEMENTS
- College Avenue Friends exists to be compassionate examples of Christ bearing God’s message of love to the world with not only our words, but also with our deeds as lived out by the Friends Testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality. We believe we are called to “let our lives speak” as a demonstration and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- College Avenue Friends exists to be a Christ centered fellowship that stays true to our heritage as Friends. Hence, we are committed to a listening spirituality allowing room for the inward experience of Christ. We believe God’s living Word, Jesus, will always lead us in ways that are consistent with His written word of biblical revelation.
- College Avenue Friends exists not only for its own sake but also for the sake of those outside our walls that Christ calls us to love and serve. We are committed to pushing beyond the status quo and being a light to others in our daily walks of faith.
- College Avenue Friends has always existed to serve as a light to William Penn University including its students, faculty, and destiny as God leads.
- College Avenue Friends embraces a spirit of hospitality that shapes our worship. This calls us to an inclusive vision that makes room for new members to find their place in our family and allows them to grow in Christ using their gifts and talents.
- College Avenue Friends embraces the fact that we are an intergenerational church committed to a balanced approach that embraces this diversity in our worship planning for music, preaching, and other worship activities.
- College Avenue Friends strives for good stewardship of our gifts and talents, our time and finances, and our energy and creativity. This view of stewardship extends even to the environment God created for us to live in as Ps 24:1 states, “…the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”
As we are about to have a Clerks meeting around taking a deeper look at the ministries of our church, and intentionally connecting them to how we see them fitting into our larger vision, it seems fitting to reflect on the importance of vision and specifically on how having a common vision and more openness about how we are trying to live these things out can help us more effectively be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world. Vision is important because it embodies the principle of simplicity in a crucial way. To navigate the uncertainties of the time we live in, we must live and lead from our authentic selves, both individually but especially corporately. We cannot do all things. We only have so much energy and time. We must–to offer vibrant ministry to those God has put in our lives–say no to some things in order to say yes to the right things, which ultimately means to answer faithfully the unique yet shared call of God for our church. This call of God is a call to collaboration, a core component of what making disciples requires of us. All the listening in the world–all the information about values and spiritual gifts–without collaboration toward a common call, is just casting seed. It takes hands and feet and heartbeat to connect a vision to reality. It takes every part of the body of Christ to move from the mechanisms of organization to the organism that is the church body made fully alive and energized by the Holy Spirit.
I firmly believe a shared vision calls us to simplicity and sanity. If vision truly is the bridge between the present and the future, we would do well to look up from the present now and then. We church members are often overloaded, busy and it seems always trying to scrape up the energy to clear the next hurdle. In all the chaos of making it through the week, it is all too easy to lose track of the vision, even the goals. We can begin to wonder if climbing up a hill here or there to get a better view is even worth the work at times. Yet perhaps this sort of sentiment is a symptom that we have overlooked this crucial connection between our calling and our actions for far too long. If the forces of chaos are making headway in our lives and we find ourselves disoriented by a great deal of business and hurry personally, as a committee, or even as a church body, it is a sign that we might need to take some time to refocus on what God is calling us to do.
Goals, if we are not careful, can come from a vacuum. They can be more reactive than proactive. They can become knee jerk reactions rather than the dance of a smiling Bride led by Christ. With the new year comes a new start. A re-commitment to faithfulness. A scripture that has meant a lot to me in light of Martina’s passing is Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Pressing on is work. I heard a story once of a dog chasing a rabbit. As the dog chased the rabbit other dogs joined in. These new dogs ran and ran but eventually gave up and lost interest. But the dog who had actually seen the rabbit kept striving long after these other dogs had given up. This is what vision can do. It can help us see the “prize of the upward call of God.”
Many gifted and talented people work very hard in their ministries at College Avenue Friends. Many feel that it is hard enough simply to keep doing the important things that need to be done, and if we take our eyes off the balls we struggle to keep in the air–even for a second– bad things will happen. But I feel a deep conviction that unless we know the why of what we are doing and see how it is connected, it is all the more hard to help others see it and catch the vision. Unless we look out into the future and think through how we will navigate it together, we might be juggling with a limp rather than fanning into flame the gift of God we share. Vision frees us to even greater fruitfulness and faithfulness; it is not a means of control but a way of pruning vibrant ministries that will be sustained on the long haul ahead. May we learn to walk in rhythms of grace, connected to God and to each other, as we focus on the path God is calling us to walk together. May we be energized, equipped, and empowered to press on for another year of looking at what God is doing around us and in us. And may we fully enter in with surety of foot and eyes open to that vision that connects our each and every action, however seemingly mundane, to the one who calls us on this journey with Him.