“Jesus in the Neighborhood” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
I want to express my appreciation to Ted for serving as Creekside’s delegate to Annual Conference. A virtual meeting over the period of several days is a different experience anyway, but especially challenging when the modem goes out at your house. She isn’t present to hear this in person, but I also want to express our thanks to Beth Sollenberger for being one of the conference speakers. Her sermon was broadcast — at least in part — during our worship on July 4. It is challenging to prepare to speak to an entire denomination, and especially so when you have 18 months to wait, and aren’t able to speak in front of a live audience. Please thank Ted and Beth when you have the opportunity.
The theme of Annual Conference was God’s Adventurous Future. Those of you who are visually astute will notice a marked similarity between the Conference logo by calligrapher Timothy Botts and the Beyond logo which has been in our worship center since mid-July. That isn’t an accident. The point of affirming a vision for the Church of the Brethren was to look toward the future and set a course for identity and mission for our denomination. Identity and mission are things I have been talking about and will continue to talk about here at Creekside as well. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” There may be some unrealistic expectations, and a certain amount of skepticism about what a vision can do. So before we examine the new vision of the Church of the Brethren and re-examine a vision for Creekside Church of the Brethren, I want to say a bit about what visions can and cannot do.
Any vision for the church had better be God’s vision, and not just the things which we think are a good idea. This means a lot of listening to God and to one another: prayer, Bible study, discussion, discernment. Vision should be a process of the body of Christ, not something which is dictated a pastor, a small group, a board, or church growth experts. A vision which is not owned, or embodied, by the people is not going to take us beyond where we are. Visions are by definition aspirational: no one says our vision is to be above-average, or even pretty good. Visions are things we could accomplish if we were being our best selves — they are what the church would look like if we were living the ideals that God is calling us to. None of us does that fully all the time, but a vision statement puts up a target for a community to agree that this is what we are aiming for. If most of the group is aiming for something else, or is not shooting at anything, we are never going to hit that target, no matter how good that vision statement is.
This new vision of the Church of the Brethren went through a multi-year process of discernment and prayer — including wide-spread polling of Brethren across the country. There are extensive biblical sources and Bible study materials available, which were documented for Conference participants. But a vision is only as good as people’s willingness to participate in that vision together. There is some challenging language in this vision. The call to be innovative, adaptable, and fearless is certainly beyond where I am right now, but I believe — and have tried to preach — that it is where God is calling us to be. Not to adapt to any particular set of circumstances, but to be disciples who acknowledge that change is a constant, and we need to develop the skills to change the ways we share the unchanging message of Jesus and his love. For most of us, being innovative, adaptable, and fearless is not our first response to crisis or change. But these are skills which we can be taught and skills which we can learn and practice together. If we have goals which point us in the same direction as followers of Jesus Christ, with God’s help, we have a hope and a future. If our vision — spoken or unspoken — is to keep doing things the way we have always done them, we will perish. God’s vision for us is to walk into an adventurous future. I pray that we will walk humbly with God.