Vital Congregations Initiative – Introduction
“For the Sake of the Church and the World”
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Romans 12:1-21
August 7, 2022
Prayer for Illumination: Holy God of all peoples and places, pour out your Spirit among us, that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts will be acceptable and pleasing in your sight, for the sake of Christ our Lord. Amen.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. I want posit that this is a good time, this is a good season, to lean in regarding your engagement with Decatur Presbyterian Church.
I love Decatur Presbyterian Church.
For 15 years, you have encouraged me in our shared ministry, you have responded patiently and faithfully to my leadership, you have loved one another well, you have loved me and my family well, and you have reached out in love for this community.
You have never failed when it came to stepping up to do important things, like navigating significant change or taking on a capital campaign or embracing diversity. Most importantly, you have kept your focus on worshiping God, and wrestling with God’s Word, and singing God’s praises, and sharing God’s love.
Thank you, sincerely, for being the church with me and for me – day in and day out – for these last 15 years. That’s a long time. That is a full season.
And I am eternally grateful for each of you, and I am so hopeful regarding our future together. For my 15th anniversary, I told the Personnel Committee that what I most wanted was for you to share what you love about DPC.
Jill Joyner wrote on facebook this morning that she loves the intergenerational membership, the consistency of worship, and the music. Leslie Ollinger wrote that she loves the youth activities, the music, and (what do you know!) the thought-provoking sermons. Thank you Leslie.
Despite the challenges we faced during the pandemic, this is a healthy and vital congregation. The last few years have been challenging, no doubt, but there were many silver linings along the way.
And now we are entering a fresh season of life. For students and teachers and parents, this new school year is welcomed as a return to somewhat normal schedules.
For those working in the various sectors of the economy, though uncertainties abound, this fall has promised a bit more reliability, at least when it comes to dealing with viruses and shutdowns.
For the church, it has been so wonderful to plan events, classes and programs, and then to have some reasonable expectation that people will be able to attend, and even feel comfortable doing so.
The virus is still with us. Some of our Cornerstone Class members have it this morning. But thankfully, we are not so afraid of it anymore.
Friends, this is a good time, this is a good season, to lean in to your engagement with this congregation, to lean in to what it means to be a vital and healthy church member, to lean in to exploring further what it means to live together as disciples of Jesus Christ. God knows, as we read the daily news, we know that the world needs vital congregations.
The world needs genuine disciples of Jesus Christ who are seeking, discerning, living God’s will. And yes, the Church needs each of us in order to fulfill this important calling. And just as importantly, you need the church. I need the church, we need to be church, together.
What could it mean for us as individuals, and as families, to make a sincere commitment to engage regularly in the worship and mission of the church this season?
What personal spiritual growth might we experience? What good and healthy conversations might be engendered around our dinner tables? Which friends and coworkers and family members and neighbors will benefit as you and your family grow in faith, grow in hope, grow in love?
Engaging more deeply in the life of the church, following Jesus more closely, will not necessarily be easy. No one ever promised that. But to do so will most certainly bear good fruit, perhaps unexpected fruit, in the months and years to come.
For me, this next season holds tremendous hopefulness and fresh energy. I see hopeful signs in our nursery, in new classes and groups being formed. I see fresh energy in new people showing up and wanting to get involved.
I see grace and hope in the return of folks we haven’t seen in a while. Do you know that Matt has added seven new choir members over the past eight months or so? The pandemic, with all of its losses, has spurred some fresh intentionality regarding faith and life. Many of you are being more intentional these days about how you spend our time, how you live your daily lives, what relationships you will nurture.
My hope is that, as we lean in and explore together what is good and healthy and important about being the church, we will do so in a manner that is pleasing to God and helpful for you. My sincere ask is that each of you participate in this endeavor, for your sake, and for the sake of the church and the world.
So, what is the Vital Congregations Initiative? And why is this important? The Vital Congregations Initiative outlines 7 Marks of Vital Congregations. While the basic content of the Vital Congregations material is not necessarily new, it holds some fresh emphases, and it will be a helpful reminder.
These 7 Marks will remind us of what it means to live and serve as a vital congregation, for the sake of the church and world. We will explore each of these 7 Marks over the next 7 weeks, so today I will only offer a brief word about each of the marks.
First, Engaged and Growing Disciples.
A vital congregations is marked by individuals who are engaged regularly in Bible study and who are growing in their discipleship of Jesus Christ. Growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ is about allowing the Spirit of God to transform our lives, and about the willingness to be open to fresh winds of God’s Spirit. An important aspect of growing as a disciple is gathering in smaller groups beyond worship. As we do so, we learn and grow with others. We talk together about what matters to us and to the world. We share our joys, address important questions, and have a space to express our deep concerns. In classes and small groups, we renew and nurture relationships. We love and support one another through the various trials of life, family, and career. And, as a result, we grow closer to God and closer to one another. I encourage each of you, from our youngest adults to our eldest, to engage in one of our Faith Formation groups. I encourage our children and youth to engage in our ministries for those age groups.
Friends, you will be welcomed; you will be loved; and you will be glad you did so. I love the relationships and the spiritual growth that I witness in DPC’s small groups and classes.
Second, Good News Intentionally Shared.
The word “evangelism”, which has been corrupted in many circles, simply means Good News. When we share with someone else, with a friend or neighbor or family member, what Jesus and his Church has meant to us, we are simply sharing good news. If your life has been saved, changed, enriched, renewed, comforted, challenged by the grace of God, then you know good news, and that good news is meant to be shared.
I love when I hear stories of how you have shared good news with others.
Third, Focused on Community Needs.
I am grateful that this congregation is not a closed community of assimilation and exclusion. I love how DPC lives courageously with an outward focus toward the community, and does not turn inward with bleak concerns over institutional survival. Being focused on community needs reminds us that this church exists not only for our members, but for our community beyond these doors as well.
I love how I have seen so many of you share the love of Christ with your neighbors, with the marginalized of society, with the poor among us, and with those suffering from mental and physical illness..
Fourth, All Empowered to Serve.
All of the people of God are given fruits of the Spirit; all of us are blessed with spiritual gifts which are meant for building up the ministries of the Church. Traditionally, we have called this the Priesthood of All Believers. We are all called to serve the Lord and do our part in the body of Christ.
I love how you, as a congregation, embrace your roles in ministry, and do not expect the pastors and staff to do everything, but you each do your part.
Fifth, Worship Inspired by the Spirit.
Worship is the heartbeat of DPC. When we gather for worship, we offer our prayers, we sing praises before God, we listen for God’s Word, we are fed at God’s Table, and we are refreshed in our commitments to God and others. From this sacred time of worship, we are sent back into our daily lives encouraged in faith, hope, and love.
We gather here to encounter God, to be open to mystery and awe, to express our deepest desires to God and listen for God’s voice. I love DPC worship. I love how we can be both creative and traditional. I love how we have our feet on the ground, but are open to mystery and wonder. I love how we are focused as much on what we are offering of ourselves as what we are receiving. And I love when we gather at the table. No matter what color or nationality, no matter what age or gender, no matter what length of time we have been involved with this church, no matter what political affiliations or opinions, no matter our depth or doubts in faith, we are one body, the body of Christ, at this table.
Sixth, Caring Relationships.
We all want a place to belong and people who care about us. And I love how DPC provides that opportunity for people. I appreciate how we walk with one another in tragedy, and rejoice in each other’s triumphs. I appreciate how we quickly become real with one another, without hiding or holding back, and how we love each other, despite our imperfections.
I love how we try to meet people right where they are, and share hospitality and grace.
Seventh, Healthy Church Life.
No church is perfect. This church is certainly not perfect. But this church is healthy. I love how our leaders seek to align our life together with the mission and goals of our church. I love how prayer and discernment are at the heart of the ways we make decisions. I love how you allow your pastors to be real people and encourage us to have lives beyond the church.
I love how you support the work of the church with your tithes and offerings and time, and how you truly care about what happens here and what direction we are headed together.
I hope that it is clear how much I love this congregation and how hopeful I am regarding its future. The suggested scripture text for this week, this first week of the Vital Congregations Initiative, just happened to be one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.
I will close today’s sermon with Romans 12 (read from the Good News Translation), because, at heart, this is a description of what it looks like for a body of people to live a life of daily Christian discipleship.
Hear the Word of God from Romans 12:
So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you:
Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him.
This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world,
but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.
Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.
And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you:
Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking,
and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you.
We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions.
In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ,
and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body.
So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us.
If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have;
if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach;
if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously;
whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.
Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good.
Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another.
Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion.
Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.
Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers.
Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse.
Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. Have the same concern for everyone.
Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise.
If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong.
Try to do what everyone considers to be good.
Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody.
Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the scripture says,
“I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord.” Instead, as the scripture says:
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink;
for by doing this you will make them burn with shame.”
Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
August 7, 2022