“Don’t Let Go of the Vision”

Pt. 2 of the series: “What’s a Pastor to Say to His Congregation?”

May 12, 2019

 

Psalm 102:18-22

Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: 19 “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, 20 to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” 21 So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem 22 when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord.

 

So, I decided that as I neared my retirement date of June 9, when I will preach my last sermon as full time pastor here—but, I will be back in the fall 3 out of 4 weeks—I decided that I wanted to preach a series about those things that I think are extremely important, those things that I have been talking about for 24 years, those things that can be seen as non-negotiables as this congregation moves to its next stage of ministry.  I’ve entitled this series, “What’s a Pastor to Say to His Congregation.”  Last week, I talked about the first thing, to keep the main thing, the main thing.  I talked about keeping the mission of the church, of making disciples, at the forefront of what this congregation does.  Jesus said, “Go, (or as you are going) make disciples…”  As this congregation calls its next pastor, keep on making disciples.  Make that a priority.  That was the first thing this pastor wants to say to his congregation.  Today I want to talk about the second thing.  I want to say to you, my congregation, “Don’t Let Go of the Vision.”

 

  1.  Vision is So Very Important 

 

It is important for people, for organizations, for churches.  Now,

 

  1.  In some organizations, vision is left unspoken 

 

It is just in the mind of the leader of that organization.  It is supposed to just be understood, at least among the higher echelon of that organization.  But, the question is, what about those not in that higher echelon?  What if that vision in the leader’s head doesn’t get passed down to the worker bees?  Are they to just guess at the vision?  Or, are they to go about their narrowly defined tasks without any concept that what they are doing is contributing to a greater goal?  “Here, you attach that part to this dingy and don’t ask any questions.”  Or, if they have to guess at the vision, at the overall goal of a company, an organization, what if they get it wrong?  “I thought you wanted to make this widget at the lowest possible cost which means we need to import parts from China,” when the leader’s vision is really, “We need to make the highest quality widget using all American made parts.”  Or, what happens to that company if the leader of that company only has the vision in her or his head and they die or leave or retire?  Some visions are left unspoken and that can result in problems.

 

  1.  In other organizations, vision is vague

 

One of the churches I served was in North Carolina, in furniture manufacturing country.  Now, what if the leader of a furniture company simply said, “We are in the furniture making business.  That’s the vision of this company, to make furniture.”  But, there are different types of furniture.  There are, what was called case goods, furniture like end tables and dressers.  Then, there is upholstered furniture.  A company making case goods would do wood working and sanding and staining and finishing.  A company doing upholstered furniture would have a lot of sewers sewing arms and seats of the furniture and a bunch of people with spit tacks assembling.  That’s the way furniture used to be assembled, by spit tacking.  A worker would put a bunch of tacks in his mouth, would manipulate the tacks with his tongue to get the flat end sticking out and then with a magnetic hammer, would spit the tack onto the hammer and drive it into the upholstery.  They could go really fast with that method.  I once asked one of the men what happened if they swallowed a tack.  The answer was, eat a lot of bread and it will come out in the end.  That’s gross.  For some organizations, vision is vague. 

 

  1.  In still other organizations, it is the wrong vision

 

The vision for Kodak was to be the leader in the film industry, that is, until people no longer needed film.  To survive, the vision had to be different.  Hitler had a vision to rule the world, whatever it took.  It was the wrong vision.  So in some organizations, the vision is left unspoken, in others it is vague, and in still others it is the wrong vision. 

 

This vision thing is not just important for organizations.  It is important for people’s lives, too.  In case you moms don’t realize it, today is Mother’s Day.  It is actually more important for husbands and sons and daughters to know it is Mother’s Day than for moms.  If we don’t realize it is Mother’s Day, we are in deep dew dew.  A mom might have an unspoken or vague vision for her children.  “I just want to raise my kids.”  If that is their vision, it will impact their style of parenting.  If, however, they have a clearer vision, say, to make sure their children get a good education, that will move them to raise their children differently, lots of flash cards and speaking German by the time they are two.  “Mutter, alles gute zum Muttertag.”  “Mom, happy mother’s day.”  Or, if these moms want their kids to have a concern for, say the environment, or for caring for others, or for social justice, that vision will impact how they raise their children.  Or, if they want their kids to be good at sports, that mom will get them into all the right sports leagues, work to get them a college scholarship for baseball and move them to play for the Orioles.  Or—how about this—if a mom’s vision for her children is that they know Jesus, that they know that He died for their sins, that Jesus loves them so, then that mom will be sure she brings her children to church, opens the Bible for them at home, teaches them how to pray.  My point is, vision is important for people’s lives and the clearer the vision, the more intentional a mom can be in her parenting.  And, if it is a 2 parent household, that mom will need to discuss that vision with her husband and be on the same page.  It will need to be a shared vision, maybe even something they write out in a Family Vision Statement.  All of this is to say that vision is important.  Vision is very important and. 

 

  1. Not having a vision can be disastrous 

 

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…”  Proverbs 29:18

 

No vision and the people perish.  They perish.  Not having a vision can be disastrous.  Imagine Moses leading the people of Israel in the desert without a vision of the Promised Land guiding their way.  “Hey, didn’t we see that same rock 3 weeks ago?”  No, Moses held out the vision of a land, how does the Scripture say it, a land “flowing with milk and honey.”  Moses held out that vision.  Nehemiah was in exile hundreds of miles away from Israel.  His vision was to convince the people of Israel to go back to Jerusalem, rebuild the walls and the temple.  But, if all he said was, “Hey, it would be nice to go back home and build something,” he would have gotten little or no buy in.  Not having a vision can be disastrous but

 

  1.  Having a vision can give real guidance and direction

 

Some have defined vision as foresight with insight based on hindsight.  Vision is a “see” word.  It evokes images and pictures.  It is future oriented.  It asks the question, what do we want to create, or for a church, what does God want to lead us to create?  Vision says this is what we are to do but it also says, this is what we should not do.  Vision moves and motivates people to work to achieve something bigger than themselves, something that will make a difference and as applied to the church, something that will make an eternal difference.  Jim Collins, in his book, “Good to Great” wrote;

 

All companies have a culture, some companies have discipline, but few companies have a culture of discipline.  When you have disciplined people (I would add, disciplined around a vision) you don’t need hierarchy.  When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy.  When you have disciplined action, you don’t need excessive controls.  When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great performance.

 

That’s what vision does.  It motivates people to achieve great thins all working together for a common shared goal.  That is what vision does.  Now how can we go about

 

  1. Applying Vision to the Church

 

Now, here’s the deal, in my experience,

 

  1. Churches, by and large, are not very clear about vision

 

Very few churches have written vision statements and those that do, I find that they are extremely generic.  “We exist to be loving and kind.”  But, very few churches would think they are not loving and kind.  However, many times they are loving and kind just to their own members but visitors to those churches say that church is cold.  “We exist to care for our people.”  Many churches do pretty well caring for their own people but people out there in the world, that is a different thing.  Lutheran churches might have a vision that says, “We exist to perpetuate Lutheranism.”  And, if the vision of Lutheran churches is to perpetuate Lutheranism, I would encourage those churches to read the Bible.  I have yet to find the word, Lutheran anywhere in those pages.  But, churches desperately need a vision or else they may perish.  George Barna wrote: “To create a better situation in which to minister, you can either rely upon random circumstance and hope that the result is better that what has existed, or you can assert control over your environment, based on God’s empowerment and direction, and make a better future.  Vision is about pursuing the latter approach.” [1] 

 

 

Jesus had a vision for His church.  It was to preach the Gospel in a way that people could hear.  It was about meeting their needs, especially their spiritual needs, pointing them to this God of love in ways and in a language they could understand.  The apostles had a vision to go into town after town, city after city and to point those people to Jesus but when in a Greek town, they would to do it in a way the Greeks could understand and when in a Jewish town, they would do it in a way that the Jews could understand.  In other words, the apostles would tailor their approach based upon the people they were trying to reach.  In my experience, churches are almost oblivious to the people living around them, to the mission field God has placed before them because if they were cognizant of who lived in the 1 mile radius from their church building, their vision would be much more specific, geared to make disciples of those people.

          

  1.  The vision of Risen Christ

 

We, at Risen Christ, have chosen to allow a fairly specific vision guide our church.  Twenty-four  years ago, we embarked on a process to conceive of a shared vision statement.  The formation of that began with a year-long study of the Great Commission, the mission of the church.  I remember we would quiz everyone; “What is the mission of the church?” and they would say, “To make disciples.”  Let’s try that now.  “What is the mission of the church?” “To make disciples.”  This was followed by a year-long study of our mission field, what was the makeup of the people who lived in a 1, 3 and 6 mile radius of the church.  We found that they were predominantly in the 35-49 year age groups, that there were 5600 households with children and that there were some 13,000 children between the ages of 0 and 9.  Coupled with a very successful Nursery School, it was decided that God was leading us to work to impact families with younger children.  The vision of Risen Christ is:

 

We of Risen Christ Lutheran Church commit ourselves to:

            **  Reach out to our community with God's love,

            **  To provide a home for all, with a Christ-centered, family-enriching emphasis,

            **  In order to develop and equip fully devoted followers of Christ.

 

This vision was built on the intersection of the needs of these people in our community with our expertise in working with 3 and 4 year olds in our Nursery School.  It was forward looking.  It was future oriented.  A few years later, when we were about to embark on a capital fund raising campaign to build this worship center and lobby, our theme verse was Psalm 102:18;

 

“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:”  Psalm 102:18      

         

Our vision allows us to use our best efforts to impact as many people as possible.  It is a stewardship issue.  Somebody who is good at playing baseball will be better at coaching a little league baseball team than somebody who has never played.  We can use the things we have been involved in, Marriage and Family Ministry, to bring more people to know Jesus. 

 

  1.  Where we have been

 

We have worked hard on this vision for 22 years.  Our previous Family Life Ministers including Sara Reczek have set the stage for what we are doing now.  As Jim Collins said, it is important to get the right people on the bus, to get the right people in leadership roles in an organization and when you do, that organization will zing.  Zing is a technical management term meaning it will be really, really good.  We have gotten the right people on the bus.  Kim Constantino is making great strides in our Family Life Ministry as well as providing wonderful love and care to our families.  She is moving us in the right direction with curriculum or events for our 3 legged stool of Family Life ministry of marriages, parenting and families.  Jamie Gullo approaches our Preschool from a Family Life viewpoint.  She seeks to impact not just these 100 or so children who come here but also to care for their families as well.  Each Wednesday, the staff of our Preschool gathers for devotions, prayer and some learning.  This past Wednesday, the staff prayed for 3 of our little ones and their families who were having some medical difficulties.  You see, our Preschool is a family ministry.  Patty Flowerday, our Youth Minister also seeks to meet with the parents of the teens to see how things are going in their parenting.  There is a Family Life Ministry emphasis in our youth ministries as well.  We’ve gotten the right people on the bus.  And, this vision is helping us to achieve the mission of the church of making disciples.  Family Life Ministry is the vehicle we use to bring people to Jesus.  Seeing marriages and families thrive is an important step in moving families to see that Jesus is in the center.   

 

Now, I know some have said that they do not think they are included in this vision, that they are a single person or an older person without young children.  Ye, this vision includes everyone.  The statement says that we will, “provide a home for all.”  We want everyone to feel at home at Risen Christ.  Yes, we will have some specialized programming for those younger families, but all of you are certainly welcome to any of the events.  Last Saturday, Kim had a putt-putt tournament.  There were some special things for the couples there but there were some single people there as well.  You didn’t have to be married to come and play putt putt and enjoy the company of the people there.  That’s where we have been with our vision.  But, now listen

 

  1.  There is more yet to do

 

That’s what vision does.  It sets a course for the future.  This next year, Kim is wanting to really make an impact with her ministry.  A number of our parents and some of the parents from the Preschool have been through a curriculum called, “Parenting is Heart Work,” and another called, “Thrive.”  Kim is hoping to bring the authors, Dr. Scott Turansky and Joann Miller, to Risen Christ.  That would be exciting.  She wants to give parents from our church, Preschool, VBS and community, the opportunity to come and hear these two authors speak.  Then she wants to follow that with a study to be offered both during the Sunday morning education hour as well as during the Preschool time.  She wants to also offer a marriage class to the church, Preschool and community and will continue with the Marriage Retreat next March.  The Marriage Retreat nearly doubled in attendance from the previous year and Kim is hoping to increase it even more.  One of her goals is to have every parent attend the parenting courses and every couple attend the Marriage Retreat.  Do you see how that can have an impact on our church but also our preschool and out into the community.  Can you see how our vision can move us to make disciples out there?  What she wants to offer marriages, parents and families of our church, preschool and community is hope.  She wants to offer them hope, the hope of the world in Jesus. 

 

Can you just imagine what working toward that vision will be like?  I can envision parents and kids from our church, preschool and community coming to family Bingo or the Pumpkin Carving event and just having a great time together.  I can see marriages growing deeper and deeper, couples using the tools Kim is presenting to grow in their love for one another, iron out any difficulties they are having, and passing onto their kids a model of a Godly marriage.  I can see parents gaining the tools to be great parents for their kids and to give Christ-centered guidance as they progress through the various stages of growing up.  And, I can see parents being equipped to do all they can to be sure their children are in love with Jesus.  And, again, I see this happening not only in our church but in our preschool and community as well.  And that, dear friends in Christ, will change the world.  You can still get on board with this vision.  I love the way Dean M. Kelly put it; “…that’s what it means to be alive: to spend rather than save ourselves, pouring out our vitality and vigor, our sweat and tears and blood, for what we believe: for meaning.  That may be what was meant by the admonition, “…he who saves his life will lose it” ---since he who ‘saves’ his life is already half dead.” [2]   

 

Don’t let go of the vision is what I want to say to my congregation.  We have been at that vision for 22 years but we have a ways to go as well.  Don’t let go of the vision.  Don’t let go of the vision.  And, the other thing I want to say is to

 

  1.  Don’t Let Go of the Values

 

Here are 5 values of Risen Christ;

 

  1.  Risen Christ is enthused by God’s Word.

 

Risen Christ is a Bible believing church.  What we believe is centered in the Bible.  Our doctrine is based on the Bible.  The Bible for us is God’s inerrant Word.  Sometimes what we believe, what the Bible says, is met with disdain.  So what!  Center on God’s Word.  Don’t apologize for it.  As I said last week, liberal churches do away with the Bible.  When you get rid of the Bible, all that is left is the preacher’s opinion which, along with $2.50, will get you a cup of coffee.  At Risen Christ, we have the word of God, what God wants us to know, the assurance that what the Bible says is absolute truth and that you can rest your eternal ranch on that.  Don’t let go of that.    

 

  1.  Risen Christ is outreach oriented

 

We have ministries like Operation Christmas Child and Flower City Work Camp that gets us beyond ourselves.  We have more we can do out there, beyond ourselves.  Don’t let go of that.

 

  1.  Risen Christ is family centered

 

Enough said on that one.

 

  1.  Risen Christ is relevant

 

We try hard to ask questions that the people around us are asking.  We try hard to be on top of issues that families are dealing with.  We seek to be technologically savvy and present our worship experience in a way that young people can relate to.  That is why we have Oliver Smith as our worship leader doing contemporary worship.  That is why we have young people on our worship team.  Risen Christ is relevant. 

 

  1. Risen Christ is a caring community               

 

I have heard this time and again that Risen Christ is a caring congregation.  And, Risen Christ is not just caring about its own members.  No, the members of Risen Christ care for anyone who walks through the door.  We want every person here to feel cared for and loved.

 

Don’t let go of these things.  This vision, these values, define what Risen Christ is all about.  This transition of pastors should not change that.  As a matter of fact, we can and should continue to work toward that vision even as we go through this transition.  Our vision can impact the work of the Call Committee and who the next pastor will be.  That work should not stop because we are looking for another pastor.  This vision will move and guide us to the next stage in the mission and ministry of this place.  So, I urge you, “Don’t Let Go of the Vision.”  I urge you, “Don’t let go of the Values.”  I urge you to work all the harder to make these things a reality.  That is the second thing this pastor wants to say to his congregation.

 

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.   

 

[1] “The Power of Vision,” by George Barna, Regal Books, 1992, pg. 29

[2] “Why Conservative Churches are Growing,” by Dean M. Kelly.  Mercer University Press, 1986, pg. 92.