Sunday Services at 10:00am
1155 Silas Deane Highway, Wethersfield
Date: January 14, 2007
Speaker: Eric Stillman
Series: The NewLife Vision
Scripture: Hebrews 10:24–10:25
This month we’re taking time to discuss the mission, vision, and strategy of our church, answering questions like “who are we?” and “where are we headed?” As I mentioned last week, there are always going to be some people in church who couldn’t care less about vision & mission, but just want a good sermon and some good friends, and don’t really care what direction the church is going. However, I think mission, vision, and strategy are essential to a church, because if you don’t have them, there are three things that happen to you: the first is that you don’t know what opportunities to say yes to and what to say no to. The second is you wind up changing strategies and ministry models often, usually to whatever seems to be working for other churches. And thirdly, your back door is as wide as your front door, because you don’t know what to do with new people who come or people who have been around a long time. I don’t want our church to blow here and there with the popular winds of the day or to be dominated by forceful personalities, and I certainly want to be purposeful about caring for and discipling those whom God brings to our church. For these reasons, I think it’s essential if we are going to seriously serve God to seek Him for our church’s mission & vision and do our best to strategically implement it.
Last week I unveiled the church’s mission & vision that the elders have come up with. As I said last week, this is not necessarily new – the words may be new, but the spirit is in line with the way our church has always been. I’m incredibly excited about the direction I see our church going, but I also understand that mission and vision are lofty things, and some of you may have come away saying, “that’s nice, and all, but what am I supposed to do with it?” Mission and vision are supposed to give you focus, purpose, a framework within which to work, but they don’t necessarily give you the specific strategy needed to achieve that goal. We know that our goal is transformation, both on the personal and on the community and world level. We want to see God transform people by awakening them to eternal life and by transforming them into the image of Christ, into people of love, truth, peace, joy, and purpose. We also want to see His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, to see His dreams become reality, to see our community and world become places of love, peace, and justice under His reign. That is the end to which we will work. We will work for love, peace, and justice as we seek to bring His transformative power to our world.
I’m telling you, that’s what excites me. There is nothing exciting about coming here and going through the motions, or not being engaged with people of this world or making a difference. If all we are is a social club, we might as well close the doors. But if we are willing to let God transform us and then let him use us to transform this world, now that’s a church I want to be a part of. I want to see transformation on a personal and community and world level.
But how are we going to do that?
The next three weeks, we will get one step more specific, and in three weeks we’ll get even more specific as we work together to flesh out our mission and make our vision a reality. I told you that the mission summed up in one word was Transform. The next three weeks, we’re going to look at three other words that I believe are part of our general strategy on how we are going to achieve this transformation. Again, this is one step closer to getting specific, but not quite there yet. Here is our strategy:
Our strategy is to create environments where people can:
Transformation happens as these three things are happening in your life – you are connecting, building meaningful relationships, with God, other Christians, and those outside the church; you are serving others, and you are growing spiritually. As you do those things, God will be transforming you and you will be bringing God’s transformative power to other people, our community, and our world.
Summing it up, there are four keywords that you will see often: Connect.Serve.Grow.TRANSFORM. Hopefully this is a simple way to sum up what we believe it will take for us to be transformed and transform the world. Over the next three weeks, we’re going to unpack one of those words and get more specific about what they mean.
Today, we’re going to focus on the keyword connect, which is essentially another way of talking about relationships. Maybe you’ve heard people say that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. What this is trying to communicate is that Christianity is not about rules and commandments, as some believe, but it’s about knowing God, friendship with God, being set free by God so that we no longer are measured by our performance against rules and standards but by the fact that we are known by God and have been saved from our sins by Jesus’ death on the cross. Christianity is about relationship. Don’t forget how Jesus summed up all the laws of the Old Testament in Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." All the laws are summed up in relationship terms – love God and love your neighbor. You worship God and serve Him by fulfilling those two commandments. Christianity is about relationship, not religion.
Think about how you got to where you are today in your faith. For most of you, I’m sure it was because of relationships you had – either a family member, friend, or another Christian befriended you and helped you get to know God. You were transformed from a person dead to eternal life to someone who is alive because of relationships. And think about how you’ve grown in your faith. Is it not mainly through relationship with other people? Maybe you’ve grown some on your own, just reading the Bible and praying on your own, but most growth and transformation happens through friendships, relationships, small groups, mentors, and the interactions we have with other people. Relationships transform people; firstly relationship with God, and secondly relationship with other Christians and those outside the church.
The first and most important connection is of course to God. No meaningful transformation is going to occur unless we are connected to God. Jesus said this himself in John 15:5: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If you are not connected to Jesus, you will not be able to do anything that is spiritually meaningful, Jesus is saying. Remember our mission, our purpose – we want to see lives transformed, to see people become people of love, truth, joy, peace, and purpose. We want to see people experiencing God and becoming all that God has created them to be. And Jesus says that none of this will happen if you are not connected to Him.
So how do you get connected to God? The Bible is clear that no one can connect to God through their own good works, since all have sinned and fallen short. However, God’s grace is available to all of us if we will turn from doing things our own way and put our trust in Jesus, following Him with our lives. That is how you receive eternal life and begin living with the Holy Spirit inside of you, transforming you into the image of Jesus. We stay connected to God through obedience, step-by-step listening and obeying what he tells us to do, through the Bible and sometimes through impressions from the Holy Spirit that don’t conflict with the Bible. By coming here this morning, there’s a good chance you are connecting with God by hearing His word and seeking Him in worship and prayer. You will be transformed and have the power to transform this world as you connect to God and remain in Him, like a branch to a vine. And our church will see transformation in this world as we stay connected in prayer to God.
The second thing is connecting to other Christians. This faith was never meant to be something that you could do on your own. Christianity is a communal thing, something to be shared with a community of believers. I recognize that while most people equate church with Sunday mornings, this is not where “church” really happens. Church happens as believers share their lives with each other, in home fellowships, in friendships, serving together. That is where you really experience transformation, as you connect in meaningful ways with other believers.
Consider a couple of verses that talk about how we challenge and encourage each other:
Proverbs 27:17 – As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another
Hebrews 10:24-25 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
1 Thessalonians 2:8-9 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
When I was in college, I was part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I know that although most of the focus was on our Thursday night large group meetings, I learned the most in small group meetings, where I had the opportunity to discuss a passage with a group and share my life with them. I also grew on mission trips, serving alongside other believers. I experienced the most transformation through relationship and service – connect and serve. Again, this is not rocket science, but the purpose of this month is to clarify what we are about and how we are going to get there.
One of the questions we considered as we thought about mission, vision, and strategy was “what is the picture of the disciple we hope to create?” What do we believe are the marks of a disciple of Jesus? One of those marks is that they are connected in meaningful ways to other believers, sharing their life with them. You can easily come on Sunday mornings and not be changed, because you don’t always have the chance to reflect and share how what is taught impacts your life. But as you connect with other believers through friendship, accountability, small groups, and service teams, you have the opportunity to share your life with them and experience the transforming power of God as you encourage and sharpen each other.
As I look at where our church is today, I think many of you would agree that connecting with each other is an area that there is significant room for improvement. Beyond Sunday mornings, what opportunities are there for you to connect in meaningful ways with other people? We have two home fellowships, a small group for parents of special needs children, a women’s ministry, and some opportunities to serve alongside other believers, like in worship and prayer. And of course, there is the occasional pot luck or picnic. But many of you would agree with me that your options are limited, and many of you have talked about your desire to connect more as a body outside of Sundays. I see this as one of the main goals for 2007. In two weeks I am going to unveil a 250-day plan, essentially the tasks and goals I have for now until September 1st, when the new school year starts. There are some things I feel like need to happen so that our church can be about the mission and vision God has given us. One of those goals is to increase opportunities to connect as a church. I have a few ideas and things I would like to implement come February, but I know you all might have better ideas. For that reason, at the end of this sermon I am going to ask you to take a few minutes to fill out the insert in the bulletin. I want to see where God is already at work among you so that we might help you all connect better and help others connect to our church.
Finally, you will experience transformation and bring God’s transformative power to others as you connect with those outside the church. Remember what Jesus’ final words in Matthew were to his disciples: Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." One of the sad things that happens over time is that the longer you are in a church, the fewer close friends you have that are not Christians. And, as a result, you can miss out on the joy that comes from having spiritual conversations with those who are seeking for God, and the joy that comes when they find God. I know that I’ve been intentionally trying to find ways of connecting with people who are not part of our church or any church, because obviously I don’t have anyone at my work who isn’t a Christian. I know that our church wants to grow, and wants to see people experience God and eternal life. The truth is that it’s not really going to happen through programs and crusades as much as it will through relationship, through loving and listening to people and coming alongside them on their spiritual journey and journey through life. Remember that we’re talking in generalities a little today, but keep these things in mind - who is God putting in your path? What are practical ways to care for people? What are ways to speak of spiritual things, questions to ask?
So, our strategy is to create environments where these things can happen, where we can connect to God, other Christians, and those outside the church, serve others, and grow in our faith. We need to create more opportunities, whether they are home fellowships, service opportunities, prayer gatherings, or anything else, where we can connect with each other in meaningful ways.
One more important thing - we do not believe in forcing people into boxes here, because we believe that the same thing does not work for everyone. You may have been in a church that tried to force you into a box by saying that everyone needed to be in a home fellowship, or everyone needed to be out witnessing a certain amount of time, or something like that. I don’t believe that is how the Spirit leads. Some of you grow more through relationships with people outside of the church. Some crave home fellowships. Some get by just fine doing random things here and there, while others need someone inviting them to a structured time. At this season in your life, you might benefit more from a study outside of NewLife. And that’s okay, as long as you are following the Spirit and connecting to others in meaningful ways so that you are being transformed into a person of love, truth, joy, peace, and purpose, and transforming others as well.
Again, I have a few ideas I would like to implement that will help us connect more as a church and help you in your ability to connect in meaningful ways to those outside of the church. But I want to hear from you first, because I believe that God’s Spirit speaks to all of you and can lead our church through any of you. So fill out the survey, and the elders will be spending time praying through your ideas at our next elders’ meeting.