The Church [All In]
All In - Discovering & Following a God Who Goes All In With Us - The Church
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • April 17, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
Good morning and welcome to the Vineyard!
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful that you are here today. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
Three weeks ago, I launched this sermon series to help prepare and lay the foundation for me to share the strategic plan that the board, staff, and I have been working on over the past year.
I started with the story of Abram because I love that when we encounter Abram in scripture, we find the God who goes “all in” with us accepting Abram as he is: a wandering, nomadic, warlord.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Gen 12:1)
I opened with Abram’s story because I want us to become a people who are open to a God who accepts us as we are and calls us to trust him as he leads us into life. I want us to be a people who live with our hands open.
Isn’t it interesting that the first word of the first sermon that Jesus gave launching his kingdom agenda was “Repent.”
17“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)
Jesus says you have to repent, you have to change the way you think, what you believe, you have to, as it were, start over.
In John 3:3 speaking to Nicodemus, a leader and expert in the Law, Jesus says
3“No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”
This is a call to renew our mind, to repent of what we have previously believed, received, or inherited. Jesus continues by saying
3“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3
Jesus says, “You want to follow me, you want to experience the life I have to offer, then give up your way of living. Surrender your personal agenda. The kingdom is at hand, Jesus says, and the kingdom is not like anything you have experienced until now.” It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “Where we are going and what you are going to experience won’t fit so nicely within your existing picture of God, the world, and life, so you have to leave it behind.”
There’s tension friends, following Jesus into kingdom. The problem is I can’t enter the kingdom of God if stay where I am. It’s a process, an unfolding, we call it transformation.
And there it is, our paradox or dilemma: On the one hand, we are accepted by God as we are, and on the other hand, we called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, which starts with our repentance. We repent because we acknowledge that something has to die within us in order for us to come alive in God.
This is a really real tension. You know, most churches fall on one side or the other. Either we are all accepted as we are and we never have to change, or we are all totally depraved and unredeemable and everything about us must change. If you wanted, you you could label these positions within the liberal vs conservation debate.
But as a church, in this place, at this time, I want us to press into the radical middle. I don’t want us to lean to the left or the right as it were, I want us to be a church that holds the tension of both and, we are accepted by God AND we are called by him to be transformed.
A Unique Church
As a Jesus-centered, Bible-believing, Gospel-oriented, evangelical church, it can be hard for some to locate us on the “Christian Church Continuum.” People often struggle to locate us against their prior church experience, if they have any. I think this is best summarized by a recent guest to church who said that she received our Easter postcard and after looking us up on the web, she decided to check us out. I asked her what she thought and she, “It was different.” But she was quick to note that wasn’t a bad thing, she liked the celebration. As I have continued to meet with folks, I’ve had to interpret things that they say to me like, “I like your sermons because you always tell the truth.” Initially, I didn’t know what to do with this compliment. Finally, it occurred to me that what I was being complimented on is something I think best explains our church, we try to be honest.
We don’t want to over-speak for God.
We recognize that we don’t know it all.
We are willing to learn from others.
We are open, not only to God, but to the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation in our daily lives.
We are centered-set in our approach to God.
Because we follow a master who is alive and is on the move unfolding his Kingdom of God in our midst, which requires a great deal of flexibility on our part.
We are willing to stand with people, not over and against them.
We are willing to trust God for his ability to transform lives and hearts, even if that transformation is incremental and takes a lifetime to unfold.
So, when we encounter folks, we don’t assume we know what’s immediately best for them, other than, our belief that our best life is a life lived in relationship with Jesus and true to form, relationships are messy, which makes our attempt at church a little messy too. We will get lots of things right, and simultaneously, we will get lots of things wrong.
We aren’t liberal enough for those who would self-identify as liberal, and in the same way, we aren’t conservative enough for those who self-identify as conservative. There really isn’t a good term to describe who we are, so I tend to describe us as progressive evangelicals because we are trying to carve out a new space, a space that’s found in the radical middle.
I say we are evangelicals because at our core we are, we believe the Gospel, we believe the Gospel has the power to transform lives, we want to those we love come to saving faith and grace. And at the same time, we recognize that we might get things wrong because we are trying to actively press out what it means to follow God in this place, at this this time, that’s what makes us progressive. We are moving forward. We are using our prophetic imagination to imagine a reality that doesn’t yet exist while trusting God.
Let me say that doing this is really hard, but I totally think it’s worth doing. The main marker here is the tension. We are a church community that’s willing to exist in tension, whether that tension expresses itself in how we welcome, enfold, and pastor those who are sexual minorities or how we will grow our unity together as a racially, ethnically, socially and economically diverse community, or our active call to social justice doing what James 2 says, or our approach to, understanding of, and application of the holy scriptures to lives, to our stuff, to who we are.
Ultimately, we want to be a 100 year institution of blessing that invites everyone into the story of Jesus, which is good news.
A 100 Year Blessing (starts with the next five years of investment)!
As a progressive evangelical church in a pluralist left-lending community, we have a very unique mission field where over 65% of Ann Arbor expresses no faith affiliation whatsoever and this number is growing. Our first-time guest data reflects this trend with well over 65% of our guests reporting little to no church background when they visit. Those of us who read and study church trends are noticing that millennials just might become the first post-Christian generation in American history. And more than a hip(ster) pastor, or attractional ministries and cool outreaches, I think millennials want what we all do: a God who is big enough with a Gospel that’s good news to everyone including the creation. As I press into this desire, I think what we want is to be called to something greater than ourselves, we want our lives, gifts, talents, and skills to matter, and we want to know that God is at work in his creation repairing what’s been broken and what’s been lost helping to transform us into who we will become, the sons and daughters of God.
Matthew 9:35-38 says,
35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
As we consider who we are as a church at this particular time and place, I believe we should heed what Jesus says in Matthew 9:35-38 and consider that “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” I want to make sure that I ask you to consider doing something, would you do what Jesus says, which is to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send us out as workers into his harvest field and like Abraham, being blessed that we might be a blessing.
As we start to realize our potential to become a 100 year blessing, it starts with the next five years of investment and work. I think we can reach our potential as we increase our pastoral care, our spiritual formation and transformation, while securing our finances, growing and developing all aspects of the church and investing in our staff, leaders, and congregants. That’s the strategic plan in a nutshell, so let me say a bit more about each of these five priorities and share some of the dreams we have identified.
We want to be a loving church family where we see, know, love, and care for each other. We want there to be a deep sense of belonging: where each of us is known, celebrated, and loved. We would love to see every member of our church family equipped, empowered, and released to do the work of ministry–caring for and supporting each other. We want to increase the use of the prayer station, creating a spirituality that is simultaneously practical, supernatural, and accessible. Basically, we want to increase the love in this space/place!
Spiritual Formation & Transformation
Our invitation is to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” which involves taking one step closer towards our openness, our understanding, and our experience of becoming alive to the work and presence of God around us. Transformation starts from a posture of vulnerability, working towards a revelation of God’s love, kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance for us. And so our invitation becomes reimagining what we do, how we learn, how we could be impacted, and continually learning how to meet God in the “here and now” of our lives. There’s this idea that spiritual formation and transformation happens all the time, as a church family, we want to lean into this understanding. Spiritual formation and transformation happens whether you are here at church, at home, at work, or at play. As a church family, we want to support our active engagement in being transformed by the work of the spirit within us.
Securing our Finances
As a church family, we want to secure our finances and be good stewards of what we have inherited, like this church building, and at the same time I would love to see us be known by our generosity. Both of these things can be accomplished as we all participate in giving, and giving regularly. Basically, the church needs money to the pay the expenses of the ministries, the staff, and the building. Presently, we owe about $1.3 million dollars on this building and while we have been able to reduce our administrative expenses, we are still struggling to meet our weekly income goal of $11,000 a week. This is our church, we are its stewards, so I hope we can secure our inheritance and invest in it to ensure that this church can continue to serve us and the generations coming up after us.
Church Growth: growing all aspects of the church
We want to grow all aspects of our church including space for the spiritual formation and transformation of our youth and children. Our number one priority is to develop a larger focus on child and youth. We are dreaming about developing a liturgy (weekly church service) that reflects the broad and deep diversity that is present in our church family.
We want to grow our connectedness as a church community by having more opportunities to play, learn, and be together as a family. We increase our opportunities to partner with more like-minded people and organizations within Washtenaw county. We want to increase our capability and ability to manage the growth in people, their individual stories, and the diversity that God is sending us. Have you noticed, we are a very diverse community that’s God at work among us! We would like to see an expansion of our church celebrations, the possibility of planting some new churches, and a continued engagement in global missions. Friends, we want to be blessed to be a blessing!
Staff Retention and Growth
We want to develop our staff team members as they passionately pursue the heart of God. We want to develop, train, and release the staff, empowering them to discover their calling and partnering with them as they trust God. This happens as we continue to make investments in our staff team–spiritual, emotional, and material support. As a church family, we want a health staff team with a balanced work-load. We want to equip, train, and support our staff team through conferences, coaching, mentoring, and networking providing opportunities for them to support the work of church family, while also support the expansion of ministry outside of church. We believe that as we develop and invest in the staff team that they will be able to in-turn invest in us, allowing all of us to take what has been planted within us and to help us see it come to fruition.
I want our church to be a 100 year blessing in our city. I believe we can do this by continuing to do the work of ministry that we have been doing and by inviting everyone into the story of Jesus. We want to be a place where those who are hurting, wounded, broken can find refuge. We want to be place where those who are being called by God can be cultivated, supported, and developed, and launched into ministry. We want to be a place where we can discover and rediscover Jesus over and over again and learn to increase our trust as we follow Jesus through the narrow gate through death into life. This will take every resource we have. This will take each of us contributing our gifts, talents, and treasures to ensure that no one is left behind. This will require that we abandon our allegiance with the powers that Jesus defeated on the cross: sin, death, and evil. This will require that we turn our back on the Empire and follow the one true King in the kingdom of God that is expanding in our midst. This will require that we go ALL IN with God!