Last night, I was caught flat-footed. It was not a bad thing in the least.
During our congregation council meeting, I was working through a "Finding Your Story" process which I had found immensely helpful in my own understanding of my calling as a pastor and person. This process was actually meant to be done by groups as large as an entire congregation, so I asked my council to participate.
We spent 30 minutes dealing with six questions, the last one being, "The quotation reads, 'Your church can't be anything it wants to be, but it can be everything God wants it to be.' What do you think God's vision is for our church?"
During the duration of the question/answer time, I tried to remain as silent as possible. This exercise was the council's exercise of which I tried to facilitate not dominate. I wanted to hear what they thought of themselves. The conversation was extremely fruitful for me to just listen, and I did so for this question as well.
One of the answers caught me flat-footed.
"God wants us TO BE HERE."
That was it. An explanation followed:
One of the previous pastors came in and said he was basically told to shut the place down. The synod had done demographic studies and all sorts of other studies which told them the congregation would not survive and it needed to move to a nearby town if it had any chance to continue. The pastor had been sent to bury the last member and then shut the doors. But no one here wanted that. No one here wanted to see the doors of the church shut. We didn't want to move and then be absorbed by another congregation or what have you. Something then happened. There were about 60 of us in worship at the time, and that little group managed to build a fellowship hall and a church building. We managed to pay it off, and here we are now, thriving. God wants us TO BE HERE!
Other thoughts were added:
Yet, we don't want to get a big head about this, because then we get arrogant and think it was all about us. We need to be humble.
That's why we preach the Gospel. The Gospel tells us that it was and is God working through us to accomplish things. We know everything comes from Him, so when the Gospel is preached and takes hold of us, we cannot get arrogant. God wants us TO BE HERE and to PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL--WHAT HE HAS DONE.
Wrestling with God's vision for a congregation is a difficult thing. Oftentimes, congregations focus on what they believe they are supposed to be doing. Because of this, many times, it's not so much God's vision that comes through but the peoples' vision of themselves, but this seemed different.
GOD WANTS US TO BE HERE! Being. Not doing, being. A presence formed by the Gospel and proclaiming that Gospel. A presence formed by God's action in Jesus Christ and letting the community know about that action. Everything flows from this. Everything.
This caught me flat-footed because the answer came so quickly from one of my council members. It was not something agonized over and wrestled over with difficulty. It flowed. It caught me flat-footed because of its simplicity. It caught me flat-footed because it seemed right--deep down in the core of my being, I sensed it was the Truth. It caught me flat-footed because I expected something quite different, but what was said and brought forth was better than whatever expectation I had.
God wants us to be here.