This address was presented to the church at a meeting last week as a way of acknowledging where we had been and looking forward to what s to come…
Nearly a year ago Gordon finished here and moved to M. to steer the church there through a vacancy. For the last 12 months I’ve been leading this church; initially in an interim position while the search committee examined the needs of the church and the qualifications of various possible pastors, then as your appointed minister. It’s been a real privilege.
But it hasn’t been easy. Let’s just review where we’ve been:
Twelve months ago, the economy was flush, the housing boom was at its height, and we felt prosperous. Now oil prices are spiralling out of control, and taking food prices along for the ride, houses aren’t selling, interest rates are high, and the purchasing power of fixed incomes is shrinking at a frightening rate.
Twelve months ago we had a staff of three; we were paying for less than two full-time positions, but we had three people in those positions, and they were doing the work of three people. Now you have just one, and alongside his pastoral duties he has family responsibilities and ongoing study.
Twelve months ago we appointed a new manager to Community Ministries, hoping that he would get things back on track after a financial crisis forced a review. The finances are now in good shape, but the manager has now left, and that process has been very draining.
Twelve months ago we suffered the death of Ron. Since then we’ve also lost May, Edie, Wayne, Norm, Don, and Stuart.
When I look back on the last twelve months, it feels like winter. Winter is the dying season; it’s hard and cold and not a lot of fun. But if you look at a tree like the Douglas Fir, it has winter seasons and summer spring seasons marked by light and dark bands in the wood. The lighter wood is produced by the rapid growth of spring and summer; the darker, denser wood, by the slow growth of winter. Both types of growth together produce a natural sort of plywood, where the softer, more flexible growth of spring, is given strength by the hard growth of winter.
We are in a winter season, and it’s hard going – but that does not mean we have ceased to grow. We may not have the abundant growth, the lushness of Spring, but looking around, I see a different type of growth.
There’s less money around in the economy; but we continue to see a high level of giving in this congregation. Generosity and sacrificial giving are marks of true discipleship.
We have a staff of one but we have more volunteers. Individuals are stepping forward to pick up tasks around the church that need to be done. They’re doing so with a servant attitude, and we are blessed because of it.
The reshaping of community ministries has revealed hidden weaknesses and allowed for people to step forward into new positions. It is in a better position now than it was twelve months ago.
Though we grieve the loss of those we have loved, I want to celebrate the fact that this congregation has given itself so compassionately to caring for those who remain. Pastoral care in this church doesn’t just mean care by the Pastor, but care of each other.
Times are difficult. We don’t seem to be growing like we’d like. But I want you to know that I can see growth of a very precious sort happening all the time. And I praise God for the way in which he has lead us in this.
Winter growth is denser, darker, and deeper. We need the winter growth if the spring growth is to be any good.
So much for the past twelve months; what of the future?
As we go into the future, I want us to hold onto two practical principles, and one theological truth. The Truth is that it doesn’t matter what programmes we use or don’t use, what strategies we adopt or not, what mission statements or organisational objectives we use, ONLY GOD BRINGS GROWTH – and to God be the glory. We will use programmes and events and all the rest of it, but they aren’t the point. God is. We’re a church, not a business. God is the goal and God is the way and God is the gate we go in by. All the rest is window-dressing.
The practical principles are these: ‘integrity’ and ‘conviction’.
- ‘Integrity’ means we will not jump on the nearest bandwagon as it rolls past and in doing so abandon everything we are presently committed to, just so that we can do the new thing. Where we have made commitments, we will honour them. We will be trustworthy and demonstrate commitment in a quick-fix superficial world. We will have integrity.
- ‘Conviction’ means we will stop doing those things we no longer believe are right for us. We will not build structures and then become slaves to those structures. The structures are there to support us in mission; we aren’t here to support the structures. We will do those things we have a real calling to do, and not be afraid to let go of what is no longer alive.
You can see how there is a tension between these two practical principles. When do we continue with a thing for the sake of integrity; and when do we lay it down because we’re no longer convinced it is the right way? There are no simple answers, and we will approach each situation on its merits.
One of the most basic tests, however, is to see what survives when we begin something new. If we start a new ministry and it flies like an eagle, then we may find that in the light of the enthusiasm and excitement of this new ministry, we allow some of the old ones to be quietly laid to rest.
Or we might find that what looked like an aerodynamic eagle on the drawing board flies like a turkey, simply because it’s not right for us at all, and so we don’t get in behind it.
The only things that will happen are the things that we want to happen. And they will only lead to growth if God is behind them.
So we’re going to get on with business; the normal unsurprising business of worshipping, of loving our neighbours, and of looking out for one another as best we’re able. And we’re going to try new things occasionally, working out new ways of doing those three things. And we’re going to have some successes and some failures and that’s ok. But we are going to see growth – both the dense, hard growth of winter, and the abundant, light growth of spring. And to God be the Glory, now and always.