2018 State of the Church Message

Here’s is the Pastor’s 2018 State of the Church address as found in the 2017 Annual Report.

If you would rather watch the 18 minute video of this address, CLICK HERE.


A Look Ahead …

 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 (NRSV)

The State of the Church

It’s an odd phrase – “State of the Church.”  I can think of several “states” we might be in – a state of confusion – a state of panic – a state of fear.  But I think the state that best describes us as we begin 2018 is …  a State of Grace.

Every year at this time when we are preparing the Annual Report, I am struck by the sheer force and audacity of what it is that God is doing through us. It is almost too much to comprehend sometimes, isn’t it – that a “wee kirk” of 50-or-so members should have nearly twenty ministries that in 2017 alone touched 1,350 different people with more than 10,000 (!) contacts. Think about that. That means that more than 10,000 times last year people “bumped up against Jesus” through US because our Acts of Faith go to where they are and they meet peoples’ needs in their own environment.

It’s exhilarating and exciting. It’s humbling and sobering. It’s Spirit-led and Grace-filled.

The concepts of not being wedded to a specific place, of being willing to try something and let it go if it’s not working, of listening to people about what they need instead of telling them what we think they need – of empowering and training participants to lead themselves … those are all bedrock to the Acts of Faith model. And, lest we forget where that model came from, it’s very much akin to the first century church.

We are Aligning our Circles Together. That’s where the ACTs part of the Acts of Faith name came from – bringing the circles of our lives together because church should be the whole of us – not some partitioned or compartmentalized part that surfaces only on Sunday mornings.

We are all in this together. We all take care of each other. No one person (and no Act of Faith) has to be all things to all people. And everything is an Act of Faith. It is not a “sit-around-and-do-nothing” faith, it’s an Act of Faith.  It’s not just an act that we do because it feels good or it looks good on our resumé. It’s something we do because of our Faith.

However, it’s also clear from this report that we have our work cut out for us in the year ahead as we:

  • Work to become one congregation, incorporating not only our folks transferring their membership from New Life, but every person who is part of every Act of Faith;
  • Continue to develop our structures, policies and procedures to govern and connect our multi-sited ministries that currently take place in eight different locations;
  • Address the financial needs of our AoF’s while developing a plan for sustainability and longevity;
  • Find and develop new ways of training and educating the next generation of leaders for all of our AoF’s.

We are, above all else, a church of Jesus Christ. And we are a missional church without a building.

We might “do church” differently than most, but our Mission / Vision / Calling remains: “to live out the command of Jesus: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in [my] way of life
(Mt. 28:18, The Message).” We embody our commitment to be a missional church through the practice of our Acts of Faith Model of Ministry and fostering grass-roots programs that spread the love of the Risen Christ through worship, education, and the arts. We hold that all believers are the hands and heart, the embrace and healing presence of Christ’s love, acceptance, justice, and joy in the world” (adopted at the 2016 Annual Meeting).

We have been amazingly successful at bringing the love of God to 1,350 different people in 2017.

We seem to know how to do that pretty well. We know how to do start-up and publicity, but our online presence and social media is dreadfully lacking. We know how to end AoF’s well – at least better than the old Presbyterian tradition of “if it’s not working, create a committee or task force to study it for three years in order to figure out why it’s not and then fix it.” If people associated with an AoF (either planners, participants, or observers) no longer have Energy & Excitement, we discontinue it immediately (“drop it like a hot potato,” we say) because the timing, the focus, the location or something else isn’t working, it’s not the right time for it. We will often come back and visit it again another time (witness Dinner & a Movie which had at least two iterations before its current revival).

But now we need to focus on how to coordinate and meet the needs of the AoF’s that are succeeding so that they can continue to do that with energy and excitement.

So, what might this look like in the year ahead?

I suspect that we will continue to develop ministries that are responsive to the needs of people in our community, and that in 2018 we will begin to synthesize some policies and procedures about how we do that. So far, we have been able to feel our way along with each group but now we have been at it long enough that some patterns are beginning to emerge. What are the first things that AoF’s do? What does each one need to have? What are expectations that AoF leaders might have of South Church? These will all become a little clearer, I think, as the AoF Council becomes one of our main mechanisms for conveying information to and from the Session.

Through a recent visit from staff of the Presbyterian Foundation, the Session is realizing that we have to think of ourselves on two levels at the same time: administering the Acts of Faith locally (that is, being the local church), and, at the same time, sharing what we are doing with the larger (i.e. national) church. We are not just a little, local parish; we are being sought out for our ideas to help other churches across the country. It’s as if we are flying at a 6,500-foot level and a 25,000-foot level at the same time. The skills needed to pilot at 6,500 feet and the emphasis of what we’re doing there are different from the skills needed to pilot at 25,000 feet and the emphasis of what we’re doing there.

We are growing our ministries organically. That means that we allow them to bubble up from among the people. We don’t force some specific structure and programming on folks just because it might be easier for us to manage or because “it’s always been done that way.” We must keep learning and growing in our faith. Part of the challenge to us is that we are building the road as we walk on it. No one else is doing what we are doing on the grand scale that we are doing it. And let us not forget that we aren’t doing the work … God is. Our job is to pay attention and to be where we need to be so that God can work through us.

In order for us to “pay attention,” we have to have a clear channel to God. Each one of us needs to be working on her/his own spiritual life – our individual relationship with God – so that we can trust that we are receiving God’s signals free from interference. 2018 needs to have a focus on our own spiritual disciplines. We succeed when all of us are focused on God and we are able to trust each other’s prayerful discernment.

A year from now, we will all have incorporated a new understanding of who we are. Some of our Acts of Faith will probably have been discontinued, and others will have been added. We will be living into a united identity as South Church. But always in the back of my mind and, I think, the minds of most Session members is: Are we at our limit? How many AoF’s can one “merry little band of believers” support?

There is no set number.

Financially speaking, we have four kinds of AoF’s:

  • Those that generate some income and can use that income to help support other AoF’s,
  • Those that are self-sufficient but may not be able to do much financially to help other AoF’s,
  • Those that cost us money to operate but will never be able to generate much income to support themselves or anyone else, and
  • Those that don’t take in any money, but which don’t cost anything either.

Currently, we have Acts of Faith in each of those categories.

We are a missional church. Ideally, we should be able to focus only on the mission and everything else would be taken care of for us. Historically, other churches, institutions, individuals, and even governments would support mission work around the globe. Many of us grew up welcoming missionaries from Africa or Asia into our services and coffee hours. We would pass the hat, raise money for them and send them on their way.

Now, we are those missionaries who need to go and ask for that kind of support. Hence, the addition of both an Evangelism Coordinator and the Speakers’ Bureau. This must become a coordinated effort in 2018.

Let’s not forget, though, that in terms of “mission giving,” our entire operating budget IS mission giving. Everything we do is mission work. And as the Pastor, I am greatly heartened and gratified when an Act of Faith (i.e. a mission of South Church) engages in its own mission work (like Micah Circle’s visit to Nicaragua to do hands-on work at Christmas, CLASS ACT putting together a bucket of supplies for disaster relief, and Food for Thought not only doing disaster buckets, but making meals for a homeless shelter every quarter).

Isaiah says: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19 (NRSV)

Every Act of Faith IS a way through the wilderness to those who are part of it.
Every single one IS a river in the desert in our self-centered and frightened culture.

We started on our “new way” in August of 2014 when we sold the church building. At that time, we gave ourselves seven years to “figure things out” and become financially sustainable. February, 2018 is the half-way point of the seven years. This year we need to take the time and honor the things that we have accomplished on this half-journey and look at what we still have left to do. Since 2014, we have:

  • Relocated our offices
  • Prepared to launch the BOPProgram
  • Completed our staff so we now have three full-time people in the “hub” of our operation
  • Received financial support for our Acts of Faith from the Synod, the national 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative, and the Presbytery
  • Received recognition from the national denominational offices
  • Been the subject of articles in the Presbyterian News Service
  • Presented workshops at a national PC(USA) conference
  • Completed a three-year process of welcoming another church and its five Acts of Faith
  • Presented a day-long training for member churches in our Presbytery
  • Created a new membership model
  • Regularly attended the denominational 1001 NWC Conference
  • Started Visioning and Resource Development Teams to use the skills of community volunteer professionals
  • More than doubled the number of different people whose lives have been touched by our ministries within one year
  • Shared our experiences, processes and insights with folks on the National Revitalization Team of the PC(USA)
  • Welcomed two ministers from the prairie states’ American Baptist Church who wanted to experience the AoF model in person
  • Welcomed Rev. Ray Jones from Louisville for a four-day stay to learn about the AoF model
  • Succeeded in getting 1001 New Worshiping Community status for Fellowship of Faith
  • Begun developing a financial strategy that will move us toward sustainability

and more …

And some of the things we still have to address in the next three-and-a-half years include:

  • Developing a renewable funding stream
  • Creating a stewardship model that is active for twelve months and all AoF’s
  • Welcoming our first church members who do not worship in either of the Sunday morning services
  • Successfully blending the Session and Deacons to reflect a larger base of participants (i.e. to have members of all AoF’s on their Caring Team lists and paving the way for members who worship at a non-Sunday service to eventually serve as Deacons and Elders for all of South Church)
  • Figuring out the best day, time, and place to have congregational meetings
  • Determining who controls the money given to various Acts of Faith (which means delineating the degree of autonomy that each AoF should have). If money is given to one AoF, should / could it ever be used to support the larger South Church of which it is a part?
  • Increasing everyone’s awareness of their place in the larger AoF Community and the connectional system of South Presbyterian Church
  • Continue to minister on the margins
  • Make BOPP self-sustaining
  • Live into our Mission / Vision / Calling with integrity

and more …

We are well on our way, but our work is not done.

If anyone can do it, God can!

The State of our Church? God knows. Thus far, the Energy & Excitement Index remains strong. And so it is that despite our frailties and imperfections, despite our human nature and foibles, despite our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, we dare to pray

Put us where you want us, and show us what to do, God!

And with the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, we will continue to do just that.

Rejoice in the Lord, and again, I say …













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