I knew the moment after I said it that I had made my small audience uneasy. Eyes widened, backs straightened, feet shifted. I made a note of it mentally and just kept talking. I was presenting ideas about how this leadership committee of St. David's could engage their congregation in a process "to discern a vision for what God is calling this church to do."
It would be a project to awaken and enliven the congregation. Committee members had warmly welcomed me and seemed eager and excited about their work, but part of my message tonight was making them uncomfortable. The minister privately shared with me that St. David's was struggling with its identity.
The village in which the white clapboard church was centered was once the chosen enclave of rich and powerful banking and industrial gentry of the nearby urban metropolis. Through the decades, old-money families had scattered, their industries rusted or sold out to international corporations. The village was discovered and populated by above-average income families who enjoyed its refuge, but were engaged in a myriad of work and social activities in the city, easily reached by nearby interstates.
St. David's existed today more as a quaint postcard icon for the village than as a weekly destination for neighbors. Church membership was now driving further to worship here, coming out of their way to do so. Their beaten paths during the week did not naturally cross the village so mid-week activities at the church struggled with attendance.
Those who did come, even if only on Sunday, loved this historic, holy place of worship. They had found a home here, and wanted to share it with others. The leadership group was assembled to find ways "to make St. David's more welcoming and attractive."
So far, they focused on aesthetics and things – painting, new landscaping, structural changes to improve accessibility. My job as a consultant was to challenge them, so I asked, "What is your vision for the impact of these changes?"
"Obviously, St. David's will be more welcoming," answered Luke, the committee chair.
"Yes, but let's go deeper," I encouraged. "This project will focus your discernment on the purpose and plan that Jesus has in mind for you."
That's when everyone got squirmy. I explained that we would begin by exploring the particular gifts God has gathered together at St. David's. "Our creative God has amazing plans in mind for his followers individually and collectively, so let's dive in by taking inventory of the gifts of St. David's."
"I thought we would be talking about projects. I've spent a lot of time getting cost estimates for what we need to do," said Max, the focused chair of the Property Commission.
"Ah, Max, you are gifted to help the church with its physical presence. Is it enough for you that when your work is done, the church will be inviting?" I asked.
"I never thought about it." It seemed almost a confession, but guilt was not my objective.
"Not to worry, Max. Or any of you. You obviously all care deeply about this place. I suspect your true motivations run much deeper than a fresh coat of paint. But it seems you have been paddling around in the shallow end of the future."
"I suppose Jesus is in the deep end," offered Susan, the Outreach Chair, who added the obvious, "I guess we didn't expect to be talking about Jesus quite so, so plainly."
"Susan, you are correct,” I answered. “Jesus IS in the deep end, and that’s where we are headed. You can trust Him not to let you sink in any part of the pool. But it is His pool, after all. I speak of Him plainly to help me, and you, focus on Him. We are the church of Jesus Christ. If you don’t dive into that source of your identity, St. David’s could amount to the Rotary or the Country Club - a social gathering of people who do some good works and listen to good music.”
The meeting continued with a review of the process ahead. Later in my hotel room I prayed that my mini-lecture was helpful, not terrifying. I needed the leadership to trust me. We were in for a long swim together.
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