Discerning Our Values 5

October 25, 2017

iWhat a month our congregation has just come through!  After the Session approved the Values Statement, October was designated “Values Month.”  Each Sunday we emphasized one of our shared values.  A member of the “Guiding Coalition” or discernment team gave a “Shared Values Minute” during worship.  I preached a sermon on each value, which you can access online if you happened to be away on a particular Sunday.

The graphic posters created by our Communications Director are now hanging in the hallway as a visual reminder that we expect one another to live by our values.  Below, I integrate each poster into the statement and then make a concluding comment.

VALUES STATEMENT
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, GREEN BAY, WI

God is at the center of all our decisions and actions, directing us to become disciples of Christ. We strive to do everything for the glory of God. The following statements describe what we value most as a congregation.

Mission

We are missional and are called to reach out with generous hearts to do God’s work locally and globally.  We find joy in serving with Christ, to help others, feed the hungry, care for the marginalized, advocate for justice, and make a difference in our neighborhood and beyond.

“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Mark 10:45

Values 1 - Mission-opt

 

Strong Relationships

Collaboration, compassion and fellowship build connections within our own families and with our church family. With the love and support of the congregation, we welcome all who seek God and help build our church family through friendship and faith.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42

Values 2 - Strong Relationships-opt

 

Meaningful Worship

Worship is central to our life as a congregation.  We grow spiritually through Bible-based sermons and lessons that apply to everyday situations.  We use a variety of music to praise and thank God.  The congregation is charged with using the worship experience to become better Christians in the community we serve.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” Colossians 3:16

Values 3 - Meaningful Worship-opt

 

Acceptance

We believe in diversity, inclusion, and open dialogue. We are a non-judgmental, forgiving, and welcoming congregation as taught by Christ. We practice tolerance, respect, and Christian love. We accept all who strive to live in peace.

“So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18

Values 4 - Acceptance-opt

 

Active Faith

Christ-driven faith is our foundation.  We pursue growth in our faith through prayer, spiritual discernment, study opportunities, sharing the word of God with others, and our commitment to be a missional church.

“The only thing that counts is faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6

Values 5 - Actve Faith-opt

 

As October drew to a close, you were invited to enjoy a catered church dinner in celebration of our values.  Many of you have completed and returned a pledge card for 2018 to show your support of our shared values through the ministries of our church.

It is my hope and prayer that the discernment of our values will motivate us all to make 2018 our most generous year ever in the giving of our time, talent and treasure.  I look forward to a new year in which we spread our values to a hurting and needy world.

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Discerning Our Values 4

September 14, 2017

The Guiding Coalition has now completed its work and has drafted a values statement for presentation to the Session.  The Coalition met weekly for four weeks.

At the first meeting, August 23, we decided on a process.  Each Coalition member was asked to spend some time reading and reflecting on the 40 responses and 7 pages of listening notes.  Each person was asked to look for common themes and put similar values into categories.

On August 30, we used a white board and gave each individual an opportunity to share the value categories they came up with.  We were somewhat amazed that all had 5, 6, or 7 categories.  We quickly came to a consensus that 5 was the right number to work with.  Each team member volunteered to take one of the 5 categories, go back through the notebook material to recover language related to that category, and then write a 2-3 sentence definition of that value.  Some attention was also to be given to the wording of the value itself (one word or two).  In addition, one coalition member wrote a lead-in statement that covered all of the values.  Pastor Randy was asked to provide an appropriate Scripture reference for each one.

At the third meeting on September 6, we reviewed a working document of the values statement.  Each person described how they came to define their particular value and dialogue followed.  Initial revisions were made on the basis of input from other team members.  At the conclusion of this step, the team decided to ask our Communications Director to make suggestions so that the voice and grammar of the statement was consistent.

On September 13, the Guiding Coalition made some final tweaks after living with the statement for a week.  They also decided to conclude the document with a directive stating the expectation.

Through all four weeks of this discernment process, the Guiding Coalition was very committed to using language found in the surveys or heard in the listening sessions.  They always remembered it was YOUR VALUES they were identifying and describing.  They did their work thoroughly and with much prayer.  Discussions were lively and energizing.  We believe the Spirit was at work!  The values statement now goes to Session for approval on September 26.  After that date, it will be more widely shared.

Please join me in thanking Gene Reynolds, David Young, Nancy Siewert, Kathleen Ford, Liz Paag, and Phil Mikulsky for their outstanding work.  Each made a significant contribution to the result.  You will be hearing from them in October when we lift up our values during the stewardship campaign.  May we all be as passionate as this team was!

Discerning Our Values 3

August 23, 2017

We have now concluded our small group discussions and online survey.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate.  Your thoughts were excellent and will prove to be very valuable to us.

We collected 40 pages of comments from church members.  In addition, individuals on the guiding coalition wrote 7 pages of listening notes.  This data has been photocopied and placed in binders for each member of the guiding coalition (I gave you their names in the previous blog).

This coalition had its first meeting on August 23.  Its task is to reflect on your words, assemble terms and ideas that are related, and then state (and define) the values that are expressed.  The goal is to have a recommendation on our church’s value statements for the Session to approve on September 26.

These values will then be the theme of our stewardship campaign in October.  Four persons on the guiding coalition come from four different ministry areas (Christian Education, Worship, Member Care, Outreach).  On the Sundays of October, each will tell a story that relates one or more of the values to their particular ministry area.  We plan to create visuals of each value for display in worship, and then later in the church hallway.

Stewardship Sunday has been set for October 29.  It is my prayer and hope that we will all be motivated to grow our giving because we see our values reflected in the ministry efforts of our church.

Discerning Our Values 2

July 12, 2017

The dates and times have now been set for our small group discussions on the topic of values.  I hope you can be present for one of these opportunities so that your voice can be heard:

  1. Sunday, July 23, after worship, during coffee hour
  2. Wednesday, July 26, 1:00 p.m.
  3. Wednesday, August 2, 6:30 p.m. while the children are in VBS

The discussion groups will be facilitated by members of a “guiding coalition”:

  • Nancy Siewert, Worship
  • David Young, Member Care
  • Gene Reynolds, Outreach
  • Kathleen Ford, Christian Education
  • Elizabeth Paag, Youth
  • Phil Mikulsky, At-large

The purpose of the “guiding coalition” is simply to get church members talking about our values and then documenting what they hear.  They will provide some handouts to prompt the conversation.

What is a “value”?  A value is a principle, standard or quality that we believe has intrinsic worth, excellence or desirability.  Values are of great importance to us because they inform why we do what we do and they motivate us to do it!  For example:

  • Why do we encourage participation in worship?
  • Why do Deacons visit persons of special concern?
  • Why do we provide food for the hungry through our Pantry and the Feed My Starving Children mobile pack?
  • Why do we have a program called VBS?

You tell me!  We do such things, and much more, because of our values.  The small group discussions will help us identify and articulate those values.  You will be asked to reflect on our Vision and Mission Statements, to think about our four ministry areas, to consider our 2017 Missional Action Plan (MAP), and then to write down and discuss the values that we are endeavoring to put into practice through our ministry.

If you cannot attend one of the three small group discussions, there will be an additional opportunity for you to share your views through an online survey that will be sent the week of August 7.

I trust you will enjoy the conversations and find them life-giving!

Discerning Our Values 1

June 20, 2017

I recently took a week-long course in religious fundraising at Luther Seminary. As a requirement for the course, I had to submit a project proposal. My proposal was accepted and I now have to implement it. The Session and Stewardship Committee have been supportive of my plan. We are going to carry it out. The interesting feature of this project is that it requires your participation! I hope you will find it to be an enjoyable experience.

We will attempt to come up with a values statement for our church. We have relatively new vision and mission statements, but we have not yet tried to articulate our values. One of the things I learned from the class was how essential values are in driving our vision and mission, and thus our stewardship.

Image result for clip art vision mission values

Those who give to support the vision and mission of the church ask questions like:

  • What value will my giving address?
  • What is precious and of value to me and my community?
  • Why am I doing this?

As a community of faith, we want to be clear about what we value, what we want to be known for, and what stirs us and causes us to act. This will benefit our congregation beyond the upcoming fall campaign as we continue to develop new missional action plans in future years.

The value statements cannot simply be drafted by the pastor. The statements need to come from church members themselves. We will accomplish this by offering three open forums between July 1 and August 15. One will take place during Sunday morning coffee fellowship, one on a weeknight evening, and one for parents/grandparents who bring children to VBS.  We will also have an online version of the forum. The purpose of the small groups is to engage in an exercise together that will help us articulate what we value. Please watch for these upcoming dates and participate in a small group.

The group exercise will be guided by a team representing the ministry areas of our church. This team will listen well and then meet from August 15 to September 15 to draft a statement of our values. This will be presented to Session on September 26.  These values will become the focal points of our fall stewardship campaign in October.

Hopefully, this process of discernment and the values we identify together will motivate us to be even better stewards of the gifts we have received and the mission to which we are called!

Session Retreat 2

June 15, 2017

It has now been a month since our Session retreat.  The consultant, Sarai (pronounced Sara) Rice, shared with us the feedback she heard from phone interviews with members of the congregation.  She then led a long and fruitful discussion on ways that our staffing pattern could change to address the concerns raised in the interviews, as well as other concerns.  She encouraged us to focus continuously on our “mission” and the staffing we “need” to carry out that mission.

In the coming months, the Session and the Personnel Committee will be prioritizing and implementing some of our findings.  Sarai suggested that we start by doing a better job of creating awareness of our missional action plan (MAP).  She said that copies of the MAP should be “plastered” all over our building so that people see them everywhere.  We made a first attempt at that.  Perhaps you have seen some of this new signage in unexpected places!

Sarai also thought we should gather in small groups to discuss the MAP.  You will hear more about that in coming weeks.  I have submitted a project proposal to Luther Seminary that uses small groups to help us discern the “values” that inform our MAP and our missional approach.  I hope you can be a participant in one of these upcoming groups.

At this point, I want to put the MAP in front of you once again.  You first saw it at the time of our Annual Congregational Meeting.  You now see it in various places around the building.  I include it here because it will play a major role in the coming weeks and months.  Please take the time to read and reflect on it.

2017 M.A.P. (Missional Action Plan)

I.     A staffing pattern that best serves our missional church emphasis
II.   Build upon current efforts to collaborate in outreach and mission
III. Faith development and ministry involvement of young families
IV. Good stewardship of ministry income and endowment funds in carrying out our mission

2017 M.A.P. (Missional Action Plan)

I.  A Staffing Pattern that Best Serves our Missional Church Emphasis

  1. Participate in a Session retreat on staffing led by a consultant.
  2. Move from an interim to a permanent Director of Christian Education. Personnel and Christian Education Committees to revise the position description.  Search for and hire a successful candidate.
  3. Communications and Marketing Committee to evaluate the increased time and workload of the Director of Communications.
  4. Worship Committee to build/expand the Music and Arts program by recruiting directors/volunteers for one time or occasional performances (e.g., an intergenerational contemporary choir, youth instrumental ensembles, youth dance and/or drama).

II.  Build Upon Current Efforts to Collaborate in Outreach and Mission

  1. Enhance our efforts with the Presbyterian Food Pantry.
  2. Transition the Feed My Starving Children committee into our system of governance.
  3. Outreach Committee plans an intergenerational mission trip.
  4. Session reps collaborate with counterparts from First United Presbyterian Church in De Pere to plan a joint mission project.

III.  Faith Development and Ministry Involvement of Young Families

  1. Each committee to make a special effort to include young families in their activities and experiments.
  2. Worship and Christian Education Committees to revisit the value of children’s sermons during worship.

IV.  Good Stewardship of Ministry Income and Endowment Funds in Carrying Out our Mission

  1. Stewardship Committee continues the “Pay It Forward” theme (e.g., raising funds for sanctuary carpeting).
  2. Session to explore a budgeting process more connected to committee goals and the church’s mission.
  3. Session to undertake a discernment effort on the use of endowment funds.

Session Retreat 1

April 25, 2017

On Saturday, May 13, Session members will be attending a retreat led by staffing consultant Sarai Rice.  Sarai (pronounced Sara) is a Presbyterian minister who heads a non-profit organization in Iowa.  I have previously attended two of her workshops at Pilgrim Center in Green Lake, Wisconsin sponsored by Winnebago Presbytery.  I found them to be very helpful.

Sarai has conducted phone interviews with many of our church members and some of our staff.  She will soon be having a phone conversation with our Personnel Committee leading up to the retreat.

Why this retreat topic?  As you know, we recently added a staff position in Communication and Marketing.  We are also thinking about how we might benefit from a part-time Director of Music & the Arts, and a Mission Coordinator.  We currently have an interim Director of Christian Education and will soon begin a search for a permanent Director.  Before we make more additions, and/or changes in current position descriptions, we need to discern what staffing pattern (design) and functions (performance) will best serve our mission.

I have been in touch with Dr. Craig Van Gelder about this topic.  Missional church advocates have recently been writing about church structures, but most of this is focused on the denominational level rather than the local level.  At the local level, reflection on our peculiar context and a willingness to experiment are key.

Van Gelder has written that “A Spirit-led, missional congregation develops organizational forms to carry out its ministry and to structure its life.  It must be understood that these forms bear the imprint of particular contexts.  Organization in congregations is, therefore, always contextual and provisional in character” (The Ministry of the Missional Church, 66).  Later he writes that “It is essential for congregations to attend to the feedback loop of information . . . ” (145).  Sarai Rice has been gathering this feedback for us and the purpose of our retreat is to attend to it!

Van Gelder shared with me a chapter from a forthcoming book in which he continued this line of thought about context.  “Every context is different . . . This is a transition time in which old paradigms and structures endure even as new ones struggle to be born.  We can expect ambiguity, stress, and a certain amount of chaos for many churches and church systems as they seek to navigate these cultural shifts . . . Faithful navigation . . .  calls for an open-ended posture of learning and experimentation, which requires, as well, vulnerability and risk-taking.”

To be faithful as a missional church, we must understand our peculiar context, attend to the feedback we hear, and be willing to take risks in experimentation.   May the Spirit lead us into the future God has for us!

Engage: Mission 7

March 29, 2017

This is the final chapter in our Session study.  We began with the hymn “Lord, You Give the Great Commission.”  Some of the phrases in this hymn are quite striking:

That the world may trust your promise, life abundant meant for each
May your care and mercy lead us to a just society
May we serve as you intend
Give us all new fervor

The chapter is titled “Identifying Ministry Shifts in order to Accomplish God’s Mission.”  Three ministry shifts in the life of a church’s thinking and behavior were identified:

  1. Moving from an inward focus to an outward focus
  2. Moving from a program-development focus to a people-development focus
  3. Moving from an institutional perspective to a spiritual perspective

The scripture passages assigned to this chapter related to shift no. 1.  In Genesis 12:2-3 we read that Abraham is blessed to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.  In Matthew 5:13-14, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

The authors conclude from these passages that the church needs to intentionally engage its communities.  “It’s important to understand that the church engages the community and the people outside of the church not in order to grow membership or to increase budgets so that it can continue to exist; it engages those outside of the church because loving outreach reflects the heart and mission of God” (p. 41).  We cannot fulfill God’s mission if we restrict ourselves to a church building or a faith huddle.

Shift no. 2 was of special interest to those who are active on our Christian Education Committee.  This committee has a number of programs that it oversees throughout the church year.  We have been struggling with low numbers of children, youth and adults in some of these programs.  However, those who do participate report experiencing significant faith development.

We should not measure success by how many people are involved in church programs.  “Instead of focusing on programs, entertaining people, or maintaining the institution, churches need to focus on developing vibrant and transformed disciples of Jesus” (p. 41).  There is no easy metric for gauging success, but making disciples needs to be what the church is about.

This is obviously related to shift no. 3.  Church meetings are not simply business meetings, nor can we make decisions because “we have always done it this way.”  In the church, we must give significant time to prayer, discernment and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  We expect our leaders and decision-makers to be spiritual men and women.

After reviewing the three ministry shifts, the authors provided a number of “bullet points” that illustrated specific ways a church could help make the shifts happen.  Some of our Session members said that they were actually encouraged because we are currently doing or have recently done many of the items in the list.   Our church also has a good awareness of our mission statement and we try to relate it to everything we do.

However, when the authors ask final questions like “Are we equipping members?  Are we empowered for mission?  Are we being held accountable for our discipleship?” we have the sense that we are falling short.  We could and should do more.  So while we ended on a note of encouragement, we also felt challenged.  Hopefully, we will keep this challenge in front of us!

Engage: Mission 6

March 1, 2017

We began with the hymn “Will You Come and Follow Me.”  The first four stanzas are a summons in the voice of Christ.  The fifth stanza is our response:

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

The hymn makes the point that the church is a sent community (“I’ll go!”), which is the theme of chapter 6.  This chapter opens by quoting a statement from the Book of Order on the apostolicity of the church.  We confess in the Nicene Creed on communion Sundays that we believe in “one holy catholic and apostolic church.”   An apostolic church is a sent church.  The Greek word “apostle” means “one who is sent out with a message.”  The Book of Order puts it this way: “To be members of the body of Christ is to be sent out to pursue the mission of God.”  It then defines this mission in quite broad terms:  “The Church is sent . . . participating in God’s mission to care for the needs of the sick, poor, and lonely; to free people from sin, suffering, and oppression; and to establish Christ’s just, loving, and peaceable rule in the world.”

We were then asked to read Luke 10:1-12 in which Jesus commissions the seventy for this very kind of mission.  The authors of the study give several examples of how Jesus’ instructions to the seventy “are applicable for our mission today.”  These examples reminded me of how missional advocate Dr. Craig Van Gelder also used the Luke 10 passage in our last Session retreat.  Three of the examples elicited comments from us:

  • Worship is not an end in itself but it’s about equipping and nurturing the body of Christ to serve people in our communities.
  • Mission takes time because we are sharing life with neighbors and building relationships with them.
  • While we need to move on when we do not encounter receptivity and openness, we cannot use this as an excuse to give up too quickly or not go to others at all!

One of our Session members was particularly struck by Brian McLaren’s comment on what it means to think of the church as Christ’s sent ones.  “In this line of thinking about the church, we don’t recruit people to be customers of our products or consumers of our religious programs; we recruit them to be colleagues in our mission.  The church doesn’t exist to satisfy the consumer demands of believers; the church exists to equip and mobilize men and women for God’s mission in the world.”

We agreed that “equip and mobilize” is an area of need in our church.  Much of what we do in worship, Christian education, and small group ministry should be focused on this.  We equip and mobilize “the sent ones” so that they can discern how God is already at work in the community and freely talk with people about life and faith.

The study ended by suggesting that as “the sent ones” we go to a particular gathering place in our neighborhood and ask questions such as:

  • What is the greatest need in this community?
  • How could a church help meet this need?
  • When you hear the name Jesus, what comes to mind for you?
  • When you hear the word Christian, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

The PC(USA) has created a video in which these very questions are asked.  You can watch it here: Engaging the Community.  The video stresses how important it is that we listen first.  Only then, do we have the opportunity to be heard in a way that is relevant and important to people!

Engage: Mission 5

January 25, 2017

Lesson Five of our study was titled “Living as Missionaries.”  We began by reflecting on the African American spiritual “I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me” (and work, pray, sing too!).  We were amazed that slaves could have such a strong sense of not serving their masters, but serving God; and not just in the cotton fields under a blazing sun, but “God can use me anywhere, Lord, any time!”   We were inspired by these simple yet profound lyrics.

We then read 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 from The Message.  It was interesting how this translation connected with the hymn because at one point Eugene Peterson renders Paul’s words “God uses us . . .”  The point is that God uses us as representatives (The Message) or ambassadors (NRSV) or missionaries.  We are sent (anywhere, Lord, any time) with a very positive and uplifting message for everyone.  We tell everyone that Christ offers new life, a far better life than people could ever live on their own.

The study identified six characteristics for being a missionary in our local context.

  1. Build relationships with people. This takes time.
  2. Hang out with people where they live. This means leaving our comfort zones.
  3. Be humble. Be open to the stories of people and how they find meaning.
  4. Believe that God is already at work in their lives.
  5. Identify with/share their suffering and hardships.
  6. Speak about a loving God who desires fullness of life for them.

Our conversation about these characteristics led to a discussion of some “experiments” that we could do that would foster people to people relationship building.  We saw the success of this approach in our church’s involvement with the Hmong immigration a few decades ago.  We would like to find ways to do this again.  Are there “experiments” we could do to build relationships with the growing Hispanic community?  With the parents and children at Tank Elementary School?  With those who hang out at the Cup O’ Joy Christian coffee house?  With our neighbors who visit Seymour Park?  With those who use our Food Pantry?  Such efforts would take us away from our building and into the lives, hangouts and homes of community members around us.

Finally, we spent some time with this idea:  “Another way of seeing our lives on mission is simply being open to inviting people into activities in which we already love to engage.”    To reinforce this idea, the study suggested we watch the short YouTube video Missional Community Simple (please click to watch).  After watching the video, ask yourself the question: How can God use me in what I already enjoy doing with others?