Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Love That Reaches

One of my favorite things in the life of this church has become Glenwood Open House. Many of you have experienced an Open House this year. These events are designed to give folks a picture of Glenwood, especially individuals and families who are thinking about joining our family here. It has become a wonderful time for people to ask any questions they may have about us.

In the past, we didn't have a step like this. People just joined a congregation without any real understanding of that family; and many of those families tended to fade away because from the beginning they really didn't understand the heart or mission of that church. Our Open Houses have given people a chance to see who we really are before they make that serious commitment.

The reason I have enjoyed these moments so much is because on a monthly basis I am reminded why I love this church so much! As part of the Open House, I spend some time talking about our passions, our values. Glenwood has some wonderful values. These are the pillars upon which this church stands. Every decision, every ministry, everything we do, is held up by our values.

Most of you know this, but here at Glenwood we have five core values.

First, we are a church that values a Truth that Challenges. We sometimes say it this way:

We champion Truth, as revealed in the Word of God, that governs our relationships with each other, the world, and God.

In other words, Scripture is at the heart of this church. We do not do anything without consulting the Word of God.

We also value a Faith that Transforms.

We are changed so that Christ may be seen in us.

In other words, we are not content to just “be” a Christian. We believe that followers of Christ should allow God to form them more and more into His image. So, we spend time in the Word. We spend time alone in silence. We spend time in intentional community with God’s people. We put ourselves in places that will help us transform into God’s image more and more.

We also value a Grace that Embraces.

We believe that no matter where we've been, no matter what we've done, God’s amazing grace allows us to stand up again.

This church understands the grace of Jesus Christ better than any spiritual family I’ve ever known. We know that without Jesus we have no hope! I think that realization gives us the freedom to extend that grace to others.

A fourth value of this church: A Life that Connects.

We keep company with each other, living in the fullness of God.

Not only does this church love to be together, we believe God expects for us to be together. Our God is the creator of relationships, and we are committed to finding ways to help this family connect. These values have shaped this church for over 60 years. Collectively, they've given us our identity. What a wonderful thing—to be part of a church that values scripture, transformation, grace. I saw these values come alive over the past week. As I told you last week, I was a bit apprehensive about my sermon on homosexuality. A lot of congregations talk about “grace.” But when push comes to shove, some of our brothers and sisters are hesitant to extend the grace of God too far. It may cover my sins, but not necessarily yours. I had people tell me this week that they'd never seen a congregation willing to extend grace to homosexuals. We do not gloss over sin at Glenwood. But we do acknowledge that no sin is beyond the reach of God’s grace. So, this week, I was reminded once again why I love this church, because, I saw our values at work!

Now I know there are some mathematicians among us, you remember that I said we have five values, but I've only mentioned four. There is a reason for that. Do you know the difference between a “realized” value and an “aspirational” value? A realized value is a value that is currently shaping a church. You do not have to look very far to see evidence of our “realized” values. Our worship is shaped by Scripture. Our Bible classes exist to transform our faith. God’s grace is offered by the Glenwood family on a regular basis in extraordinary ways.

“Realized” values are already here. An “aspirational” value is one that the church aspires toward. We may not be there yet, but even our longing to be there has shaped us. Along with 3 realized values, Glenwood also has an aspirational value.

We value a Love that Reaches.

We share Christ’s love with all people as we experience His grace.

This value has really shaped the church from the very beginning. Do you remember Jesus’ words to His disciples just before He ascended into heaven?

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20, NRSV)

Jesus’ disciples had already spent about three years at His feet, learning what it means to love. Learning what life, eternal life, is all about and enjoying genuine Spirit-filled community with each other and with God. Jesus’ instruction just before He left was, “Now that you've tasted this ‘real’ life, share it.”

The Glenwood family, like so many Christian communities in the past, takes the Great Commission seriously. One of our values is a “Love that Reaches.” But, to be honest, we have probably not reached our fullest potential here…yet. I've spent several minutes going on and on about our strengths, so allow me a couple of minutes to talk about an area where we have room to grow. Brothers and sisters, I believe we can improve in our ability to share God’s love with others. I've met few spiritual families who love each other as much as Glenwood does. We love church potlucks—we virtually fill the family life center every time! We even love to be with each other outside of these walls, we just enjoy being together. But sometimes we do not do a great job of extending that love to others. It’s not that we are rude; it’s not that we are cold when people come to our building. It’s just that we do not make it a regular practice to “go and make disciples of all nations…”

John and I did some research over the last few months. We tracked Glenwood’s attendance over the last decade. What we found was interesting. Our attendance has been eerily consistent over the last decade. Our attendance has not gone down, but neither has it gone up. We've been the model of consistency. Consistency is great in some circles, but not Christ’s Church. Let me be clear: there are more important things that numerical growth in a church! It is possible for a church to grow numerically and waste away spiritually. But if we are serious about valuing a “Love that Reaches,” we need to be more intentional about sharing the blessings we've received here with others. So, I want to let you know that we are developing a plan to help us grow in our desire and ability to share God’s love with those around us.

The first part of this plan, I know, will please most of you. Our plan has been to return to our two-service model on September 8. Instead, we are going to stay in our one service model for a little while longer. But there is a reason. I read an article a few months ago about congregations that seem to be “stuck” at a certain attendance level. The author is a part of a team that studies congregations all over the world. He said one of the ways congregations try to break the “glass ceiling” is by going to a two-service model. Listen to what he says about this…

The move is typically precipitated by one or more services running out of space. Most of the time the new service does aid the church in breaking attendance barriers. But, keep in mind; the church was most likely growing already until it ran out of space. The new service simply takes the lid off so the church can continue to grow. I would caution a church, however, about moving to an additional service if it’s not already in a growth mode. The worship center can seem vacuous if one non-growing group is split into two non-growing groups.

As I read these words for the first time, it was almost scary how well this person described Glenwood. Two years ago, Glenwood moved to 2 services, hoping that we would soon fill the worship center not once, but twice each Sunday. The problem, of course, was that we were not growing when we made that move. So, we're not too proud to say, we tried something and it didn't work. But we are more committed to expanding the reach of God’s love than we are to any strategy. So, we're going to try something else. We are going to stay at one service for a time; not forever. We are going to stay at one service until we need to do something else, and we anticipate that will be very soon. We are already looking at the next stage. That next stage will probably include some sort of simulcast service. A smaller service in some other part of our building that will take place at the same time as the other service. Other congregations all over the country have gone to similar models and we are studying them right now. When we make that move, we want to do it right. When we outgrow that simulcast service, then we’ll move to a next step. That may be two services or that may be a church plant. Between now and then, however, we will be in fervent prayer about where God wants us to go next.

In the meantime, we need to work on making our aspirational value a realized value…

Talks have already begun about making some changes to our building. If you haven't noticed, our building reflects well the character of this church. We love one another. We love to be with one another. We have a wonderful facility with a wonderful living room where we all gather together regularly. We spend so much time in our beautiful living room, however, that we neglect our front door. We are studying the possibility of making the front of our building more inviting to our guests. We'll be talking about that more in the coming weeks and months. If we hope to become more committed to a Love that Reaches, however, we need to do more than change our services and our building.

We need to become more committed to people outside these walls. If you have been changed by the grace of Jesus, then share that grace with others. If you have found a faithful, godly community here at Glenwood, invite others to share in that community, and as people arrive here, and they will, we must receive them well.

Now, this is going to be a full room for a while. You may need to move seats into the balcony to make room for guests and some of our elderly members. You may need to scoot in and give up your seat in the aisle. You may need to park further away from this building to make room for others. You may need to come early to welcome guests. You may need to stay later and get to know new people. We need to change our outlook on church. It’s not only about being fed. It’s also about helping to make a place for others at God’s table.

 “A Love that Reaches” is a wonderful value to have. It’s really a value that Jesus gave to us with His great commission. What would this church look like if we began to focus our energies on making that value a reality? Let’s pray that God will show us what it looks like.

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