This week has been a valuable lesson for two reasons: Our annual clergy retreat and the Service of Celebration for Bishop Cho.
Approximately fifty pastors from all over our district participated in our fifth annual clergy retreat as we struggle to become Vital Congregations. Each year, the level of trust seems higher and clearer. For approximately 24 hours we joined together in fellowship, meals, worship, prayer and study.
A critical part of the retreat was devoted to our seven cluster groups of churches spending time together and learning how to best help each other become more vital congregations.
We were guided by Scripture from Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus was asked: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
We were challenged throughout the retreat to focus on: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.
We were guided by the theme: Big Dreams – Great Teams = Vital Congregations.
Big Dreams is about vision. What is God calling us to do? How can we better love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls and with all our minds? Great Teams is about our need to work together as we are guided by God. How can we love our neighbor as ourselves?
Vital Congregations are churches with big dreams guided by God and are filled with great teams committed to God’s purpose.
We have to face the stark reality that many of our churches are declining. So, what are we going to do about it? As leaders we have two basic choices to make: 1. Continue our decline. 2. Get better at making disciples. For the rest of the day, we talked about how we can work together as leaders and churches to get better at making disciples.
At the end of the retreat, we were asked to name our fears and our hopes and release them to God.
One participant wrote: “For me Vital Congregations has become a personal passion, not a conference program. I don’t want to bide my time and just retire. I want to honestly try, even if I fail.”
Failure is not something we should fear. Failure offers an opportunity to learn and grow.
John Maxwell writes: “Most people will grudgingly concede that they must make it through some adversity in order to succeed. They’ll acknowledge that they have to experience the occasional setback to make progress. But I believe that success comes only if you take that thought one step farther. To achieve your dreams, you must embrace adversity and make failure a regular part of your life. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not moving forward.”
“If you’re not failing, you’re probably not moving forward.”
I left the retreat knowing that we are moving forward and we are not alone as we face the difficult task of learning how to be Vital Congregation devoted to making more disciples. We have begun to dream bigger dreams and work toward strengthening our teams.
But how do we provide the leadership for our churches that will inspire bigger dreams and greater teams?
Several days later, I discovered one answer at a service of Celebration for our new Bishop: Young Jin Cho. Bishop Cho modeled his intention to be a servant leader. His first act as Bishop was to bring a child before us and place her in a chair. He then took three of the symbols presented to him as Bishop, the basin, the water and the towels and literally put them to use as he gently began to wash the child’s feet.
Washing the feet of a child: A beautiful act of servant-hood and humility that set an example for us all.
I remembered the words of Jesus from the retreat: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Bishop Cho said, “It will not be possible to have vitality as individuals or become vital congregations unless we first make Jesus Christ the Lord of our life. We must commit ourselves to spending time with God. Before we answer our emails, before we go on the internet, before we watch TV, we must first learn to open our hearts to Jesus Christ in prayer.”
My daily Bible reading this morning included this verse from Isaiah which promises, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will gather you and your children from east and west.” (43:5)
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
Interestingly enough, one song from the service included those very words: “Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow Me. I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.” (From, ‘You Are Mine’ by David Haas)
Vital Congregations – Big Dreams – Great Teams
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
Thank you Lord. Amen.