Monday, June 29, 2015

Try The Other Side

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was John 21:1-11 and it represented my State of the Church Address:

Today marks the end of my second year, or the beginning of my third year, here at Mesa View, depending on how you want to look at it.  I would like to begin today by thanking all of our volunteers and people who give of themselves in some many ways to this church and in service to the community.  But in particular I would like to thank the members of the Staff Parish Relations Committee, some other key members, and for the prayer partners who were lifting me up in prayer this past year, because it was by far my hardest year in the ministry.  Every organization has cycles of ups and downs, and I firmly believe that this past year we hit the bottom of our trough and are now on an upward climb.  Our attendance has seen continued increases each month this year, until last month, but we always see a drop off when school lets out, and let me remind you that your presence here is really important.  Not because of numbers, but because it’s a lot better, and to be honest it’s more fun, when the sanctuary is filled then when it’s less full.

I was appointed by the Bishop to Mesa View for many reasons, but one of the biggest was to get our finances in order.  Many churches approach their finances by using the mushroom communication model.  Do you know what the mushroom communication model is?  Keep them in the dark and shovel in lots of manure.  Hopefully you know that’s not the way I want to operate.  The truth is we are doing better.  I would like to say that we no longer have financial worries, and that everything is great.  I’d like to say that, but it’s not true.  We are better, but we are not out of the woods yet.  We didn’t get here in a few years, and we won’t get out of it in a few years.  If you have been reading the newsletter, then you should have seen that our last financial report was a little bleak.  The last number I got from Don Coates this week was that we were projecting to be somewhere around $2000 in the hole at the end of June.  So don’t stop giving just because you might go away for the summer, because our work doesn’t end.

But here is the good news.  Our electronic giving options are helping us to create a stable, reliable income stream, and thank you to everyone who has signed up for electronic giving, and I would strongly encourage others to do the same.  The good news is that for maybe the first time, but definitely the first time in a long time, we created a savings account, in which we had $5000 when we entered the summer.  The good news is that last month we paid off our debt to John Deere for the purchase of our lawn mower and this month we paid off the conference loan we took out to help pay for the roof repairs.  The good news is that when we started here two years ago we owed more than $10,000 to the conference for back pension obligations and we will have that paid off in October.  The good news is that we refinanced our mortgage, which freed up resources that we have needed.  We ended up having to put in a new HVAC unit in the annex, a $7000 charge, but we covered the entire thing in cash, and that allowed us to bring in the YMCA and turn that building into a revenue source for us again, while also serving the community.

The mortgage debt is still out there and still substantial and we need to think of some ways to tackle it, one of them might be through estate planning with the church named as a beneficiary so that we can continue to still be good stewards of our resources and helping God’s mission being done by this church after we have passed on to our eternal reward.  We also still have some other major expenditures out there.  We need to do work on the HVAC units on these buildings, which is going to set us back around $4000 this fall, or it’s going to get really cold in here this winter.  But worse we are going to have to replace them sooner rather than later.  When we do that it would be in our best interest to replace the roof at the same time, which is not an inexpensive endeavor.  But our finances don’t drive us, and we don’t make decisions based on our finances, or at least not only on them, but instead our decisions are made by what God is calling us to do and who God is calling us to be and when we are doing that then money will never be an issue because God will provide.  I am also glad to say that we are tithing our budget and trusting that God will provide in return.

John Foley has done a great job in leading our trustees and we have done significant work in the buildings in the past year.  We repainted the annex before the Y moved in as well as doing some other work in that building.  We have painted most of the classrooms in both the administration building and we are finishing in this building.  We complete redid the men’s bathroom in the administration building, which is a huge blessing from where it was.  We are doing painting of the parking lot and we were blessed to have Sam Ray do his Eagle project here in putting new rock around the administration building as well as installing new crosses.  We will be installing a new fence around the playground here in the new future, and we have new ADA compliant signage in the admin building, a new screen with room locations and announcements, and new banners for outside the buildings directing people to the right place for worship and child care.  We had a new logo created and will soon be replacing the sign at the entrance to the campus, as well as on the buildings, and we also created a new website.  Those might not seem like important things in the overall picture of the church, and perhaps they are not.  But there are lots of signs at churches besides the obvious ones, and showing people that we care about our appearance in also important.

We still have to do something about this corner with the pond, and it’s more than just fixing the pond, or just letting it fill up with water.  Instead we need to create a master plan for the entire corner.  I have heard lots of different ideas about what to do, and many of them are really good, or at least intriguing.  I would still love to see a handicap accessible playground constructed.  But before we spend money on it just because, we need to be working towards something bigger and grander.  If you are interested in helping to pay for that plan, I’d love to talk with you about it; because once we have a plan in place then we can start seeking money to bring it to fruition, including seeking corporate support for some aspects.  We need to do something similar for what we do with the land at the back of the property.  There are lots of dreams of what that could be done, including creating a community garden or building an adult daycare facility.  Dreams are important, because as soon as we stop dreaming about possibilities then we might as well shut the doors.  But we also need to trust and listen to God in those dreams we dream.

One of the other most common comments we got in the readiness360 survey was about a youth group.  So several things.  Getting a youth group going is not a silver bullet.  It will not solve all of our problems and suddenly make us explode with growth.  It will help, but there are lots of other things that need to happen.  Second, we don’t have a youth group not for a lack of interest, but from a lack of volunteers, or the money to rehire a staff person to do it.  But, I am happy to report that Lee Anna and I have been talking about her adding the youth group to her responsibilities here at the church, and we will be starting a youth group, primarily targeted at middle school and lower high school, in the fall.  But, she cannot do this alone, so if you want to have a youth group, this is where we all have to contribute.  We are also in conversations about creating a young adult group, as well as starting a group for single mothers.

When it comes to worship, we do a good job, but there is always room for improvement.  We will be installing new worship software in the near future which will allow us greater flexibility as well as more possibilities.  We did have two new projectors that were donated.  One of them is installed, although needs to be tweaked for its location.  We want to install the other so that there will be projection on both sides of the wall, but that’s a lot easier to say than to do, and it will require some capital expenses.  We would also like to install a projector showing towards the back.  That might not seem as important to you all, but for those who face that way for most of the service it will be a huge addition.  We have begun recording the sermons and making them available, but we need to work on getting the entirety of the service recoded, especially the music, and moving to doing video recordings, which could include live streaming of the worship service.  But this is more than just going out and buying a camera and saying let’s go.  There is more planning and also expense involved.  We are also in planning for the creation of a new weeknight worship service which will, hopefully, allow us to meet people who can’t make a Sunday service, or who would be interested because it will be brand new.

Al Gray has been doing a great job in leading the mission team in various activities, and this past year we started our own food pantry to help supplement the monthly mobile food pantry.  We hosted a meal on Thanksgiving for those in need, and hopefully we can build on that this year.  We donated more than $5000 to provide clean water to schools in Kenya this year, and at least half of the school supplies to go to the summer program for McCurdy Ministries in Espanola came from this church.  These are fantastic activities, but there are others ways we can be of service.  We need to start thinking about getting beyond our walls, not just in service, but also for meetings and outings and even for Christian formation activities.  Things can happen in places besides for the church, and many of them would be better to be held outside in our neighborhood and in surrounding community.

And finally there is the Healthy Church Initiative.  I am proud of the leadership council for pledging to undertake this process, and for the work of the HCI team has been doing.  It has sparked a lot of great conversations in many different areas of the church.  I know that many of you probably still have no idea what it’s all about or what’s going to happen, but we will be getting much more information out soon.  The purpose is really to provide us with a boost of momentum to build on many of the things that we have already been working on, and to push us in the right direction.  The biggest thing I think will be for us to really look at and answer the question, what does it mean to be a disciple, and how do we engage people in the discipleship process at all stages of their lives?  How do we engage new members into the church?  How do we engage people who have been here for 600 years?  And a big part of that is answering two questions.  The first is what is our mission, or to put it another way, what has God called for us to do.  And the second is for just about everything to we do, to be able to say, we do this so that we can…. Fill in the blank.

I hope in hearing all of this that you are excited about what is happening and what is still to happen, and I didn’t even tell you everything that I listed out as I was thinking about what we have done and what we are working on.  But let’s be honest; Change is hard.  Change is hard for lots of reasons, but do you know what the seven deadly words of the church are: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  They could also be “We tried that and it didn’t work.”  But that’s why I think what Jesus does in today’s passage is so important.

But before we get into that, I would like us to do one thing, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.  We often get stuck in familiar patterns, doing the same thing, not necessarily because we want to, but because it’s what happens.  And so before we dig into what Jesus says to the disciples, I want us to do something a little differently, so see things a little differently and so I want everyone to switch the side of the sanctuary they are sitting on.  If you are on the left move to the right, and the right move to the left.  If you want to switch front back, that’s fine too, but you have to at least move to the other side… now we are a little uncomfortable and if you remember nothing else from today’s message I know you will remember this, especially when you call the bishop tomorrow to complain about what I made you do.  But this also allows us to see what Jesus has said to the disciples.

The disciples are out fishing all night, but they don’t catch anything, and as they are coming in this stranger on the shore engages them in conversation, and they don’t know its Jesus, and then Jesus says something, and it took me several times hearing this story before this idea hit me one day.  Now perhaps you all are smarter than I am and you saw it right away, but Jesus doesn’t just say, “Drop your nets in the water and try again.”  Instead he says, “Cast them over the right side of the boat.”  I think that piece of information of being on the right is important.  And so what I imagine is the disciples have been out there all night long, casting their nets over the left side of the boat because that’s how they always have done it, or perhaps it’s easier to cast them to the left, but they haven’t been successful, and they could never go to the right, because that’s not how they’ve always done it, or perhaps they didn’t even think of it.  But Jesus makes one little tweak to them, and it makes all the difference.  Jesus doesn’t say “you should try another area of the lake” or even “the fishing in the next lake is much better, go there.”  Instead he just tells them, think a little broader, do something just a little different, even something as small as casting the net on the other side of the boat, and it will make all the difference in the world.

These are standard, 8 prong, Lego blocks, and these represent us.  If I was to give some to everyone, I’m guessing that most of us would probably put them together is a fairly similar way, and for many of us we would just stack them all together.  That’s what we do in church sometimes.  But when we do that, there is not room for anything else, instead we have to do things a little differently, to leave space open for change, for new things to be added, for new people to be added, and we have to be willing to change things up, to cast our nets on the other side of the boat, and be open to allowing new ways to put the blocks together.  Because do you know how many possible ways there are to put together just 6 standard Lego blocks?  According to Lego, these blocks will go together 915,103,765 different ways.  There are not always easy and simple answers, but sometimes the hardest part is not coming up with the answers, but simply being willing to try something different, and when we do, often we find the catch is even more than we could have ever have imagined.

We have many challenges and opportunities before us.  And for many things the way we have always done it won’t work anymore.  But instead of either still trying to do the same thing and getting the same results, or giving up, perhaps we need to learn how to cast our nets to the other side.  And that means we must also be willing to fail.  In studies of growing and declining churches, which type do you think was doing things that failed the most?  It was growing churches, because the only way you can fail a lot is by trying new things a lot.  Declining churches weren’t doing anything new at which to fail.  We have to be open to taking risks, to try new things like fishing on the right rather than the left.  I’ve said this before, but we don’t talk about taking leaps of safety, instead we talk about taking leaps of faith.  That faith is here for us and the future is in front of us, but we must be prepared to try the other side and to take the leap.  What is the best year this church has ever had?  Next year.  I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

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