Sunday, September 14, 2014

From the Newsletter: Aiming towards the Kingdom

Summers in New England fly by. We begin summer with a list of things that we want to do, and think we have all the time in the world, and before we know it, the summer is gone, and the fall is upon us. With fall comes the beginning of the school-year, and the beginning of the ministry year for our church.

 As we come to the beginning of ministry year, I want to recap the summer, and look on towards fall. This has been a busy summer at First Baptist. We have painted the sanctuary and the entryway (see update on building on Page 9), and got most of the rest of the outside painted. Beyond that, we had an amazing week of VBS. Most importantly, we began to have some of the crucial conversations that we need to have when it comes to the serious and painful steps that we need to take to become a church that is effective when it comes to reaching our community, conversations that included the fact that we will have to touch sacred cows and laying aside cherished things for the glory of God and the furthering of His kingdom.
Now as we look to the fall I want to talk about some of those steps. First, we are going to keep pressing on the building. We have been pushing on making forward progress on this for quite some time, be-cause we know that whether we like it or not, people do measure what we think of Christ by the condition of the church building. So we need to do this. My hope is that this fall, we will be back in Fellowship Hall, and having the sanctuary floors done. Now, as I say this, we are basically out of cash in the fund-raising till. And as far as the endowment, it basically sits at about 13,000 in one of the funds that can be easily accessed, 30,000 in restricted funds, and about 35-40 in investments (depending on the market). But here’s the thing. This summer, I was having a conversation with Mike Gantt, my longtime pastor and mentor, and he asked me a pointed question, in regard to the investments. What are you saving it for? If the investments are the rainy day fund, well, as Mike commented, “It’s raining”! Last summer, it figuratively was. We had water leaking into the sanctuary. It was symbolic in many ways of our true situation as a church. The question is are we going to keep pressing on, or try to conserve it? But if we’re going to conserve it, the question is, for what? I sometimes think we look to the investments as a source of hope. But realistically, they can only be used to help us head back to true health, or just serve as a way to slow down the inevitable, because we either we get back to heath, spiritual, and numerical, or we will die. And make no mistake, statistically, we are likely to die. Statistically. But we serve a big God who does miracles. My challenge for you is, let’s press forward. Since the only hope is God, let’s truly hope in Him and trust Him, get the building done, and continue to move forward towards one of the things that we have to do, trusting that He is sovereign, and He wants Medfield and Metro-west impacted for Christ far more than we do. Let’s go where He leads, or let the lights get turned out. Make no mistake. We can take the safe route, and limp, and eventually whither and then slowly die, or we push our chips to the center of the table, trust God to do something bigger than ourselves, and follow Him wherever He leads, come what may?

Second, these steps will involve some changes to the worship service. This summer, I convened a task force compiled of those who regularly help lead worship, to begin to redraw and reenergize the worship service.

They are evaluating, praying, and beginning to make recommendations. The first thing that they have recommended is that we move away from having the service look exactly the same every Sunday. We are going to mix the elements of worship, and lose some of the rigidity of the service. So for example, we probably are not going to sing Glory Be every week (however, we are going to sing it regularly, its way to good a song to dismiss, it will make regular appearances). We will probably vary the amount of songs, and where readings, or confessions, or any of the many elements of worship happen. Along with this, a second recommendation, one that is unanimous, is that Go in Peace, needs to go in peace to its final resting place. For 6 years, I and others have watched visitors get up to leave after the benediction, and then look around confused as we burst into a song that takes all focus from the point made in worship, and just says, kumbaya. It’s become something of a running joke among leadership; it’s time for it to go in peace. But beyond these two things, we have agreement that there needs to more involvement from a team that is working together and careful organizing each service and asking, why are we doing this or that thing, why is this element of worship in place, rather than just, we’ve always done it this. We want to think about why we do what we do, and refine the worship service so that we might accomplish four aims Glorify God, bring life and energy to worship and draw us into his presence (which thereby glorifies God more), equip the saints to live on mission for the glory of God, and meet our com-munity with what you could call culturally appropriate containers, things that communicate the timeless truth in timely ways.

Third, we are going to be continuing to push the conversation that we have been having, that we need to be ever mindful that we are people who are called to live on mission. We need to be thinking about life as missionaries. We are not civilians living comfortable lives in safe communities; we are God’s kingdom agents. People who, because of the gospel, are called to live on mission for Christ, and strive to be about God’s kingdom work.

Fourth, we are going to be continuing to chase after reaching our community. We talked about this over the summer. We will be placing outreach under the direction of one of the committees, and will have a committee or team responsible for thinking strategically about outreach. In addition to this small but hopefully strategic move, we are going to be reaching out to those that have moved to the area and inviting them to visit. Over 500 homes have changed hands in this region in the last several months, we are going to be inviting all of them to church, and then continuing to invite everyone who moves after them as well. Be praying that some of them will come. Be praying that they will be gripped by the presentation of who we are seeking to be, and come be a part of God’s kingdom movement here at First Baptist. Commit to praying for this to happen. Now, I know some of you are skeptical. But consider this. 1 % would be 5 families. 10 percent would be 50 families. That would be neat, that would give us some stability as we seek to bring the gospel to Medfield and Metro-west.

Beyond all this, and most importantly, we are going to keep challenging you to be seeking opportunities to share the gospel. In August, Dennis challenged the church to be willing to try to step out and share the gospel, even if it’s scary. The leadership and I will be continuing to encourage you to keep it up. Dennis provided a taste of where the heart of the church is heading. Towards our community, and towards those who have not yet met Christ and need to. Be willing to take a kingdom risk, and share what God has done in Christ. Share how he has been working in your life. Finally, we will be seeking to equip you through the small group Bible studies on Wednesday nights.

Fifth, we are going to continue to strive to be centered and shaped by the gospel. This must be our unifying center. The thing that binds us together. John Stott once wrote, “No church can spread the gospel with any degree of integrity, let alone credibility, unless it has been visibly changed by the gospel it preaches. We need to look like what we are talking about. It is not enough to receive the gospel and pass it on; we must embody it in our common life of faith, love, joy, peace, righteousness, and hope.” Which is why we must be centered and shaped by the gospel.

When it comes to these things, we cannot take our pedal off the gas. We need to take every step we can, and be seeking to move towards health as a church, because there is no going halfhearted when it comes to aiming towards being a healthy church that is reaching its community for Christ. We either go for it, or we don’t. My challenge for you is, let’s press forward. Let’s chase God wherever he leads us. Let's aim towards the kingdom. Let’s aim towards where God is leading us. This year is about “Following Christ wherever He leads”. In the end, I believe that when it comes to the kingdom of God, there are no lost causes, only lost sheep. He’s the king. He is sovereign. There are no lost causes. We need to be chasing Him. Following Him. We need to be white hot for the gospel, and go where He takes us.

Now, you could take all this as a massive Debbie downer newsletter article. Go where God leads or let the lights get turned out. What is that? That’s some-what morbid. It sounds like you are pretty down on the church. No, it’s not negative, and I haven’t been this excited about what God is doing in a very long time. I think God is doing something. I think that we are seeing God do some cool things. There is a rustle and a stir. Right before I left on vacation, I mentioned that while we haven’t seen the revival I hoped for when we started to go through Galatians, I wonder if something if it’s started. There is a moment on C.S. Lewis great book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, before things take off and get wild, where Beaver whispers to the 4 children in the story… “They say Aslan is on the move.” Aslan is the great lion… the creator, the king, the one who will die for the sins of Adam… Aslan Is God…there are things that make me wonder if Aslan is on the move… …I can’t say… but there are things that leave my heart beating faster, some tangible things that make me say…is God moving? Little things…. Big things…this building getting painted, the challenge by Dennis, the response to the challenge… It makes me really wonder.

In his article, “Producing a Comeback Church” Ed Stetzer and Mike Norman summarized some of the things in their book, “Comeback church, which looks at how 324 churches started growing again after experiencing a pattern of plateau or decline. Based upon the information gathered in their study, they identified some things that were key factors (see article on page 10). After I read it, I sent it on to some of our leaders and said, “Read this... Here's my thought... If I'm the leader that is needed...The rest of the list makes me say "Cool... "! My prayer based on this is that I will be the kind of leader they describe more and more. I see some of these other things coming together or in the works. I even see some things that are starting to make me think that our attitude could be coming in line with the attitude of John Knox, who is cited in Stetzer’s article. He cried. “Give me Scotland or I die.” Stetzer then says “We need to pray the same for Selma, Sellersburg and Seattle.” Let me add… Medfield, Metro-west, and Boston. Lord, give us Medfield and Metro-west. Lord, give us Boston. Read it. You’ll see some of why I’m excited. We’ve got what Stetzer calls, “God sized goals” kicking around. Becoming a church that is really impacting our community is a God sized goal, living on as a church is a God sized goal; faithfully Following Christ wherever He leads is a God sized goal. And because we have God sized goals, we are at the end of ourselves, I think that we are in the perfect spot to see God move. And on the one hand, that will be scary, but it will be fun, and I believe God will act if we faithfully follow Christ where ever He leads. In so many ways, this is how it has to be, because ultimately, there is no one strategy to rebuild church and reform a church. Some hire a new pastor and everything takes off. Some begin the process of changing and it takes 10 years. God works in his own way in His own time and place, and He gets the glory, not us. We need to trust Him and follow Him through the changes He’s leading us into.

With all that said, let me end with more encouragement. I think there are some measurable signs of health. I am starting my seventh year here. My second Sunday here, someone asked me, why do you preach from the Bible every week. This summer, it occurred to me that we are no longer debating the content of the gospel. Not from the core of the church. You want it from the edges, from visitors, but you want a faithful, Gospel centered core. And that’s coming together. That’s a sign that God is moving. When I came, we did not have consensus about the gospel. Someone asked me the second Sun-day I was here why I preached from the Bible every Sunday (and at the time I’d only preached three Sun-days at the church). Now, I believe that we are a church that is confident in the core of the gospel, and convicted about the need to share the gospel. That’s not anything to sneeze at. It is in light of that that I dare write these words to those who move to the area. Words I agonized over as I worked on it, but feel ready to send with joy.

On behalf of First Baptist Church of Medfield, I would like to congratulate you on your purchase of a new home. Whether you're new to the area, or simply relocating, I believe that you will find that this is a wonderful place to call home.

 As you settle in, I would like to take the opportunity to encourage you to visit First Baptist Church in Medfield. There are many things you could say about us a church, but ultimately, at the heart of First Baptist is the gospel. Everything we do at First Baptist is centered and shaped by the good news that Christ lived the perfect life that we should have lived - a life without sinful rebellion against God and without be-coming enslaved to possessions, treasures, or acclaim - and then substituted himself in our place on the cross, paying the debt we could not pay and reconciling us to God once and for all through his death on the cross. The Gospel meets us at our life's core, shows us God's grace, sets us free from the power of sin and death, and gives us the strength to live lives of love and service to others. It is the power of God to change us.

In response to the gospel our goal as a church is to be a community of people who faithfully worship
God, love God, and live on mission for Him so that we may glorify God, build a great community, pro-claim the life saving gospel, and develop deep disciples who connect to the gospel, grow in the gospel, serve from the gospel, share the gospel, and have our lives completely changed by the gospel as we live out of the gospel in all of life. Together, we strive to live on mission for Christ, seeking to be the kind of people and the kind of church that the Bible describes; a com-munity where there is strong teaching and preaching of the Bible, heartfelt worship, honest friendships, compassionate care for our communities and those in need, and an inviting heart that connects with people from a variety of generations, backgrounds and paths of life.

If this attracts you, or calls out to you, come visit. The church is going through a process of replanting our-selves as people who are called to live on mission. Come check out what God is doing.

I write those words with joy. I really believe that we are going through a process of replanting ourselves as people who are called to live on mission. Of taking those steps and Following Christ wherever He leads. Is it scary? Yes. You’re working without a net. Is it thrilling? Yes. Be-cause it means we get to trust God… and that’s pretty neat.