The following begins a five-part series based on a dialogue begun at the 2015 Susquehanna Annual Conference around stories and experiences of congregational vitality. The team who presented included Pastor Janet Durrwachter, Rev. Rich Morris, Rev. Dr. Randy Willis, and Jaime Carpenter. The video of this session (held Friday morning, June 12) and a full transcript can be found at tinyurl.com/susumcAC2015.
Pastor Janet Durrwachter, First UMC, Williamsport
This dialogue is very much a team effort. It is not my presentation, but is our presentation.
Each one of us is kind of surprised to be here. We are not people accustomed to being on the stage at Annual Conference, and we are not experts in church growth. We also didn’t even know each other before this adventure began. When we first got together we had to introduce ourselves.
When we got together we discovered we are really, really different. Some of us are extreme introverts. We do not enjoy being on this stage; you scare us! Others of us are bubbly extroverts, and we just want to jump right off and hug every single one of you. Some of us are laid back, and some of us could be a poster child for type A. Some of us are clergy and some of us are laity. But all of us are committed to leading congregations to be more vital. And we were selected as a team because we are proof that God can use anyone who is willing to do that.
I want to begin by reminding you of the words that Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards. Not many were influential. Not many of you were noble by birth, but God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of the world, and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us the wisdom of God. That is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
It has been our prayer for the last few months that what you hear from us is not boasting about what we have been a part of, but boasting in the Lord. We do not have it all together. Our churches are not perfect. We are just leaders who are working to help people take the next step.
Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willow Creek Church, talks about getting from here to there. From here, in the desert, where people are broken and living lives that are not full and abundant, to there, where the kingdom of God is flourishing, and people are becoming all that God desires for them to be.
We don’t fully understand how that movement happens. There is a sense in which God does something beyond us, sometimes even is spite of us. And in some ways, we certainly know that we have not arrived from here to there. So we don’t have a magic bullet. In fact, one of the things that I’ve been worried about is that you’ll come to this session, and you’ll leave, and you’ll say, I didn’t hear anything that I don’t already know. But if you leave this session with renewed confidence that your congregation can become more vital, we will give thanks to God. If you walk away with just one concrete step that you can take to move from here to there, we will boast in the Lord.
This morning we are like the little boys who offered his lunch to Jesus. We know that we don’t have anything extraordinary to share. I’ll tell you what we have. We have four main points and some stories. Some of which we’re going to tell you using homemade videos. And we pray that God will take our meager loaves and fishes and all that we have to offer and will multiply it so that everyone will receive something of significance, and we will be satisfied with that.
Will you join me in prayer?
Lord, we pray that you would be our teacher... That you would open our eyes and ears so that we might catch a glimpse of what is possible in our church. For those who are weary, we pray for inspiration and renewed strength. For those who are at a loss for what to do next, we pray for direction and for willing servants to come along side them. For those who have battle scars because they have tried to change things, God, we pray for your healing. And God, for those who are satisfied with the status quo, for those who just want things to go back to being the way they used to be, God, we pray for compassion for the many who are not being reached because we are not able to change. Help us to see ourselves as leaders of your church. Help us to believe that the best years are not behind us. We offer to you, God, all that we are and all that we have. And I pray that you will be pleased with what [we] share. God, I pray that you will speak through Randy, through Rich, through Jaime, and myself. Amen.
Go to equipping-vital-congregations for the video and full transcript of this session.