Looking for a Crystal Ball

Go to work in the morning and stick to it until evening without watching the clock.
You never know from moment to moment how your work will turn out in the end.
Ecclesiastes 11:6 The Message

If I have learned anything during my studies at Bethel Seminary, it is that predicting the results of our work is impossible. As I began my studies three and a half years ago, I had a solid idea of what my dissertation would be about. More than that, I was confident that I knew what I would find. I was sure I knew how my work would turn out in the end. I should have listened to the writer of Ecclesiastes.

Not only did my project change during the course of my studies, it has been impacted by events in the wider world that I never could have anticipated. I alluded to this during last Sunday’s sermon, but the past few months have been a time of wandering for me. I am not lost, but I have struggled to know what steps to take next.

Several things have impacted timing of my research, which I had anticipated completing during July and August. It is nearing the end of September and I will be completing the focus groups this week here in Marshfield, and I still have one other congregation in which to complete my research. While there is still plenty of time before the deadlines set by the seminary, I have adjusted my personal deadlines on a monthly basis.

Simply put, gathering the information has been more time-consuming than I anticipated. This delay has caused a cascade which impacts not only my studies, but our church as well. I had hoped that by now I would have been able to compile the results of my studies. I anticipated having to have conversations with the elders and board about the implications of those results, which could impact the way in which we structure ourselves for ministry.

I chose the timing of this project for several reasons. One of which was the cycle of elections for leadership in the church. I had hoped to complete the research in time to share my observations and conclusions with church leaders in time to prayerfully consider any modifications to our leadership structures before we elect our leaders for 2016 and beyond.

While I have some preliminary results, I have been unable to share them with you for fear of impacting the research. I want your input during the focus groups to be as free from “contamination” from my research as possible. I am sure my research has impacted my preaching and teaching, but I have tried to be aware of that possibility and keep it to a minimum. Your experiences and opinions are important to me! I want to hear what you have to say, not what you think I want to hear!

None of this would be a problem, except our by-laws have term limits for some members of our leadership team. The by-laws stipulate that the Moderator and Vice-moderator may serve no more than two years before a mandatory year sabbatical from elected office. In the course of discussing nominations for 2016, the board decided that it was in the best interest of the church to ask the current leadership team to serve an additional year during this time of discernment. Greg and Angela agreed to serve for one more year as we prayerfully and intentionally discern how we structure ourselves for ministry in the years to come.

I want to thank all of our leaders for their willingness to serve our community of faith. And, I want to thank you for your support and insights as we seek to discern and follow God’s call on our lives, both as individuals and as a community of faith.

Mission First

Several years ago Marshfield Christian Church went through a visioning process we called “Claiming God’s Vision.” This process involved many of us in praying and considering who God was calling us to be. As a result we developed our current mission statement. Which, in turn, led us to developing the Bread of Life ministry. Taking time to discern God’s call on our community of faith has been a vital component of our life over the past several years.

The general expression of the Church is currently engaging in a similar process. As the year 2020 nears, it is time to listen for God’s continuing call and to seek together where God is calling Disciples next in our shared mission and ministry.

Addressing the 2014 General Board, General Minister and President Sharon Watkins set out a challenge:  “The time has come to lighten our load and tighten our focus – on mission!  I am inviting our church, in all its expressions, to join in a conversation on God’s mission for Disciples today.”

Since General Board, a group of Disciples from many professional and cultural backgrounds have been meeting about just how to find this new focus. The proposal called Mission First! was presented to the General Board in April 2015. It includes a call to mission and a pilot model for helping us identify a common direction in mission.

Mission First! addresses the need to find a new shared focus in mission. We are not setting aside pro-reconciliation/anti-racism, new and transforming churches or leadership development. Mission First! seeks to help Disciples identify the next mission priorities God has for us as we move toward the year 2020 and beyond.

At the heart of this process are Mission Gatherings where we are invited to share what our congregation is passionate about doing in the mission field. These gatherings will take place near us in the coming months as we gather together as Disciples. A Church-wide Mission Council will receive the information from the gatherings and identify a mission focus for a specified time.

Moving forward in this way would call for reorganization of our general church governance structures, so Watkins is asking for a provisional try – a trial run up until 2017. Based on what we learn, we would anticipate making some permanent changes at the 2017 assembly.

I invite you to join with me in signing up to be a part of this important process for our denomination. More information is available through the church office, or online at missionfirst.disciples.org. Whether or not you are willing, or able, to participate in the mission gathering meetings, I hope you will be praying diligently for this process in our denomination, and a similar process I expect to take place at Marshfield Christian Church in the near future.