Summary: God's unique vision for the church
When I arrived here 7 years ago, I met with the congregation in small groups of 10-12 people and asked 3 questions: What do you love about Gretna UMC? What do you want to change? And what do you want to keep the same? In those meetings, I remember Judy North making a statement that “if we as a church don’t change, we’re going to die.” That struck me because this church, though rocked by Hurricane Katrina but still 140 strong in worship, was nowhere near death. Usually a church will dwindle down to 50 people or less before they realize they need to change. It also taught me that there was an openness to change for the sake of the mission of Christ. I just didn’t realize how much change we were going to undergo. Out of those small group discussions, it became very clear that God had laid on the leadership’s heart a passion and desire to become more diverse. I have to tell you that the idea of building a diverse community of faith was not on my radar. In fact, I knew absolutely nothing about building or growing a multi-ethnic congregation. But I knew this: I wanted to do what God wants, no matter what it is. One morning as I was driving to church, I was thinking about all of the challenges before the church and the idea of becoming a multiethnic congregation and I had an overwhelming sense of inadequacy consume me. Tears started coming down my face as I cried out to God in prayer, “I can’t do that alone. I need you in the middle of this!”
We assembled a Vision Team and went through a revisioning effort, out of which we identified our vision. Say it with me, “Connecting diverse communities to a lifestyle devoted to Jesus.” That first word “connecting” is a powerful word. It’s at the heart of the evangelistic mission of Jesus. From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we see that faith means connecting to Jesus. And being a disciple of Jesus means connecting others to Jesus as well. We see this with Phillip in John Chapter 1 when he encounters Jesus who says to him, “Follow me.” Philip then goes and finds Nathanael, telling him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law." He takes Nathanael to meet Jesus and Nathanael comes to faith in Jesus. Therein lies the heart of what it means to be a disciple: connecting others to Jesus. That’s what a disciple is, one who makes disciples by connecting them to Jesus. So let me ask you a question today: how are connecting people in your life to Jesus? Are you reaching out and developing new relationships? And are those leading to Jesus? We have over 200,000 people on the WestBank and the majority are not connected to Jesus. The opportunity is there if you’re willing to respond to the call of Jesus to be a connector, a disciple and a fisher of men.
It’s about reaching your oikos, the 10-15 people God has strategically placed in your life but it’s also about reaching all people. It’s not just about connecting to people like yourself to Jesus. It’s about connecting people of all nations, races and tongues to Jesus that cross our path. It’s one thing to have an inclusive Gospel, a message of Good News for all people. It’s another to have an inclusive God, who loves all people and offers his Son as a sacrifice for all. But it is quite another to be an inclusive community of faith where not only is everyone welcome but where we commit to connect with one another in life and ministry. Martin Luther King said that the most segregated hour of worship is 11 AM on Sunday morning. He was right then and he’s right today. In America today, 92% of all churches are mono-racial, that is of the same race. And yet God calls us to so much more. In Jesus’ last recorded prayer, He prays that all people “may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23 Did you get why unity among all people is so important? First is so that the world would know God’s love for all people. All are welcome in his family and at his table. Second is so that by our life together we may be a living witness of the kingdom of God and they may come to believe. It’s our life together which is the most powerful testimony we could ever share with the world. We are a living witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Say it with me, “We are a living witness!” When the world sees unity among such diverse believers, they will know He truly is the Savior of the world and that God’s love overcomes all divisions. The world says what we are accomplishing is impossible. But we know that with God all things are possible. And we have seen what’s possible with God in our very midst. We are beacon to others that diverse believers can walk as one in Christ.