Bible Readings: Ephesians 1:3-14 & Matthew 5:13-16

Vision 2018

This morning we are thinking about vision, how we see the future for All Saints, what God is calling us to be and to do. We’ve got a lot to cover, so I’m going to dive straight in, and we’re going to start with Scripture, and particularly Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus.

What is God’s vision? Paul describes it like this in verse 10, “to bring to unity all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” That is God’s vision, God’s purpose, that is the destination, that is what is happening, it is what is drawing closer with every minute of every day. And we have a part to play in that global vision, so what does that look like in this place, for this church, at this time? What is our part in bringing to unity all things in heaven and on earth under Christ?

Most of you will have seen this picture before. I love it. I have it as my desktop wallpaper on my laptop. For me it illustrates so many of the truths we have heard from Scripture this morning.

Paul writes about all things that we have received from God. We have been given every spiritual blessing, we have been chosen to be holy and blameless, we have been adopted as children of God, we are redeemed, forgiven, lavished with riches, we have the promised Holy Spirit. All these things that God has poured into our lives, as individuals and as a church. There is God’s hand pouring all these riches into this church.

Why did God do this? We’ve already said – to bring all things to unity under Christ. But there is a bit more detail than that – so that we might be for the praise of God’s glory. The riches can’t be kept in the building, they have to shine out, they have to be seen, they are for God’s glory, they have to spill out so that they are experienced and seen by others, so that they can also be brought into unity under Christ. As Jesus said, you are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden. Likewise a church that has experienced and is experiencing the generosity of God in so many ways cannot be hidden. It has to shine out.

That is the vision of this church, that we are ready to receive the open handed generosity of God and that we blaze out with God’s glory in the communities that we are part of.
Another way of saying that would be to say that we are called to be closer to Christ and sent to be closer to others.

It seems to me that the reason we need to get closer to Christ is so that we can experience more of the reality of God’s generosity ourselves.

This is another image I have used before in talking about the vision for All Saints. It is a representation of a meal in a house in Bethany. Jesus is seated in the middle. Mary is worshipping with abandon at Jesus’ feet. Martha is serving faithfully in the kitchen and Lazarus is leaning, in friendship against Jesus. All three are coming closer to Jesus, who is our Lord, our God, and our friend.

What does it look like to be closer to Christ? What might it look like at All Saints?

It looks like Martha, serving her Lord faithfully in her day to day work, knowing that God is present with her. It looks like a church which values all walks of life and ministries as expressions of discipleship, and in which Sunday services, small groups, and young peoples’ work provides energy and resources to all members of the church to live their everyday lives knowing Christ close to them.

What does it look like to be closer to Christ? What might it look like at All Saints?

It looks like Mary, lost in worship at Jesus’ feet, pouring out perfume and tears in love and adoration. It looks like a church in which worship is about bringing our all to Jesus – our whole selves, our whole lives, our whole hearts. In which our purpose in worship is to delight God. In which the measure of worship is what we have broken and poured out, rather than what we have received or gained.

What does it look like to be closer to Christ? What might it look like at All Saints?

It looks like Lazarus, leaning against Jesus in friendship – at home in his company, content in his presence, not anxious or worried, but at peace. It looks like a church which is not in a hurry or anxious to be busy, but which is content to be, to sit, to recline, and to be confident in our place in Christ’s affection, as he embraces us as his friends.

So, if that is what it might look like to be called to be closer to Christ, what about being sent to be closer to others? How are we to shine out, how are we to get onto that lamp stand?

This is our third image, the strawberry plant.

A strawberry plant spreads by sending out runners. On these runners are tiny baby strawberry plants that have the opportunity to take root and to grow to become plants themselves, and to bear fruit.

This way of growing as a church has already been in place here at All Saints for some time. We have a number of different congregations that meet at different times and places for worship and teaching. From Oasis to Toddler Praise, from Explore to Ignite, from Sunday services to Wednesday lunchtime communion, there are a number of different congregations which are designed to reach out to different groups of people, but which are linked and bound together in mutual support and by the common values and vision of All Saints.

In a way, home groups can be thought of as part of this network as well, lots of little strawberry plants bearing the fruit of discipleship in different places and at different times around the place.

I believe that there is more to come from this in two ways.

The first is the developing maturity, strengthening and fruitfulness of the existing congregations. It takes some time before those baby plants have developed a root system and grown some leaves and flowers before they actually bear fruit. They need to be fed and watered to encourage this. I look forward to the existing congregations and groups going from strength to strength in bearing fruit.

As they do, I believe that we will see the second way that this is going to develop. There will be more congregations, even further out from the parent plant. I have no idea exactly what these will be, it will depend on the opportunities God gives us, our willingness to respond, whether we can form partnerships with others that will allow us to develop them. They might include:

A congregation for those living with dementia

A town centre expression of church
An early morning weekday worship opportunity

A congregation on the Hollies Estate

The multiplication of home groups, as they grow through evangelism and people coming to faith

There are myriad opportunities and possibilities, and as I have been preparing this I have been getting more and more excited about what God has in store for All Saints and for Wellington. God’s purpose is to bring unity to all things in heaven and earth under Christ. We get to be part of that.

There are 15,000 people in Wellington to be brought to unity under Christ. We are not the only ones working in this corner of the vineyard, but there is still plenty to go at. There are probably about 400 people who come to something at All Saints at least once a month. That is so encouraging, there are quite a few of us but there are still fourteen and a half thousand people to go at.

I envision All Saints growing, us being so open to what God is doing among us and giving us that it cannot help but flow out, spill out, shine out. I can see worship that is free and freeing, service that is faithful and heartfelt, and friendship with God that is intimate and affirming. I can imagine the existing congregations strengthened and fruitful and new congregations and groups springing up across the parish as the word of God fulfils the purpose for which God speaks it. That is the future I see for All Saints, and I believe it is what God is calling us to.

But, if this vision is to become a reality, we are going to have to get a couple of things sorted.

At All Saints we used to have a ministry team, in which different members of the church, some on the staff team, but many not, took responsibility for leading different areas of church life. Faced with the growing complexity of church and family lives that model stopped functioning well. Over the last 12 months we have strengthened the paid staff team, but if this vision is truly to be a reality then it has to be led and supported by the wider church. Over the last 12 months the PCC has been looking at how this might happen. Today we are launching a parish consultation on how the leadership of the parish could be organised. Please take a paper about it on your way out. Read it, Pray about it, (we will be meeting weekly on Tuesday evenings to pray about this together), and consider it (perhaps in home groups) – not just whether you think it’s a good idea or not – but what part God might be calling you to take in it. To be clear on this, we cannot set up a new leadership structure if it is not evident that there are people gifted, willing, and able to take an active role in it. This might mean that some of us have to stop doing other things in order to part of leading this church into the next phase of its life.

The second area we are going to have to get sorted is the parish finances. We are currently running a £20,000 annual deficit. This just can’t continue. Yes, we could use some of the recent bequest money to plug the gap for a couple of years, but that would mean that we couldn’t do some of the projects that we had intended to do with it. God’s hand pours out generously on the people of this church, and I know that many within it give generously and sacrificially in response to that. If you don’t, then it’s time to begin. To be clear on this, my understanding is that the benchmark for Christian giving is that we give away at least 10% of our pretax income. If you’ve never done this, then it might seem a huge jump from where you are now. So, make a plan, make a start, and stick to it. We’ll be praying about this as well, on a day of prayer and fasting on January 27th, details in the notices.

I know that I’ve been quite direct about these things. I expect it’s made us feel a bit uncomfortable, but I’m OK with that, because what is at stake is so important, it is our part in bringing unity to all things in heaven and earth under Christ. I am excited about the possibilities for the future here, and I want you to be excited as well. I want you to know that this vision is within reach, because with God all things are possible, we can draw closer to Christ, we can go and be closer to others, and as we do, we will see God’s Kingdom breaking out in new ways.

2 Comments

  • lynn mann wrote:

    I wasn’t able to be there to hear that, was helping my partner dialyse. But reading that found it an exciting vision. I wasn’t there to get the paper – is it possible to download it?
    I look forward to news of housegroups starting.

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