Thinking Outside the Box

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Epiphany 5
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 40: 21-31 and 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save a few.
1 Corinthians 9: 22 (NIV)

GOALS & OBJECTIVES

Next week we have our Annual Congregational Meeting and one of our goals is to get as many people there as possible. One of the ways that we try to do that is to whet your appetites a bit before next week. That’s sort of what I’m going to do today. The Annual Congregational Meeting is important because at it we seek to set the direction for the congregation for 2018 and beyond. Unlike a lot of annual meetings at a lot of other places, we work really hard at not bogging you down with detailed analysis of how every last penny was spent and how many paperclips Pam used in the office last year. Yes we will review the reports from each committee but we won’t read them because we hope that you will read them before you come.

Our Annual Meetings are not focused on the past and what we have done. They are focused on the future and what we believe God is calling us to do. One of the main items of business is to approve the goals and objectives for 2018. Those suggested by the Church Board and are printed in the Annual Report for you to see.

What we have in the Annual Report, however, is just a thumb nail sketch of the goals and objectives. What I want to do over the next two Sunday’s is to outline some of the details so that when you come to the Annual Meeting you will have a more complete understanding of what we are talking about.

So what has the Church Board come up with for this year. There are actually six goals. Three of them have to do with either the property or administration. They are:

1.       Continue to implement the Constitution.

2.       Finalize the proposed Prayer Garden.

3.       Prepare for changes that may happen because of the changed structures of the United Church of Canada which will begin on January 1, 2019.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on these because the first two are already underway. We have spent the last year implementing the new constitution. A lot of progress has been made but there are still a few things that need to be done.

We also talked about the Prayer Garden last year as part of our 150th Anniversary celebrations. For various reasons outlined in the Annual Report, it was not completed. And so that work is still ongoing, with the goal of completing it this year.

The third one is probably less familiar to most of you. There are significant changes coming to the structure of the United Church. We are moving from a four court structure to a three court structure. Basically, that means that presbyteries will disappear on January 1, 2019. What this goal says is that we want to be ready for that change when it comes. Truthfully, it won’t change most things. For most people in the pews, it will be a seamless transition. But the Church Board wants to look closer at it to ensure that we are prepared for any changes that might affect us, no matter what those changes may be. So those are the Property and Administration Goals.

Of greater importance at the Annual Meeting are the Mission Goals that are being suggested for 2018. Those are the ones upon which I want to focus for the next two Sundays. Here they are:

1.       Continue the process of assessing the needs for hiring additional staff.

2.       Increase the active volunteer participation of church members and adherents with a minimum of three additional local mission initiatives.

3.       Explore the possibilities for shared ministry with Wheatley United Church and South Mersea (Hillman) United Church.

That’s the order that they appear in the Annual Report but that’s not the order in which I am going to talk about them. What I want to focus on today is #3, “To explore the possibilities for shared ministry with Wheatley United Church and South Mersea (Hillman) United Church,” because that’s the one that you’re going to read when you get home and say, “What’s that all about?” The other two are more self-explanatory but this one is more challenging because it requires us to think outside the box.

PAUL OUTSIDE THE BOX

Let’s begin by reading a passage in 1 Corinthians 9 that is precisely about thinking outside the box. 1 Corinthians 9:16-18 (NIV) says this:

Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights in preaching it.

Paul, who wrote this letter to the Christians at Corinth, is describing his mission. It is to preach the Gospel. He did it very well and was responsible for many people receiving Christ and also for planting many, many churches in the Middle East and Europe. He’s also saying that he’s not supposed to boast about it because that’s the ministry that God has called him to do. Then Paul goes on to talk about how he does it, how he preaches in order to win as many as possible for Christ. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV) says this:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Paul has already said that his mission is to preach the gospel. What’s his methodology to actually accomplish it? According to what we just read, it’s to do whatever it takes. Paul will become whatever he has to become, do whatever he has to do, go wherever he has to go to preach the gospel. To the Jew, he will become like a Jew. to the Gentile, he will become like a Gentile. To the weak, he will become weak. He will be whoever he has to be in order to win as many as possible. In other words, he’s willing to do whatever it takes even if it means thinking outside the box.

We need to begin doing the same thing and that’s what this first goal is all about. It’s about looking at things differently, maybe sharing resources with other United Churches and seeing if there is something worth pursuing that will enhance the ministry of all churches combined.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

All of this began with a letter that Essex Presbytery wrote to Cottam, Wheatley and Hillman asking if we would consider working together in a shared ministry arrangement. This was done primarily because neither Wheatley nor Hillman have a minister right now. Hillman hasn’t had one for years and has being operating with weekly pulpit supply which seems to be working for them. They are fairly stable and have even experienced a bit of growth over the past couple of years. It’s actually a really neat little community of faith that has a real good sense of who they are and what God is calling them to do.

Wheatley, on the other hand, has only been without a minister for about a year now and, like Hillman, has also been operating with weekly pulpit supply. Previously, the congregation had been in some decline but lately it’s stabilized which is very positive. About half of the worship leadership is done by John Cats. Many of you know John. He’s actually preached here before and does a very good job of it. John also has done a great job of bringing that congregation back together and giving them some hope for the future. He’s been around Wheatley most of his life and knows the community and everyone that needs to be known and that’s always a good thing.

What Wheatley would like to do is hire John to be their permanent worship leader on a consistent basis. They believe that having him there regularly would help them to grow and become a positive force for Christ in their community and I agree with them on that. That’s a good thing because if you know Wheatley at all, you’ll know that none of the churches in that town are very strong. So there is a real need for a strong Christian presence in Wheatley. So why don’t they hire John? They don’t because they can’t. The only way they can hire John as a lay person is if they already have a minister which they don’t. And that is their main problem.

But that begs the question, “What does this have to do with Cottam United Church?” Why has Essex Presbytery asked us to get involved? There are really three reasons why so let me outline them for you. First, as I already said, neither Wheatley nor Hillman has a minister. When churches don’t have ministers, they are required to have a supervisor just to make sure that things are done properly. Guess who the supervisor for both Wheatley and Hillman happens to be? It’s me. I supervise both churches. What that means is that I already attend their board meetings and offer guidance and advice when requested. I also think that I get along with both churches well and that we have a good relationship. So we already have a connection and it’s a positive one.

The second reason is because all three churches are similar theologically. All of us more conservative and evangelical than the average United Church and that is also helpful because we’re starting from a similar theological perspective.

The third reason is because we all have something positive to offer to each other. One good thing is that, unlike a lot of churches these days, none of our churches are in danger of closing. All are stable where they are right now which means that we won’t be expected to pump money and resources into the other churches. Rather, the goal is to see if there are things that we can share that will help all of us.

I should also say that some initial conversations have already taken place. I’ve talked with the folk at Wheatley and with our own Church Board. Both of them are agreed that this is something that warrants some consideration. We don’t know where it will go and the only way to make a good decision about a possible shared ministry is to have some conversations about it.

I should also say that we haven’t had any discussions yet with Hillman but I am meeting with two of their Board members next week when we will begin to look at possibilities with them as well. I want to stress that we don’t know where this is going but there does seem to be synergies that may be positive for all of us.

WHAT MIGHT IT LOOK LIKE?

After that introduction, I’m pretty sure that I’ve raised more questions than answers. And what you really want to know is what this might look like. I don’t know exactly what it will look like but let me give you two scenarios that might shed some light on this. Since we’ve already had some discussion with Wheatley, let me tell you the direction those discussions have been going. Remember that this relates to Wheatley only. Hillman is a very different animal so don’t get the two confused.

In a nutshell, what we’re talking about with Wheatley is creating a real and tangible connection between the churches. That already requires a lot of thinking outside the box for most of us. There are really two ways of doing that. One is by the two churches joining together to become a two-point pastoral charge. That used to be the case, for example, when the Cottam and Albuna United Churches were joined together before Albuna closed in the early 1990’s. That means that the Wheatley and Cottam would join together as a single pastoral charge with two preaching points and I would be the minister of both churches. Each congregation would operate with some independence but there would also be a Unified Board representing both churches that would oversee the whole thing. You many have some questions about that but many of you at least familiar with what I’m talking about. I also want to say that, currently, that would not be our first option but it is an option. The biggest problem with it is that it restricts what we can do and it locks us into a particular way of doing things which may or may not be helpful.

A more beneficial option, we believe, is option two which some people describe as a cluster or campus ministry. So let me explain that to you. Under option two both churches remain completely independent. We do no form a two-point pastoral charge. We each have our own Board, do our own thing and make our own decision. At the same time, however, we share certain resources. Initially, what both churches would share is me. Wheatley United Church would purchase part of my time from Cottam United Church. We don’t know if that number would be 10% or 12% or 15%, we just don’t know exactly but expect it to be in that ballpark. What that means is that I would still become the minister in both churches.

But what would that do to Cottam? Not very much really because what they would be purchasing with me would be very clear and well defined. My role with them would be very specific. I would be their minister for administrative and sacramental purposes only. That means that I would attend their Board meetings – which I already to anyway as their supervisor so that wouldn’t change. And I’d go there a few Sundays every year for communion and baptisms.

The key factor, however, is because I would be their minister they then be able to hire John Cats as lay minister to provide the consistent worship leadership that they think they need. That’s because if they purchase just 10% of my time from you, then I become their minister and all sorts of new possibilities open up for them.

So what’s that going to cost them? Say it costs them $7,000 just as an example. That $7,000 per year goes into our bank account, not mine, and we could then use it to help offset the cost of a second ministry staff which relates directly to one of our other goals for 2018. So it’s a win-win for all.

And on those Sundays when I go to Wheatley for the sacraments, John Cats comes here so he becomes part of our ministry team as well. That could be positive because, in John’s regular job, he works in the public education system with children and has some interesting insights into how to minister effectively with them. And that’s something that could benefit us.

So that’s where thinking outside the box may take us. Will it look like that? I don’t know because so far we’ve only got our feet wet. We don’t know exactly what it will look like or even if we will do it at all. But we do believe that it’s worth having some discussion. You also have to know that nothing will happen without the approval of both congregations so you will be fully consulted before any actions are taken. And that’s important to know. If we approve this goal, it does not tie our hands or commit us to anything.

But to do any of that we much be willing to think outside the box. Paul became like a Jew to minister to Jews. He became like a Gentile to minister to the Gentiles. He became like one who is weak in order to minister to the weak. Our question is this: “What do we need to become to minister to the world in which we now live?” That’s a good question. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22 (NIV), “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save a few.” Good words and a good challenge for us.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Father God, your Creation calls out to you in gratitude and praise. How great is your love, how wise your precepts, how abundant your compassion, how generous your mercy. Remind us, once again, of your power to overcome the darkness of this world and infuse it with your light. Shine in our hearts, Lord Jesus.

We thank you for our Church community. Thank you for what you have been able to accomplish through us. Thank you for those who have been open to your Spirit and able to give of themselves in our shared ministry. Inspire us to see beyond the boundaries that we would place around ourselves to reach out in faith to a world that needs to hear your Good News and feel your presence.

Be especially with us as we approach our Annual Meeting in a short time from now. Give us the wisdom to discern your will and the courage to fulfill it in your name.

We pray for all who have been sick this week, at home or in hospital, who need to be restored to their rightful places. Bless them and all of us with your Healing and Holy Spirit.

We also lift up on prayer those who mourn this day, especially the family and friends of Don Costin whose funeral will take place this afternoon. Grant them peace and grant them the inner healing that only you can give, O God of the ages.

We lift up in prayer the ongoing concerns for Canadian soldiers in many parts of the world. We pray that you would keep them from harms way and, more than that, we pray that the cause of the conflict may end and that we may have for peace in this time.

You have heard our prayers. Encourage us to listen to your voice as it comes to us during this week. Enable us to follow in the path that you would place before us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen .

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

February 4, 2018 / Epiphany 5

SCRIPTURE

Psalm 147;1-11,20c; Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

CALL TO WORSHIP

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

It is good to sing praises to our God;

it is pleasant and right of offer our praise.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

Sing hymns and songs to our God;

play music on the organ and guitar.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Holy is your name, O God, and greatly to be praised. The earth was created and is moved by your hand. The ocean depths call out your glory. We, in our space and time, honour you with our worship, small and humble though it may be. We give it to you as we give our lives for your service, confident that you will bless the increase of our labour for the sake of your Holy Kingdom. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

We come with grateful thanks but also with honest confession. Your commands thunder through creation but we are slow to respond. We hear your Word and know what it says but we shrink for following your Holy Way for fear that others may ridicule or chastise us. Remind us that, as Christians, we are not only of this world; our true citizenship is in heaven. Still, keep us faithful in this life and forgive us when we fall short of your glory. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

In the midst of the suffering of the world, there is one who gives us hope. In the midst of our sinfulness, there is one who offers forgiveness. His name is Jesus. Through faith we are freed from our sin.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

With these gifts we commit ourselves anew to the awe and wonder of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Use these gifts, O God, to relieve suffering and bring hope to the weary. Remind us that all things are possible for those who love you and listen to your voice. Amen.

COMMISSIONING (a traditional Celtic prayer)

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet walk with you on the road.

May the Christ who serves with wounded hands stretch out your hands to serve.

May the Christ who loves with wounded heart open your hearts to love.

May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet,

and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you.

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