There is a time in the life of every church when we are allowed to honor our past, examine our present and dream about the future. That time is now at St. John the Apostle United Methodist Church. God has presented us with a unique tool and a wonderful sense of timing for this process. We are now completing a “Holy Conversation” within our church, centered on 3 critical questions:
•Who are we?
•Who is our neighbor?
•What has God called us to do or be?
Formally, this process is described as “strategic planning as a spiritual practice for congregations.” In reality, what we will accomplish is to help our congregation participate in a “holy conversation” and to talk about the opportunity of planning as discernment. It is called “holy conversation” because it is about our identity as a faith community, our sense of purpose and our relationship to God.
We have been called to look at our church and community from the “balcony.” We are not here to fix problems, but to facilitate a conversation in the church and to look with “fresh eyes” on the church. We are to allow for dreams of our people. We are to listen to our congregation and community and prayerfully develop a plan for our future.
This means being called to change our thinking from “numbers” to “ministry” in our community. The three core values should be servant hood, competence and integrity. We need to always be a purpose-driven church!
It is important to remember that we are working on God’s time, and we will see results in His time. The holy conversation process has given us the freedom to follow God’s agenda, not ours. If we think that God is asking for action at SJA, we need to measure to see if it is by God, for God, dependent on God and glorifying of God. We can do this by asking:
•Does it carry the truth of the gospel?
•Does it have a prophetic voice of love?
•Are we honestly convinced that what we present as a possibility is the most genuine and honest word that we can bring?
There are other points that will apply to every discussion concerning the future of St. John the Apostle, including:
•We are here to invite reflection on where God is calling our church. We cannot force support. We invite, not pronounce in order to try to discover a shared awareness.
•Reaction solves problems, formative thinking addresses meaning. Which are we and which do we want to be?
•We are tasked to change our thinking from “management” to leadership,” from “relationship” to “purpose.”
•Caring for the poor is the ministry of the church. We need to learn how to be in ministry to develop lives to make disciples. We are a community of grace and we accept people from all walks of life, challenges, obstacles, etc. Caring for the poor is an act of grace and growing our discipleship.
The Holy Conversations group at St. John the Apostle includes Lori Strickland, Matt Hatley, Mary Ellen Jones, Buz Stewart, Katie Smith, Trish Hatley, David Lee and Pastor Marc Lowrance. We know that we do not have all of the answers, and in some cases, we are not even sure that we know the questions. But we have learned to listen, which is the first step in the process leading to a deeper understanding of our church and how we can best understand the will of God for St. John the Apostle.