15 years ago the books that were being read and discussed by lots and lots of church leaders were the ones that Loren Mead of The Alban Institute was writing for his “Once and Future Church Series.” An Episcopal priest with many years in parish ministry, Loren wrote as a mainline church leader to other mainline churches and their leaders. He wrote as “one of us” to people like us, and he told us what we already knew, namely that we weren’t the most popular kid in school anymore.
He interpreted the numbers and explained the trends, and he warned us that things were not going to get better for us anytime soon. Mainline churches had been sidelined, and there was no “quick fix” to be had. But Loren didn’t despair. The “Once and Future Church” series was not a cry in your beer project, but a call to hope and transformation. And in one of these books, his 1994 Transforming Congregations for the Future, Loren used the image of a window frame to talk about how the church needs to think about ministry in the future.
You can look two ways through a window. You can look out through a window to see what’s going on outside and you can look back in through that same window to see what’s going on inside. When a church looks out through this window, what’s seen outside is a world filled with hurt and hope, a “field white with harvest” as Jesus put it (Luke 10:2). Loren believed that any future that the mainline Protestant church was going to have was going to come only by congregations taking seriously what they see right outside their windows. Their mission was waiting for them right outside their front doors. But to effectively engage in that mission, some things needed to be happening inside the church. When you look in through that window, what needs to be seen going on inside the church, Loren said, are those activities that support and send its members out into the world. People get transformed inside the church in order to be agents of transformation outside the church.
Loren Mead wrote –
As we look out the window, our focus is on the work of church members in the world, bearing witness to the Kingdom of God and seeking to bring it to the reality in the midst of the world’s pain. And then, as we turn around and look back through that same window from the world back into the church, our focus is on those practices and processes that call out discipleship and nurture each person in ever deeper discipleship. (43)
And then Loren concluded –
In all the complexities of history, in all the encounters with organizational realties, in all the theological debates and philosophical analyses, I think we have lost this simple focus of faith. I have no idea if congregations will grow or decline if they act on this focus, and frankly I don’t give a damn. What I do know is that churches will lose their souls if they don’t. (45)
Elsewhere on the church web page this week you will find the report of Northway’s “Church Unique” Task Force that was made to the official church board last week. A group of dedicated church leaders led by Sharon Gardener from the church’s membership and Mark Bender from the church’s staff worked on the “Church Unique” process for the better part of the past year, and this report represents the fruit of their labor. It deserves a good look because it is going to set the direction for how Northway is going to go about its work for the foreseeable future.
From my vantage point, what I find most exciting about the “Church Unique” Process and Report is the way that it echoes Loren Mead’s observations about the mission of the church. The “Church Unique” Report provides us with a compass to go with our map, and as you know the compass and a map are the “the indispensible twin tools of navigation.” With a compass and a map you know where you are going and how you plan on getting there.
Northway’s “map” is the “Spiritual Pathway.”
Northway exists to release “Jesus Creed” people into the world, men and women, boys and girls who are learning how to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength, and who are trying to love their neighbors as themselves. The way one becomes a “Jesus Creed” person is by (a) making a personal commitment to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, one’s Lord and Savior, and then (b) by “growing up in every way into Jesus Christ,” becoming ever more deeply rooted and grounded in God’s love in Jesus Christ. This journey of growth unfolds along the spiritual pathway in four stages –
- § Exploring Christ: The people in this stage have a basic belief in God, but they are unsure about Christ and his role in their lives. Acts 8:26-39 – the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch – is the perfect Biblical picture of someone in this stage.
- § Growing in Christ: The people in this stage have a personal relationship with Christ. They’ve made a commitment to trust him with their souls’ salvation and for eternity, but they are just beginning to learn what it means and what it takes to develop a relationship with him. The Apostle Paul’s description of the Corinthian Christians as “babes in Christ” in I Corinthians 3:1-4 is a good picture of what this stage looks like.
- § Close to Christ: The people in this stage depend on Christ every day. They see Christ as someone who assists them in life. On a daily basis, they turn to him for help and guidance for the issues they face. Paul’s call to the Ephesian Christians to be ever more “rooted and grounded” in God’s love in Ephesians 3:14-19 is a good picture of what this stage looks like.
- § Christ-Centered: The people in this segment would identify their relationship with Christ as the most important relationship in their entire lives. This is what Paul described of himself in Philippians 3:1-16 when he said, “I press on.”
When Loren Mead said that the mission of the church is the work of Christians in the world, he understood that it was something about them being Christians that both empowered and engaged them in their mission. It is Christians – people who are passionate followers of Jesus Christ – that the church releases each week into the world, and it is the “Jesus Creed” (Matthew 22:37-39) that tells Christians who they are and what they are to be about.
Northway’s “compass” for actually doing this – for guiding people down the spiritual pathway to increasingly “Christ-centered” lives – is the new strategy logos from the “Church Unique” report. This strategy has five components: (1) Discover; (2) Worship; (3) Connect; (4) Serve; and (5) Overflow. This is what you will see when you look in through Northway’s window to see what’s going on inside the life of this community of faith to support and send our members out into the world each week to be Disciples of Jesus Christ.
At Northway we –
- § Discover
As a community, we are committed to helping one another discover the core beliefs and practices of the Christian faith.
- § Worship
As a community, our worship is an expression of thankful praise for the new life we have in Jesus Christ.
- § Connect
As a community, we connect with God and each other in small groups which meet regularly for the purpose of engaging the Scriptures and fostering spiritual friendships.
- § Serve
As a community, we do not expect to be served but to serve following the example of Jesus Christ who, when his “hour” had arrived, girded himself with a towel and stooped to wash His disciples’ feet.
- § Overflow
As community we understand that what we do together as we Discover, Worship, Connect and Serve are not ends in themselves, but are the catalysts of our own personal transformations that make us a transforming presence as we make our way into the world.
It is Northway’s purpose to touch the people who pass through our life with the challenge and the catalysts to become more Christ-centered – “Jesus Creed” people – as they make their way into the world each week. I don’t know if Northway will grow or decline by acting on this focus. But what I do know is that we will lose her soul if we don’t. DBS+