“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me..." - John 17:20-21
I AM SO PROUD OF MY CHURCH! (God is more interested in faithfulness than perfection...) This morning's post is more in the spirit of the "Clergy-Hubby" blog I launched (and then retired) a year and a half ago. It's Sunday, the church is on my mind, and I am so genuinely thrilled to be a part of such an honest-to-goodness authentic community of faith.
Our church (where my wife, Rebekah, serves as pastor) is First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, Florida. We have around 550 members, attendance falls somewhere between 350 and 425 most Sunday mornings, and community life is driven by a strong discipleship ethos. There is a lot of enthusiasm here, and also a lot of love. We're nowhere near on the same page about everything (thank goodness), but we are knit together by a spirit of love.
Jesus said that being defined by our love for one another is how the world will know that we're genuine; so it's a good thing we have that going for us!
VISION: A short while ago Rebekah and I attended a remarkable dinner in our new building. The occasion was the last official gathering of the "Visioning Team." They've been meeting together for a number of years, charged with the task of matching our facilities with the direction God is leading. Now - with the new facility up and running - they're temporarily out of a job.
What made this meeting so unique was the spirit of the gathering.
I'd been asked to moderate some "closing questions" for after dinner. The chairs wanted me to facilitate a conversation designed to lead to a sense of closure. My first question was, "Think about the past few years and share something about this moment - sitting here at dinner - that makes you smile."
JOY: I'd anticipated answers like, "Rebekah in a hard hat..." "The day the termites stopped holding hands and the old building just lay down..." "Just knowing that we're finally done!" or, "You know, we nailed the design of the kitchen and I'm so happy about that..." or, "The look on Bill's face when he saw they'd planted the wrong trees in the wrong places..."
But instead, pretty much every member of the team said something like:
- "Just showing up for meetings with my brothers and sisters; I love these people..."
- "That moment when we counted the congregational vote to take the plunge and build; God was so much part of that process..."
- "Seeing my husband come home from these meetings," (this from the spouse of a team member). "He was always so excited and so positive after being with all of you..."
And so it went. Love, fellowship, mutual respect.
LOVE: I've got to be honest here - and it shames me, as a Christian, to say this - but this is definitely not par for the course when it comes to church expansion/building projects. Many church members finish a job like this and say something like, "I'm never doing anything like this ever again!" And they mean it.
But these folk, the team at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, Florida, devoted several years of their lives to a building project and they finished off closer to God and to one another.
ECONOMICS: We achieved this expansion, by the way, at the "worst possible time" when it came to the economy. But God's economy is built around the spiritual value of stewardship. When a church is defined by love, and by discipleship, then it's a different equation, and this has been a journey that has told the truth about the Gospel of Love.
That's my testimony today. I love this church so much, and I feel so blessed by the spirit of mutual respect and love that continues to move us forward.
Jesus said that the world would understand the truth about the Gospel of Love by the behavior of those who claim to be his followers. I can say with the utmost confidence that First Presbyterian Church of Brandon tells the truth about Jesus, simply by the way that we live together.
The other question I asked the team was this, "How has this experience affected your faith... both in God and in people?" That, my friends, is when the tears started to flow. Tears of joy, tears because this is a place where the Spirit of God touches our hearts and directs our lives.
It's the quality of experience we all should be having - DEREK