by Rev. Marj Funk-Pihl, Director for Evangelical Mission, SWCA Synod
This is where we start. Vitality is not measured by how many people attend your worship services, or how much money you have in the bank. It is measured by the strength of your relationship with God, with one another, and with your neighbors. We all have areas of vitality that can be strengthened and expanded to meet the mission God has for us. So, the question isn’t “are you vital?” The question is:
How will you build on your vitality to meet the mission God has for you in your corner of the synod?
During our 2018 Synod Assembly, we gathered under the theme: Love and Serve God, Neighbor and Creation. In my presentations, I let you know that our theme is similar to our churchwide definition of Congregational Vitality which is:
- Communities of Jesus that nurture life changing relationships with God, one another, and the world.
Many of us have not been using the word “vital” to describe our congregations. Instead we use words like “struggling,” “declining,” and maybe even “dying.” Words matter. The words we choose create an image in our minds, which becomes the way we define ourselves. These word images are powerful and limiting. We need to choose our words with care. We don’t want to deny reality. We want to define reality from the passion side of the passion/problem coin. Sustainability is a problem for small congregations, but vitality is the passion within the congregation. If we spend our energy building on our passion we can overcome the problem.
So, where is our passion? During assembly I asked you to write the answer to the following question on a 3 x 5 card:
- What do you treasure about how your congregation loves and serves God?
I received over 300 cards and sorted them into three categories based on which relationship they described (some included more than one): 1. with God, 2. with one another and 3. with neighbor.
Now, let’s look at how you described your relationship with God (I’m going to follow up with articles about how you defined your relationship with one another and with neighbor).
There were 73 instances of words that describe your relationship with God. The expected ones were all there: “worship.” “Prayer.” “Bible study.” And so were some more interesting words: “vibrant worship.” “Joyful worship.” “Passing of the peace.”
Here are a few quotations that add complexity to the picture:
- “Our ability to stay focused on what unites us in Jesus Christ, and God’s service and witness, rather than issues that would divide us.”
- “We take our relationship with God seriously and we can see God differently and respect each other’s viewpoints.”
- “Sing together, praise God together, forgive each other; amplify the Holy Spirit together.”
- “Willingness and trust toward the Holy Spirit’s guidance.”
- “The beginning of moving from inward focus to focus on God, neighbor and creation.”
There are plenty of vital strengths that we can build on from this treasure collection! What would your congregation feel like if you chose words from these quotes to describe your life together? What would God be able to do if we emphasized our vitality, instead of bemoaning our fragile sustainability? Pray about this. Let the Holy Spirit lead you into a passionate pursuit of God’s mission.