By Justin Rossow
As we seek a clearer expression of St. Luke’s purpose, we don’t want a generic, vague vision that any congregation could adopt. We want to express what makes St. Luke’s contribution to the broader Kingdom unique–not better than others, but uniquely us.
To help get at that “uniquely us” statement, our first two meetings with our Vision Navigator focused on laying vision groundwork. Where is St. Luke headed? First we must discover and describe where we are.
Our Vision Pathway Team spent time on the question of our identity and calling. Since those first meetings, I have had a chance to process these questions with our staff, our Board of Elders, and our Spiritual Leadership Council (you can review our leadership structure here). In each case, I received affirmation from these leaders and also learned something new.
I want to invite you, our St. Luke family, into this discussion, to listen in on this conversation and respond. What follows is a summary of our discussion so far. It’s still a work in progress. And this is not yet vision proper; it is the groundwork for healthy vision.
See what you think. Share a question, an affirmation, or an idea with someone on the Vision Pathway Team or any member of our staff, elders, or SLC. Take the Vision Survey if you haven’t yet. We want to hear from you as together we clarify where Jesus has placed us, and where He is taking us next.
The overlap of three areas makes every congregation distinctive: unique opportunities, unique people, and unique passions. Looking for where our Local Predicament, Collective Potential, and Apostolic Esprit overlap will help us identify our ministry sweet spot called the Kingdom Concept, a foundation for our vision and strategy.
A) Local Predicament: Our Unique Place
Although “predicament” can seem negative, our Local Predicament simply means the situation in which our congregation lives. So we ask, “What are the unique needs and opportunities where God has placed us?”
Here are some of the things our Vision Pathway Team talked about as we tried to express St. Luke’s Local Predicament.
1. A Hub at the Crossroads
St. Luke’s location at the crossroads of major travel routes means we draw from a diverse area. St. Luke is a community of communities; our mission cannot be defined simply as loving and serving Ann Arbor, or Ypsilanti (or Dexter, or Milan, or Saline, etc…). Part of our unique challenge–and unique opportunity–is the wide range of communities our congregation represents.
2. Universities Town
We are surrounded by institutions of higher learning, and we draw faculty, staff, grad students, and undergrads into our congregation. Our St. Luke staff especially noted that while U of M and Eastern loom large, we have a wide range of people from the wide range of universities in our area including WCC, Concordia, Cleary, and others.
3. Diversity and Connection
Ann Arbor tends to be a fairly diverse and transient community. At St. Luke, we regularly engage people on their faith walk for 3-5 years before they move away. While we are more ethnically, age, gender, a socio-economically diverse than many congregations, our local setting is even more diverse than we are. And with all that diversity and mobility, there seems to be a real longing for connection and community not only in the people who already come to St. Luke, but in the people with whom we work, play, and live. A need for community is not unique to the greater Ann Arbor area, but our local setting highlights that need in a unique way.
4. A Building for Growth
Part of our Local Predicament is our building. Several Elders mentioned how walking into our facility made a good first impression. A congregation with this size and kind of building comes across as engaging and stable. Of course, such a facility is a challenge as well as an opportunity. Our mortgage does hinder some of what we want to be doing. And our building, while engaging, also needs some updates and repairs. Discerning our unique vision will help us utilize our facility even more effectively. For now, our building has us well-positioned for growth.
B) Collective Potential: Our Unique People
Along with our unique place in the world, we have been gifted by God in unique ways. So we ask, “What are the unique resources and capabilities that God brings together in us?”
1. Highly Capable
Our setting in one of the most highly educated regions of the country means we also have the blessing of a highly educated, highly capable network of people at St. Luke. From business leaders to career educators to experts in many fields, St. Luke has a rare blend of people who have been trained and are able to train others. That’s not a statement of pride (although pride will always be one of the dangers of highly capable people); rather, it’s a description of the resources we have available to us as a congregation. Highly capable people are a gift from God we want to use wisely and well.
2. Untapped Potential
While our Vision Pathway Team and other leaders were unanimous about the quality of our staff and lay leadership, there was also a sense that we are underutilizing the gifts we have been given. Perhaps we haven’t encouraged people enough to serve in their areas of strength. Or maybe a lack of clear direction means we aren’t sure what needs to be done. Or perhaps highly capable people also tend to be highly engaged outside of church, and our own busyness has gotten in the way. Whatever its source, lay leaders and staff agree that part of our goal moving through and beyond this visioning process is discovering, aligning, and utilizing the gifts of the people gathered in this place. Joyful service should be something all of us share in together!
3. Attitude of Openness
“Openness” is the word we finally settled on to describe St. Luke’s willingness to try new things, to be cutting edge, to engage in a variety of ideas and opportunities. We’re often welcoming, but we also discovered that new people can find it hard to break into our community. The knots of friends talking and laughing after worship are a sign of health! Now we need to open up those knots so others can feel invited and engaged. In general, we are open to new ideas, new people, and new ways of doing things; that’s one of the things that has impressed me most about St. Luke!
4. Creative Expression
Perhaps as a direct result of an attitude of openness is our tendency to be creative in our expression. From multiple worship styles, to dramatic readings of Scripture, to launching non-profit organizations and experimenting with multi-site ministry, St. Luke likes finding creative answers and creative expression of who we are and what Jesus is doing in and through us. As a team, we were a little uncertain about how central this value was to our identity. That’s when our Navigator shared from his own experience: seeing the prominent artwork in our foyer and some of the Vibrant Worship banners, his immediate impression was that this is a creative congregation. Sometimes it takes an outsider to help you see who you are and what you value.
C) Apostolic Esprit: Unique Passion
The word “apostle” simply means, “sent one.” And you may know the phrase esprit de corps: the fellowship, commonality, or loyalty shared by a particular group. So our “apostolic esprit” is simply the shared sent-ness of our mission, the “particular focus” that “most energizes and animates our leadership.”
I have to admit, the focus on leadership in particular made me a little uncomfortable. But our Navigator pointed out that the congregation has called and empowered these leaders for this stage in the life of the congregation; Jesus has seen fit to place these staff people and these lay leaders in their particular roles for this task of imagining what comes next.
While that made me feel better about the risk of over-emphasizing the apostolic esprit of our leaders, I also found that our answers mostly focused on areas that resonate broadly in our congregation. Here are a few we thought we important.
1. Worship that Equips and Energizes
The lay people on our Vision Pathway Team really held up the importance and value of our weekend worship experience. It was significant to me that they also immediately held up the need to take what we experience on Sundays into the rest of the week. They brought up questions like, What’s your next step? or What kind of response is Jesus shaping in you? as example of the intentional connection between worship and our week. Artifacts like the Taking Worship Home sheets or Home Groups also provided evidence of the importance of worship that impacts everyday life.
2. Active and Engaged Jesus-Followers
St. Luke has been placing an emphasis on what it means to follow Jesus more and more intentionally and to be shaped and molded by Him. Think back to worship series like Moving the Needle or any of the discipling questions in our Vibrant Worship series and you can see the emphasis we have been placing on being actively engaged in the passive reception of what Jesus want to give us and do through us. (See also Invitation and Participation and Fully Engaged with God in Control to name a couple others.) Part of our unique passion is equipping and engaging people to actively follow Jesus in their everyday lives.
3. Connecting and Loving Locally
The trend in effectively reaching people who don’t know Jesus has shifted. No longer is it most effective to attract unchurched people to your campus; now we are trying more and more to connect with people in their local communities. (I talked a little bit about this when we looked at On Ramps to Belonging.) But St. Luke people come from a variety of local communities. Our challenge—and opportunity—is to equip people to connect and serve in their local setting even as they stay connected to the St. Luke family. As individuals, we are already very connected in local communities. And through things like regional home groups and the upcoming Joining Jesus on His Mission emphasis, our leadership is trying to cultivate a missional mindset in that local connection. While this is certainly a growth area for us, we see great potential here. And that potential will need to be recognized and nurtured as we keep moving forward together.
D) Open Questions
That’s a rather long overview, but still only a portion of the ongoing conversation. Where our Unique Place, Unique People, and Unique Passions overlap, you find the Kingdom Concept that is the groundwork for our vision and strategy moving forward. But we aren’t to vision and strategy yet. We are still in the phase of gathering information and trying to express as clearly as possible the heart and soul of our congregation.
One important idea that I will take from our leadership groups back to our Vision Pathway Team has to do with young and growing families. Here at St. Luke, we engage an unusual amount of young families. That’s a real blessing, and it’s part of who we are as a church. But do young and growing families fit in our Local Predicament? Or are they part of our Collective Potential? I’m not sure, but I’ll ask our Navigator when we meet again on December 3.
Now I’m asking you: what other important aspects of our life together do you feel we have missed? What’s on your heart that you wish we would have highlighted? Which of these descriptors feels the least like the St. Luke you know and love? Which seemed to capture your heart and imagination?
Please, be part of this conversation. Talk to people in leadership. Take time to fill out our Vision Survey. Write an email. Ask a question. Affirm or clarify. We would love to hear from you.
In the future, there will be “wet cement events” that allow you to show up and give real time feedback. But for now, I wanted to bring you up to speed on our conversation and ask you to keep your St. Luke family in your prayers.
I am impressed with our lay leaders and I love our time in worship and Bible study together. (Wasn’t our All Saints’ Day worship service awesome?!) But above all I am aware that Jesus has us firmly in His grip. He is leading us forward, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Anyone in the St. Luke family is invited to take an anonymous 10 minute survey below to help our vision process. You can talk to vision team members too! We’re excited to share the conversation with you.
Take the Vision Survey here
You may also like to read these related vision process blog posts: