By Aaron Johnson,
Spiritual Leadership Council Secretary and
member of the Vision Pathway Team
During a recent Homegroup meeting, our conversations had drifted to topics of church development and the vision process and, in a brilliant stroke of honesty, the comment came out: “Well, the cement isn’t actually wet, right?”
The comment came without malice. It was matter-of-fact, verified by personal experience and accepted as the way of things. Turns out my friend, someone I look forward to walking with more as we go along, was not a huge fan of our mission statement. . . especially that pesky “…” part.
“Seeking everyone’s story (ummmm) … sharing in His story.”
He had attended the Wet Cement Session 1 and made his dislike of the ellipsis known to the scribe (which was just the kind of thing we were asking him to do).
The Vision Pathway Team compiled all of the responses from that first session, and after seeing near universal agreement that we were on the right track, the vision pathway team set forth with the next steps in the vision process. That doesn’t mean we have the final answer; but we are “test-driving” our current ways of talking about our vision and mission. We are going to live with this way of talking and thinking a praying for a little while, and make some adjustments as we go.
You can read or re-read the summary of responses from our first Wet Cement session in this article: Seeking Everyone’s Story.
I want to provide a brief overview of that came out of our second Wet Cement session below. Similar to the first, we receive fundamental affirmation that we are moving in the right direction, and there is still work to be done as we live this out together.
Our first Wet Cement focused on our Mission Statement: “Seeking everyone’s story … sharing in His story.” The second focused on our Values and our Growth Environments, or “Patterns of Participation.”
Question 1) What was your first impression of the values? What stood out to you?
Positive/Constructive responses: 82
Negative responses: 8
Our four values can be summarized as: Openness to People and Expression, Faithfulness to Complex Truth, Connection through Authentic Relationships, and Dependence on Jesus.
The responses to all four values showed a tremendous amount of activity and energy, recognizing both the excitement and challenge in each of them. My favorite comment could be taken as a negative, but I’m not sure it was meant that way: “This is not anything new, we have been doing this for years. The church isn’t broke.” In the Vision Pathway Team’s effort to find values that describe our congregation and Jesus’ calling for us, this comment made me happy. God’s church is not broken. His call to us has not changed. We are working to see what he has been saying to us repeatedly over time.
The overall positive engagement on this question was extremely exciting to see. While some questions remain about order of the values or what “Openness” means specifically, the energy and support of the values presented verified that we are speaking to the core of who Jesus is calling us to be as a congregation.
Question 2: Which value captured your imagination or resonated with you the most? What did not resonate or is not clear to you yet?
Resonating responses: 23
Not resonating responses: 15
What resonated most with our congregation was Dependence on Jesus: well done, Lutherans! In true Ann Arbor fashion, Faithfulness to Complex Truth came in a close second. “Complex Truth” fits us the same way a Rubik’s cube fits . . . well, someone who loves Rubik’s cubes.
What resonated the least in our values was a fear of misinterpretation. 12 of the 15 non-resonating responses referred to the interpretation of a particular value. Each value, when taken out of context, leaves a great deal of room for abuse, misinterpretation and general wrongness. What is meant by Openness? What about God’s truth is Complex?
Misunderstanding is a very valid concern. We will continue to work on providing the right kind of context for these values. Our values should spark questions and conversations. And St. Luke people should feel like they have been well equipped to talk about what exactly we mean by that. That kind of equipping is already beginning, and will continue. Please stay connected to the conversation.
Question 3: Which of these values have you seen lived out most by people at St. Luke? Which one seems most aspirational? Share a story that demonstrates your choice.
Positive/Constructive responses: 79
Negative responses: 5
Great news everyone! According to congregational responses, our most lived out values are Connection, Openness, and Faithfulness, all supported by the underlying Dependence on Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
Unfortunately, however, our most aspirational values (also according to congregational response) are Connection, Openness, and Faithfulness, and we do not depend on Jesus nearly enough.
I feel this may be a perfect time for the controversial “. . .”
What do these responses tell us? Much to no one’s surprise, we are all in different places on our faith walk with Jesus. Our life experiences are different, our church experiences are different, and we will most certainly fall short of God’s glory along the way.
And the fact that we could articulate not only when we thought we were living these values out, but when we saw ourselves falling short, helps us see why these values fit out faith community. We would not have stories of success or failure if these values were not important to us.
Question 4: What would be different in the atmosphere of St. Luke [in any of our environments] if all of these values were actually being lived out?
Positive/constructive responses: 97
Negative responses: 11
The positive imagining of the future really stood out in this response. If we were able to live out all of these values, life at St. Luke would look very different.
The responses also showed that we are not necessarily hoping for the same kinds of specific things when we all imagine the future. That’s to be expected given the wide variety of experiences people have had at St. Luke over the last decade. As we continue to grow together around a united vision, more and more of our specific hopes for the future will begin to align.
But our preferred future is always subject to God’s preferred future for St. Luke. The goal of the Vision Pathway Team has always been to focus on what God is calling us to do, even if God’s plans are different from the plans we desire for ourselves. That’s a good tension to hold onto as we move forward together.
Question 5: What was your first impression of these patterns of participation? What stood out to you?
Positive/ Constructive responses: 63
Negative responses: 8
We talked about seeing Jesus active in our Church Home, our Discipling Relationships, and in our Everyday Community. We expressed a desire to be the kind of church that resources growth in all of these environments in ways that have kingdom impact beyond our congregation.
On the whole, the Patterns of Participation resonated with us as a congregation. This was one of the first times, however, that we see in the comments a unified call for training and equipping. Engaging with our everyday community makes all of the sense in the world. But how do you take our secular engagement and turn it into a place where Jesus is able to speak through us? How can you take a relationship with folks you speak with every day and turn it into Christ’s invitation?
As a member of the Vision Pathway Team I can say with confidence that we hear you, we share your concerns, and we recognize the challenge presented to us. It’s one reason why we want to be a congregation that is known for how well they equip and support their members.
Question 6: Where have you seen an effort at St. Luke to develop one of these growth environments over the last couple of years?
Positive/constructive responses: 73
Negative responses: 2
The answers to question 6 were extremely constructive and positive. Recognition of the work done in supporting and fostering Home Groups and discipling relationships were at the top of the list. Some long established programs, such as MOPS or our bible studies between services were also noted. Encouragingly, even the Wet Cement sessions are recognized by our congregation as an effort to grow the ‘My Church Home’ Growth environment.
Last Question: What will you need in your discipleship journey to feel equipped and supported as you seek Jesus and His activity in these three environments?
The call from our congregation was for education, training and most of all, prayer. We are more unified in this than any other topic. As a congregation we recognize the challenge presented to us. Even as we see the challenges present for St. Luke as a whole, there is also an acute awareness of where we are personally challenged with each Value and Pattern of Participation.
All of us on the Vision Pathway team want to thank you for making the last two wet cement sessions a huge success! Your input has offered invaluable guidance in our process as well as affirmation and encouragement for the time and effort being invested.
In closing, there was one comment from Wet Cement 2 that stuck with me: it was centered around the thought that the vision process is taking too long, and it is time to implement.
My gut reaction to this comment was complete agreement; I’m also ready to move forward! I then began to think back on the last year here at church. The implementation of Christ’s vision for St. Luke has been going on continually even while we work to articulate it.
Even once the Vision Pathway Team has completed their work, St. Luke will still be continually working out our vision. While sometimes it feels as though we are not making as much progress as we would like, the point of this particular process is that we develop a way of asking God what He is asking us to do on a continual and regular basis. This vision process, and these questions, will not go on a shelf or get stuck in a drawer when we have declared that the process is ‘done.’
I pray that we will continue to share in Jesus’ story, regardless of what chapter we are in, and that we continue to look a few pages ahead to see what He has prepared for us next.
If you have any questions for me about this article, or questions about the vision process in general please contact me. Aleejohn.firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m partial to yard games, beer, and have been practicing darts recently…