Last Sunday, we started to unveil God’s vision for Claylick by saying we would no longer play defense as a church. If you remember, we said that the needs of ministry and reaching out into our community calls us to take a different strategy. A strategy that calls us to be intentional about reaching out to our community, especially those who have no faith, and to offer them the hope of Christ.
But, if we are going to change strategies and take a more offensive approach then we need a game plan. We need a way forward that will guide and shape us as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ in Salvisa, Lawrenceburg, Mercer County, and Anderson County. The vision that we will announce today is our game plan. It will serve as our focus and centering point that will enabling us to be the church that God is giving us the permission and blessing to be in our community.
Today is a new day for a church that has stood as a witness of God’s love for more than 140 years. It is a day in which we look forward and claim that we do not want to see this church struggle any longer. We are taking a leap of faith, today, claiming God’s guidance and presence as we seek to be the church for all people in our area.
First, a little back story in how we reached this point. The process of crafting a new vision for the church began shortly after I arrived at Claylick last year. In conversations with many of you and in our ice cream socials, one of the common refrains I heard was that we wanted to see this church continue and grow, but that we do not have anything that was truly guiding us in those efforts. We were a church without a vision other than we have always been here.
In January, we assembled a group of people to come together for an intentional process of loving, learning, and leading together while dreaming about our church’s future and purpose. One of our guiding principles, which we adapted from the authors of Church Unique, was that Claylick United Methodist is uniquely gifted and talented by God to bless our community. We believe God has not created us to be a copy of another church in our area or to cut and paste the programs of another successful rural congregation. We are uniquely placed, with our gifts and talents, to make disciples of Jesus Christ to change our community.
Our work focused on what makes Claylick a hidden treasure in our area. We set out on an endeavor to highlight our strengths and talents. A vision that focuses only on strengthening our weaknesses will not work. It will only frustrate us. A vision that is guided by what we do well will enable us to be the church God has called us to be. God has given us talents, strengths, and blessings to be a place of hope and grace in our community.
So, what is our vision? After months of prayer and discussion, we believe that our vision is this: Claylick United Methodist Church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ by loving and serving our community. This is the life and calling we believe God has uniquely placed this church to be about in Salvisa and Lawrenceburg. Two words are prominent in this vision. They are loving and serving. They are there for a reason. We believe these are the strengths and talents that God has blessed us with here. It is out of these strengths and talents, through this vision, that we will imitate the very character of God in our lives and in this church.
See, Paul tells us in our passage from Ephesians 5:1-2 that we are all called to imitate God as children of God. Paul identifies our relationship with God in familial terms. When we accept the free gift of Christ’s grace, then we become part of God’s family. We become God’s very own children. Paul writes that within this family we are called to imitate God. That is that we are called to have our life reflect the very nature and character of the Father’s nature and character.
It is tempting to see Paul words only as a reflection of how we as individual followers of Christ are called to live. We are to be people who reflect God’s grace, peace, and love. Yet, Paul calls all of us as a collective body of Christ to have as our guiding force – as our vision – to be the hands and feet of Christ. As a church, we desire a faith that produces an abundance of love and opportunities to bless our community that it is an outflow of our basic DNA.
Truly, love and service is part of the DNA of our church. It is how we have, through the decades, sought to express God’s love and seek to be a reflection of the Lord’s light in our community. As we seek to set forth in a deeper and more intentional way of loving and serving, we are called to claim the life of Christ to be what guides us as we seek to be known by our love and service beyond the walls of our church. We do not want our own ideas of how to love and serve be what guides us. We want the very character and example of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Let’s focus a little more intently on those two key words of love and service, because it is only when we imitate the very life of Christ will we truly live out the vision God has given us. Think about the kind of love Jesus shows us. Jesus came to this world out of love for all people. A love that was not just reserved for the acceptable people, but a love that was available unconditionally to all people. A love that was offered to you and me, even with our unacceptable moments, unconditionally.
One of my favorite stories of Jesus showing unconditional love is the calling of Matthew. We often see this as a story of Jesus filling out the roster of his 12 Apostles, but it was much more than that. Jesus engages the very worst of society and invites a representative of society’s worst aspects to join him in a relationship of growth, discipleship, and love. See, Matthew was a tax collector and a tax collector, in Jesus’ days, might be akin to a violent offender today. The religious elites said people like Matthew were not to be associated with, because they would take more than their fair share from the people. They were to be ridiculed and considered as an outcast in society. Jesus did not believe this was an example of the Father’s love. He invited Matthew to come with him and to be part of the journey as a witness of the Father’s true love.
Jesus didn’t judge Matthew. He didn’t try to prove why faith was important through a recitation of the most memorable 10 or so passages of Scripture. He simply loved Matthew enough to want to spend more time with him, and through that time with him Matthew got to see and experience Jesus’ grace, light, and love.
That is the kind of love we are called to share. Claylick UMC, through our love, will be a place where people are not judged, a place where all people are accepted regardless of their background, and will have a place to join us on a journey of faith. We will be a place that will express the same kind of love and compassion that Jesus showed as we share the hope of Christ with all people. We will love out of humility and a desire to get to know people who need to know that God loves them and that we love them. We will be a place of unconditional love for all people.
We will also be a place that seeks to serve our community through our gifts. By serving God through our service in the community, we want to be the light of Christ that people see through our gifts of prayer, witness, service, and presence in people’s lives. We want people to see Jesus at work in their life through the ways that we can be a blessing in the places where people are hurting. The ways that we will be a blessing to our community, through our gifts, are not done for our own glory. It is not about us. The ways we will bless our community is ultimately about offering a sacrifice through the expression of our faith that is pleasurable to God and gives the Lord glory.
Again, a story of Jesus’ ministry gives us the example of what this kind of service to be a blessing to those in need may look like. Here I think about the compassion Jesus showed the woman who had been bleeding for several years. His very presence healed her and gave her a new hope and life. Jesus gave her a bit of himself so she could experience something better than what she was experiencing. Our acts of service and generosity are to do just that. We want to be a presence of blessing, through various ways, to offer people a new hope. Jorge Acevdeo writes that this kind of service is about bringing people “out of the hell” that they are experiencing.
Claylick UMC will be known as a place that makes disciples of Jesus Christ by our unconditional love and our desire to be a blessing to others through our service. This is a work that begins today, but it is not finished today. There is much work to be done to live into this vision. Our vision will be the model and focus point for the mission that will take place here. Your surveys are a first step in the dreaming process of imaging what mission and ministries are needed for Claylick to be a place of love and service. Once we know the mission that will be needed, we’ll focus on the plans and steps that it will take to get there. Today is one point in a process of seeing Claylick be the church God has called us to be.
Yet, from this point forward there can be no looking back. Everything we do as a church must be defined by our vision to make disciples of Jesus Christ in our community by our love and service. If it does not, then we need to begin to have serious conversations about whether or not those aspects of the church are needed. To be honest, there will be things that will need to come to an end and new opportunities in their place for us to live out this vision.
This vision cannot just be a statement. It must be what defines our desire to be children of God, as people and as a church, who imitate God’s love and compassionate service. A vision that is not lived out is simple a statement on a wall that signifies nothing and does not change the hearts and minds of the people of our community.
For this vision to become a reality, though, it will take all of us working as one. I cannot emphasize this enough. We must be one church, one community, unified by our desire to love all and serve the people in our community. We must be a church that, through our gifts and talent, desire to reach out to the unchurched and unwelcome to show love and grace.
My friends, Claylick UMC stands at an important juncture in its history. The vision that God has given us, I believe, will enable us to make a difference in the lives of so many. So, let us join together, and work as one, to be a people who seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ by loving and serving our community.
This is who we are. Let it be what defines our future in the name of Jesus Christ.