Jan. 25, 2018

Dear Hyde Park Family,

The church leadership book Canoeing the Mountain suggests that the church is well-equipped to minister to a world that no longer exists. The world before us little resembles the world behind us. One can no longer assume that the church has the same stature, authoritative voice, or appeal as it once did in our culture. The rise of atheism and agnosticism, along with a growing suspicion of organized religion, has more people turning away from the church rather than being drawn toward it.

Yes, the world may be changing, but this church’s task has not.

We can all name ways that this church has accomplished its mission of making God’s love real by transforming lives, creating Christian community and bringing healing to the city and the world. But God is calling us further into the future, to reach even more people in our city and beyond with the message of Christ’s unconditional love, to remove barriers that divide our society and to give new hope to the downtrodden.

That’s why this church is currently working on a long-term strategic plan that will set the course for our future.

Since the formation of the Vision Team last October, its 16 members have been hard at work establishing the visioning process that will constitute much of our upcoming year. Today I want to give you an update on its work and its course ahead. It is guided by these four central convictions:

1. God has an exciting future in store for this church.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, in which the shepherd is not content until every last wandering sheep has been welcomed into the fold. That sentiment is still in the heart of God, and we are called to join in that effort.

God intends forward momentum for the church, not stasis or reverse. In ministry areas where we have plateaued or even declined, we need to reboot their course. After all, when Jesus first described the church to Peter, he said the “gates of hell would not prevail against it.” That means that God is calling this church forward, upward, onward and into an exciting future!

2. God is speaking to us about what that future looks like.

Our conviction is that God is always speaking to us about what kind of future God has for us. Consider Samuel, the first prophet God ever called in the Bible, who emerged during a time of significant cultural change. The people of God were transitioning away from a time of tribal confederacy and into a new era of unity and shared identity under a king. Most importantly, it was a time when, according to 1 Samuel, “visions were rare in those days.”

And like the call of Samuel, we don’t always hear it, at least at first. This visioning process is designed to unify and hone our collective antennae, to hear God’s voice as God clarifies what kind of church we are to be in the future.

3. It is our job to listen for that future.

That is what this visioning process is all about. Here is a snapshot of the work that has been done so far:

  • Since last October, the Vision Team has met roughly twice a month as a whole team, along with multiple meetings by different subgroups in between. It has canvassed initial feedback from the Ministry Leadership Council, the Program Staff and from all of you.
  • Your feedback from my first sermon back in October, in which you shared your headlines from the church’s future, has figured heavily in setting the initial framework of our work together.
  • Over the next few weeks, you will be hearing more about a key way that you can be involved in the next step of the process: “visioning chats,” through which you can offer your feedback, questions, and comments about the future to which God may be calling us. Stay tuned for more information, and please consider participating.

4. It is our job to act on that future by following the Spirit to make it happen.  

“The vision awaits the time,” says the prophet Habakkuk. And when the time comes for us to receive that vision, it will be incumbent upon all of us to make it happen.

I am excited to see how this process unfolds, and even more excited by the forward momentum that God has in store for us. For I know that together, the future is bright for this congregation, and the people that it will reach.

Grace and peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

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