Only Connect

This Fall we are launching ‘Vision 2020’ – a description of where we’re hoping to grow as a church over the next two years. It can be summed up in one word: Connection.

We announced in the communication from the vestry at the end of June a new expression of our church’s purpose (or mission) – ‘to be transformed by Christ to love God and our neighbor’. I hope that there is nothing essentially new or controversial in that statement. It’s a good description of what it means to be the Church of the Good Samaritan. The story of the Good Samaritan begins with Jesus asking an expert in the law for a summary of the law. ‘Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself’, he replies. It’s the question ‘who is my neighbor’ that elicits the famous story. We know that to be able to love God and our neighbor we need the transforming power of Christ at work within us.

Vision is less enduring than purpose. It’s about where you see the gap between where you are today and where you need to be in order to fully live out your purpose. So, purpose endures but vision changes according to what the next most important step is in living into that purpose. Our vision is ‘to connect those who are here and not yet here to Christ and his church so that they grow in love of God and neighbor’. The key word is ‘connect’ and it’s qualified by that connection having two focuses – ‘those who are here’ and ‘those who are not yet here’. There’s also a recognition that transformation is not simply a personal spiritual affair that happens in isolation, but it’s something that happens within the community of the church – hence ‘Christ and his church’. So the connecting we want to do has two directions – to help people develop a relationship with God and to help people grow in relationship within the church.

Which brings us to the gap. We’re identifying that we need to grow in our reaching out to draw others in, and also in our connecting and including each one of our current members. That is to say that at the moment we don’t do as good a job of reaching out to others with the good news as we could, and we also have a growth area in reaching out to those within our own community. We’re sorry if you’re a member of Good Sam and are feeling disconnected and unable to find your place to belong and to serve. We want to help – it’s a priority. And we know that the life of the church is the power for the transformation of the world – so we want to be effective in our mission to share Christ with the world and get you connected, envisioned and empowered for that mission.

How are we going to do that?

To reach out better to those who are not yet here we identified that we’d like to be better welcomers; to help people share their stories of faith; and to connect everything we do as a church with our purpose of transformation. I’d like us to become a congregation of evangelists. I’m not so much interested in attracting to Good Sam those who are already Christians and part of another church – I’m interested in those who are unchurched – and who need to be connected to Christ. I’d like us to think of church not as something we come to, but a community that we’re sent out from. We’re each on a mission from God in the world and we gather together to encourage and support one another in that mission.

The practical steps to help us achieve these goals in reaching out are to create two teams – an Invite Team and a Welcome Team. Ben Capps will champion the Invite team and Jonathan Hobbs the Welcome team. Invite is about helping us be better at connecting with our neighbors and helping them connect with Good Sam. Welcome is about ensuring that once they’re invited they’re welcomed.

To connect those who are already a part of Good Samaritan better we identified a need to strengthen our small group life – especially in terms of developing leaders of groups to be effective lay pastors; to grow in our ability to connect people relationally to discipleship groups and service opportunities; and to make sure we communicate these things well. Currently, we provide great programs through which people are able to belong, grow and serve. But people don’t always find their way into these programs. I’d like us to recognize that every member matters and therefore we need to not just provide great programs but work relationally with every single member of Good Samaritan to help them find their place of belonging and service.

The practical steps that will help us achieve that are establishing a Connect Team and a Networks Team. I will champion the Connect team, and John Whitnah will champion the Networks team. Connect is about extending our newcomer ministry so that the team will not just connect newcomers to the life of the church, but will work to connect every single member to the life of the church. Networks is about identifying the networks of relationship that currently exist within the life of the church and developing stronger systems of support and training of leaders within these networks so that they are able to be effective lay pastors for their group members.

To support all of these, Dwight Wilson will champion leadership development – especially working with staff on developing clear structure and accountability; a caring environment; and making sure that we communicate well with one another. Dwight has already done some great work with the staff team and we look forward to that continuing in the fall.

A couple of weeks ago we heard a powerful sermon from Chris Hall (or John if you were in the chapel) on Romans 12. In Romans 12:5, Paul reminds us that ‘in Christ we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all the others’. I’m praying that we will grasp hold of that mutual obligation – that each of us belongs to all the others. That discovery will breathe life into us as we each find our place of growth in connection to God and to one another.

In the novel ‘Howard’s End’ E. M. Forster has the protagonist reflect on the phrase ‘Only Connect’ – for which he has in mind integration within oneself as well as connection with other individuals. It’s not a bad phrase to use to reflect on the alienation we suffer in modern society from one another and even from our own selves. We are called to walk a path of real connection – to one another, so that we reflect God’s life in our shared life; and a growth in our spiritual life – so that we become grounded human beings rooted in the life of Christ. And that connection extends outward to a world that needs us to extend Christ’s love to each one we encounter.