Pastor Brandon's Annual Meeting Address
LOOKING BACK, PRESSING FORWARD
Our preaching focus for the year ahead, the Gospel of Matthew, is already underway. If we are to live as a community centered on the gospel of Jesus and partnered together on mission for Jesus, it’s a good idea for us to take a close look at Jesus—who he is and what he died in his life, death, and resurrection to establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and what role he calls us to play in announcing and advancing his kingdom.
In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a number of parables about the kingdom of heaven. Here are two of them from vv. 31-33:
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."
He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."
I love those pictures. God takes something seemingly small and insignificant; he plants it deep in the soil, buries it deep in the dough, hides it away. You can’t see what it looks like or what it will become. It doesn’t happen over night—it follows God’s time, not ours. But if God is the one doing the work, that small seed grows into the largest plant in the garden; that little bit of leaven penetrates the whole loaf. God gives growth to his kingdom. Even when it feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve seen anything, or it seems like nothing’s ever going to happen; if it is God’s kingdom we are serving, and not our own, he will bear the fruit of changed lives. He will spread his glory and his rule in us and through us, as we cling to him. It requires faith, humility, and prayer. And it requires patience.
But patience is not the same as inactivity. The response is not to sit back and wait, but to charge forward for the sake of the gospel, giving everything we have. Jesus says later in ch. 16: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (16:24-25).
God must do the work to grow his kingdom and change hearts and lives; but he calls us to lay our lives down for the sake of his kingdom. To follow his pattern of self-giving love, taking up the cross and following him, that through our love and sacrifice and the declaration of the gospel of his grace, he might bear much fruit in and through us. And so we trust God with patience, yet we also press ahead toward the vision he’s given us—to be a gospel-centered church living each day on mission for Christ.
I’ve already highlighted for those in our congregation some of what God did in 2012 by way of a letter last December, but I want to give thanks again for some of the early progress we’ve seen in moving toward our vision, and for the effort, love, and sacrifice that so many have put into it.
- We updated our web and print communication with a new website and a new logo.
- The Taskforce on Student and Family Ministry brought forth several recommendations to help those ministries come into closer alignment with our vision. We’ve seen the fruit of some of that, including a new curriculum, a revitalized Junior high ministry, new leadership in our high school ministry this year with Tom Morris and Ian and Beka Rideout.
- God provided Sarah Detweiler as our Director of Music Ministries and Drew Halberstadt as our Associate Director of Music Ministries.
- We’ve taken steps to improve our hospitality toward newcomers in our worship service and through greeters and updated info.
There is much to be thankful for, and many people to give thanks for.
And yet we press ahead, keeping the gospel at the center; embracing our identity in Christ as a family of worshipers, learners, servants, and missionaries; embracing our mission to make disciples for Christ by evangelizing non-believers, establishing new believers, and equipping growing believers to make more disciples of Christ; and by living out our vision amid the normal rhythms of life: celebration, listening, eating, blessing, working, resting, suffering.
One of my prayers for Westgate during 2013 is that God would move us to finally make a pivot in the direction of our ministry efforts. What I mean by that is this: my sense is that during the previous few years we have turned our gaze toward living on mission, toward ministering beyond these walls, while continuing for the most part to walk in the same direction as before (with most of our ministries focused inward). There are all sorts of reasons for that, including many things God needed to do in our hearts and relationships to prepare us for mission. But I believe it’s time for us to actually pivot our bodies and take the first few steps in this new direction, the direction of our vision—to be a gospel-centered community living each day on mission for Christ. That doesn’t mean we value community or discipleship less; it means that our community and discipleship will become more aligned with God’s purpose for them—to make much of God by making disciples of all nations.
I was personally very encouraged by the conversations we had as a church this past month. The feedback we received was extremely helpful, both for understanding where we’re at, but also what it will take to move forward. I learned a ton during that process, but some of the key things I learned is that:
- We want to do this—people want to be partnered in living on mission.
- We have lots of ideas for ministries; we don’t have a problem coming up with ideas.
- But we lack a simple and clear system for helping us move that direction.
- We’re still learning what it means to apply the gospel not just to a non-believer so they can come to faith, but to fellow Christians to help them grow in their faith.
- We want help learning how to do that—how to bring the gospel of Jesus to bear on all of life for all people.
Goals for Spring 2013
It’s in light of all of this that I want to trace (in general terms) what we see as some simple but very significant goals in helping us take steps in outward ministry this spring:
To provide one new outward-focused ministry at a congregation-wide level.
To provide one new outward-focused ministry at a smaller group level.
To begin identifying people who might serve as part of an outreach team (or perhaps ‘mission mobilization’ team) to help guide, resource, and mobilize our missional efforts.
The clear answer to our first goal is the Alpha Course that’s going to be launching next month. You’re going to be hearing more about Alpha tonight and over the next few weeks. It’s an outreach ministry that God has been using around the world, and it’s a simple yet strategic opportunity for us to step out at a congregation-wide level to reach people for Christ.
We’re still praying and discussing what shape the second goal will take. But we know we want to equip and mobilize people to share life together around the gospel on mission for the gospel at a smaller group level. That might mean forming some new expressions; it might mean repurposing some of our home fellowships. We’re looking for God to guide us in these things.
The third goal is something I’d like to see in place by the fall, but something we will be actively praying about and begin forming as the season moves forward.
What I want to ask of us as a congregation is this:
- Next Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. We want to commit this season to prayer for God to bear the fruit of his gospel in and through us. If we do not ground our missional efforts in prayer, we’re wasting our time. God has to do the work. And so during Lent we want to seek him to do it.
As a help, we’re using the prayer guide, Seek God for the City again this year, which helps us pray specifically for God to renew Christ’s life among his people, to bring the light of his gospel to many, to reveal Christ’s glory to all peoples, to establish righteousness in our cities, to bring his peace in relationships, and to welcome God’s transforming presence. We’d like to pray as a church through this guide. You can pick up a copy this Sunday, or download it as an app.
- Second, after Easter begins the season of Pentecost, the fifty days between Christ’s resurrection and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church, when they went public with the Great Commission. We want to commit that season to embracing a gospel intentionality in our lives and relationships, and preparing to go public in new ways with the gospel come Pentecost Sunday, May 19. We’ll have more details to come, but as we launch our congregation-wide outward ministry during Lent, so I’d love to see us launch some new expressions of smaller group-based outward ministries at Pentecost. We’re seeking God to see what he will do.
This is an exciting season in the life of our church. A season for us to begin living in a fresh way Paul’s vision in Philippians 1:27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
May God be pleased to do it among us for the sake of his glory.