This week, Ask the Advisors welcomes guest blogger Gilberto Collazo, Vice President of Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF) and Lead for Hope Partnership Services. In his role he has walked alongside Disciples congregations, witnessing the transforming impact of vision. Gilberto believes the current situation we are facing provides a moment for dreaming of new visions.
“Cast the vision and run with it.” (Hab 2:2)
I think the prophet Habakkuk was onto something when these instructions were given. A vision that is shared, a vision that is fluid, and a vision that is life-giving is a great sell. People will embrace it and strive to make it a reality. However, to state the obvious, before you run, you need to know where you’re going.
Visions are powerful, transformational, and always respond to the reality of the times. Recently, I read that for an organization to be innovative and relevant—to raise up to the challenge to be fluid—it is necessary that it reimagines, rebrands, or re-envisions at least every two or three years.
This is quite counter-cultural for the church, which as an institution is slow to embrace change, leaving many congregations still stuck trying to re-live the “glory days” of yesteryear. We probably all know of a church that feels like a time capsule, where facilities, worship, programs, and even people project a sense of time having stood still.
Yet the times we are living in call for a new vision—a vision deeply rooted in a clear understanding of who we are as a Church and what God is calling us to do. The option of “staying the course” is no longer viable if we want to remain a visible and vital presence in our communities.
I hear and read of people yearning for an end to this pandemic so we can go back to how things were. I guess by now many of us understand there is no going back. This pandemic has shaken the church to its foundations, forced us out of our comfort zones, and led us into uncharted waters… Thanks be to God!
As a faith community, we are called to be the church God desires us to be. Over the years, Hope Partnership Services has learned what that means and looks like in the context of each of the 1,300+ congregations we’ve worked with, as they discern and live out God’s call.
Though caused by the pandemic, this time of pause in the busy-ness of being and doing church offers us the opportunity to engage in what, at Hope Partnership, we call “informed spiritual discernment conversations.” From that process, I would like to propose three areas of dialogue and engagement for the church as we prepare to cast a new vision. That way, when the time comes, people will be ready to run with it.
Take this time to gain a better understanding of your congregation’s identity.
Our identity as a congregation needs to be deeply rooted in that “why” we hear so much about. For a church to be a relevant, life-changing agent in the community and a discipleship-equipping center for its participants, there needs to be a clear sense of purpose, which in turn fuels everything the church does.
When we talk about that “why,” we refer to those deep spiritual convictions we hold as individuals and as a congregation that guide all our actions, engagements, and pronouncements. They are born out of biblical imperatives and have, as their purpose, the affirmation of the value of all human beings and the commitment to the task of restoration and transformation of all of God’s creation.
Has this pandemic brought about a shift in your core identity? Might it have affected your congregants in new and life-changing ways? Have the experiences lived by the congregation brought about new passions and desires to serve? Gaining insight into this reality will be foundational as you dream new dreams for your congregation.
Take this time to gain a clear understanding of the new reality your congregation is now facing, both internal and external.
Be ready to accept the possibility that the congregants who come back may not all be at the same place—physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually—where they were when they left. Many might not come back at all. Others might decide to extend their shelter-at-home time for several more months. These past months have forced us to deal with many situations we had never encountered before. Our faith has been tried and tested. We have experienced emotions and sentiments unknown to us before this pandemic. We have changed, and in order to understand how we do church together moving forward, we need clarity around the new “us.”
Understand that the community you left behind last March is now a different community. Different people, or the same people, but now with different perspectives. Different needs and maybe new needs, along with some of the needs that had already been there. Different questions and struggles alongside some of the same ones from before the pandemic.
How will you listen to the voices in the community to get a clear sense of their needs and of the opportunities that are now offered to the church? A clear sense of this new reality will drive the “how” and “what” of our faith communities as we seek to be the hands and feet of Christ in this new era.
Take time to discern ways of serving the community to meet their needs, while at the same time allowing interaction to create spaces of transformation in this new digital reality
What does it mean to embrace an identity as Christ-followers that leave the building and go into the world? Jesus’s ministry was all about being present with the people—seeking out and engaging with people along dusty roads, in banquet halls, and even in treetops! Today, more than ever, the church must practice critical presence in the midst of a world torn apart and hurt by microorganisms invisible to the human eye, as well as by acts of racism visible to the entire world.
God is calling us to be the church the world needs us to be. I am so grateful for the meme circulating in social media that reminds us, “the church has left the building.” That is a prophetic utterance, a call to be the missional church that gives concrete action to the gospel message. A new vision must emerge that will allow us to be and do church in ways we never thought possible. Are you willing to dream God’s dreams for your congregation and community? Are you willing to pray that your eyes be opened to see where God is at work in your community and how you can become part of that divine agenda?
God’s vision is a call for us to create community. How can we create and practice community in ways that are safe and comforting, even while practicing social distancing? How do we bring people together across virtual platforms and create a sense of intimacy and connection?
How do we provide answers for those who struggle, and at the same time, feel comfortable in admitting that we don’t have all the answers but are willing to be together as we seek them out? In short, how do we do mission in times when we are not having face-to-face interactions with people?
More than answers, these are the questions we must ponder. Prior to the pandemic, many churches were already asking these questions. If we seek to be faithful to the call of Christ to be change-agents in our neighborhoods, we must continue wrestling with, and discerning, these questions.
For a printable handout of these suggestions, please click here.
Striving to be the church God desires us to be and the world needs us to be now and in post-pandemic times will require clarity of identity, context and engagement.
But you’re not alone – Hope Partnership Services can help. If your congregation is struggling with its identity, vision, or resources, you can visit our New Beginnings and Epiphany pages to see if our programs are right for you, or contact us at email@example.com.
Gilberto Collazo loves his church! Born and raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico, his life was shaped by a vital faith community that led and mentored him into service to the community. After almost 20 years of ministry at DCEF with new and existing congregations in the US, he sees a church still called out to shape, mentor, and equip. Gilberto believes congregations can find new life and relevance if they are willing to do the hard work. “Together we can do great things!” (Psalm 108:13a)
For 137 years, DCEF has offered mission-driven building and capital planning services to congregations and organizations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. Together with our investors and partners, we are Disciples helping Disciples.
As part of DCEF, Hope Partnership Services offers leadership and ministry resources that help raise up empowered leaders and prepare their congregations for transformation.