Monday, January 4, 2016

The State of the Communion Address

Introduction
    One of my favorite scriptures is Philippians 2:5-11 because it summarizes who Christ is and encourages us to imitate him.  Listen to these powerful words as you consider how you will live in 2016.
 
Philippians 2:5-11
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
 

What is this Address?
            Near the beginning of each year, the President of the United States gives a “state of the union address”.  This televised speech is made to a joint session of the congress reporting the condition of the country and outlining his legislative agenda and national priorities.
            My message this morning is a blatant rip-off of this presidential tradition.  However, I hope it will be a useful one.  I wish to report on the condition of our church (our “Communion”) and outline our agenda and priorities for the coming year.  Above all else, I pray that everything we do this year will be done with a Christ-like attitude as laid out in Philippians 2:5-11--with humility, with self-sacrificial love, giving glory to God alone, and looking forward to the ultimate triumph of God’s Kingdom. 

Children’s Ministry
            Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  In 2015, we baptized 5 people and we had 9 people saved to become disciples of Jesus Christ by profession of faith.  Of the 69 United Methodist churches reporting in our district, Pleasant Grove had the 8th highest number of professions of faith.  
The majority of our professions of faith come when children go through confirmation classes and choose to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Children are vital to the success of our church.  We have a duty to bring them to church, make sure they attend Sunday school, children’s church, and our Wednesday night children’s program so they can grow in their faith.  As children mature, they are soon able to choose Christ for themselves.  This is the primary way we initiate people into the Christian faith.  Without children, we will fail at our primary mission.  We must not fail!
            In 2016, I want Pleasant Grove to focus on strengthening our children’s ministries.  I want to see excellent communication about all children’s programing, more children participating, parents that are thrilled to bring their kids here, and children that are growing in faith.  This is the only way Pleasant Grove can be successful.  I am committed to do whatever it takes to make sure kids get everything they deserve at our church.  I ask you to join me in praying for our children’s ministries, volunteering to do your part, and let’s make our children’s ministry the best in the district.  This will be our number one focus in 2016.   
 

Spiritual Growth
            Discipleship begins with a profession of faith, but it continues as a person grows closer to Christ and more committed to their faith.  People experienced spiritual growth in a number of ways at Pleasant Grove in 2015.  One measurable way I can report is that we had 11 people attended Chrysalis or Walk to Emmaus spiritual revitalization retreat in 2015.  Chrysalis and Emmaus retreats are a powerful way to experience the amazing love of God, learn the basics of our faith, and be inspired to serve Christ in our church and community.  I would like to see more people attend Chrysalis (for youth) or Walk to Emmaus (for adults).  Regardless of your level of spiritual development, Emmaus is a tangible way you can grow spiritually.  I would like you to attend. 

Worship Attendance
            Declining church attendance is a concern all over our nation.  Every denomination has seen decline. Pleasant Grove has struggled with attendance as well.  Since 2004, our attendance has declined steadily.  Our average attendance in 2015 was 129.  This was an increase from the previous year, but we can still do better.  There is no reason Pleasant Grove shouldn’t be filled with people every Sunday.  I know it is possible and we have seen what a full church looks like. 
            Our highest attended Sunday last year was on December 20th when we had our children’s play--207 people packed our pews. 
Our second highest Sunday was Easter with 200 people.  Our third highest Sunday was the Christmas cantata on December 13th with 185 people.  And of course you all saw how many were here for the Christmas Eve service.  People came to these services because you invited them and because these were special services.  We have to continue to invite people because every Sunday at PGUMC is a special Sunday.  It is a day Jesus Christ is here waiting to change people’s lives.  Don’t you miss out on that or let someone else miss the opportunity for Jesus to change their life and maybe their eternal destination.
            In 2016, will you join with me in renewing your commitment to be present at church every Sunday?  Let’s commit to miss no more than 5 Sundays this year.  Can you do that?  That still leaves room for several absences for vacation or for sickness or for unexpected situations.  Missing no more than 5 Sundays is very reasonable for the typical person.  
Now, maybe you’re not a typical person.  Maybe your situation is such that you need to miss more than 5 Sundays because of your job or something else really important.  Then I ask you:  what is reasonable for you?  Make weekly church attendance a top priority and decide today what your attendance goal is going to be this year and then stick to it. 

Study Groups
In 2015, it was a pleasure to work with such a creative and talented worship team to plan excellent worship.  David, Sarah, Dale, and I collaborated to bring you services covering relevant topics such as:  reconciliation, the meaning of love, purifying your life, making a new start, the 10 Commandments, the Great Commission, and arguing with Jesus about tough issues.  We finished the year with the sermon series I’ll Be Home for Christmas.  We listen for God’s direction and work very hard to bring you the best.  So you can be sure if you come (and if you invite someone to come with you), you will be blessed because we will offer you the very best that months of praying, planning, and preparation can offer.  
            Study is also vital to spiritual growth.  There are a number of ways you can plug into a small study group at Pleasant Grove.  Last year, Gary and Jean Carter took charge of our young adult program teaching a weekly Sunday school class.  This is a unique offering for young adults that not many churches have.  If you are a young adult, I urge you to take advantage of our young adult Sunday school.  Talk to Gary and Jean and let them know what you would like to see happen with young adults.  And tell your young adult children, grandchildren, or friends to come get involved with the young adults of our church.  Let’s not take our young adult program for granted.  Everyone should be active in a Sunday school class or one of our other study groups like Wednesday night study, youth, children’s ministry, or Thursday morning Bible study.
            On Wednesday nights, we completed 6 studies:  Taking Care of Business (about the Christian work ethic), Soul Detox (about purification), Before Amen (prayer), The Committee (church revitalization), Earn, Save, Give (Christian finances), and Ask: Faith Questions in a Skeptical Age.  On Thursday mornings, we completed a 6 year, in-depth, book by book journey through the whole Bible.  We are about to beginning a new, one-year study of the whole Bible in chronological order.  I invite you to join us in the fellowship hall starting this Thursday at 10:30 AM.  Or come on Wednesday night for dinner and stay for a study; this month, we are doing The Committee part 2, a series on church revitalization.  Or perhaps you would like to make it your goal to be active in a Sunday school class.  Everyone needs to be active in a small group study to grow spiritually in 2016.  Everyone means you.   

Serving Others
            C.S. Lewis said, “A church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of non-members.”  Just as Jesus gave up his divine privileges in Heaven to come save and serve a lost humanity, the church is here to serve others sacrificially.  On average, our church served 74 people outside of our congregation each week in 2015.  We did this primarily through:
  • Family Promise - Four times a year, we house homeless families in our church for a week at a time in conjunction with 15 other churches in our community through Family Promise of Whitfield County.
  • Be the Church - In September, we called off our regular worship service to go into our community and do service projects for people in need.
  • Sack Lunches - On Wednesday nights, we packed sack lunches to deliver to needy kids at Pleasant Grove Elementary and North Star School so kids have at least on healthy meal to take home to eat over the weekend.
  • DOCUP - We contributed money in cooperation with other area churches to DOCUP to help needy families with rent, utility bills, food, and clothing.
  • The Layette ministry - We provided clothing, blankets, and other necessities for newborn infants in need at Hamilton Medical Center.
  • We also offered boxes of non-perishable food and various other forms of assistance directly from our church to people in need in our community.
Of course, these are only the service projects for which we have a record.  The real service of the church happens through you--the people of our church who spread throughout the community and serve people everyday in a million different ways by the way you live out your Christian faith in the world.  Thank you for being the church everyday, wherever you are.  There is no way for us to quantify all the people you serve and the tremendous impact you have on our world, but I know you make a significant difference.  Let me encourage you to keep doing good. 

Build New Relationships with Hispanics
            Pleasant Grove has 3 long range goals that guide everything we do.  They are:  1) give hope to the hopeless, 2) build new relationships, and 3) help our community.  One of the greatest opportunities God has given us to build new relationships at PGUMC is with the Hispanic community.  Every Sunday, a Hispanic church meets in our chapel for worship.  We have already begun building relationships with them in several ways.  For instance, their pastor--Isabel Ochoa--preached at one of our services last year and I preached at her service.  Also, I helped with a Quinceanera for one of their families and they helped with our Operation Christmas Child packing party.  I would like to see us growing even closer in the coming year.  We have come to a place where it is time for you (the members of this congregation) to build friendships directly with the people of Isabel’s congregation.  I hope you are ready to build these new relationships and will look for ways to build these new friendships in 2016.  I will work to lead you in that direction. 

General Conference
            2016 is a General Conference year in the United Methodist denomination.  That means United Methodist representatives from all over the world will gather for the first time since 2012 to discuss important issues about the direction of our worldwide communion.  One of the most important issues they will discuss this year in Portland, Oregon is how United Methodists will respond to homosexuality.  As you know, public opinion about homosexuality in our nation has shifted greatly and our supreme court has ruled same-sex marriages are legal in all 50 states.  How will the United Methodist Church respond?  I invite you to join with me in prayer about this important issue facing our nation and our church.  And pray for our General Conference as it seeks to provide leadership for the United Methodist Church.  Next Sunday I will begin a four week message series examining what the Bible says about homosexuality and how we can respond.  Please come with an opened mind and a humble heart. 

Summary
            In summary, I want to highlight again the issues I want Pleasant Grove to focus on in 2016:
  • Provide exceptional ministry to children
  • Spiritual Growth through worship, study, and service
  • Be present at church every Sunday (missing no more than 5 Sundays in a year) and invite more people to come with us.
  • Focus on building relationships with the Hispanics of our community
  • Pray for General Conference (May 10th - 20th)
 
New Van
I would be remiss not to point out one more great accomplishment of 2015.  Through your generosity, we raised over $40,000 to purchase a brand new church van!  This Ford Transit has already been ordered and will be ready for service very soon.  Our van will stand out everywhere it goes.  People will see it and say, “That’s the Pleasant Grove church van.  That is a great church!”  And they’re right!  We are a great church and we’re going to be even better because our van will give us the ability to take more trips safely and conveniently, go out into our community more often, and pick up people to bring them to church (I would love to see us picking up van loads of children to bring them to Sunday worship and Wednesday night activities).  
Thank you so much for your generosity that made our new van possible.  The purchase of this van just goes to show you how Pleasant Grove can take on a very big challenge and accomplish it. When we believe in ourselves, trust God, and are faithful and persistent, we can accomplish great things.  I believe this church can do anything God wants us to do if we put our minds to it.  Let’s all commit to meet the challenges facing Pleasant Grove this year--all for the glory of God!   

Reflection
What is God calling you to do in 2016?
  • Give your life to Christ?
  • Attend Church more often?
  • Get active in a study group?
  • Befriend a Hispanic person?
  • Help with our children’s ministry?
  • Make a significant change while trusting God?
God empowers and strengthens you to meet whatever challenges lie ahead. 
Trust in God, believe in yourself, be faithful and persistent, and 2016 will be a great year!