Here is a conversation starter for an upcoming small group discussion – or – (for the internal processors among us) for a long walk in the woods.
Imagine a person who has faced some hefty personal failure and received not judgment but mercy. How does that change a person? Might he or she relate to others any differently? What causes might he champion? Where might she invest her time and money?
Now imagine a whole movement of people on the North Shore who are (re)inspired by the gospel. They are captured by it. They begin reorienting all aspects of their lives around it. Having experienced unmerited grace and believing in an eternal hope, they bring a new set of priorities and values into both their public and private lives.
If that movement were big enough, how might the North Shore be different?
During the last weekend in April the Elders, Deacons, and Staff gathered for a retreat to talk about these questions.
We discussed how to align our purpose, values, and vision with our present context.
Looking at a number of New Testament passages we began to define who we are, what we are called to do, and how we might live it out in this particular cultural context. I, for one, was inspired in particular by this opportunity to envision what values might mark a church that is gospel-driven. Perhaps it would be a place where people are more honest about their own dirty-laundry than people usually are — open about the parts of their lives that are just plain hard. And yet perhaps they would at the very same time be among some of the most hopeful people — because they have learned the source of grace without limit. They might be a fairly diverse bunch of people who have learned that all of us are equal before God — yet they somehow relate with an uncommon love and unity in the things that matter most.
Let me stop there and say that if I am really honest with you, blog reader, I walked away from the retreat with a mix of hope, excitement, and a little sadness. Maybe the hope and excitement part is obvious; this is a picture of a church many have longed for over decades. Why sad? Because I know the problem is me. It’s us. We admitted that sometimes we tend to behave like the gospel — that hope that saves us — is an apologetic, or an explanation, for church. We have too often trusted in intelligence, skill, or religion to form this church. It sounds good at first but it’s backward. We envisioned church becoming an apologetic for the gospel — a time when the church is the very image of what it believes. A movement of people altogether shaped and formed by grace.
In the days since the retreat God has shown me a beautiful thing, dear friends. That sadness is God’s perfect prescription. It reminds us that all the skill and commitment we can muster won’t build a gospel-centered church. We are living God’s story. The purpose, values, and vision we share are found in the selfless love of our Savior.
Sarah Bartley is a former Deacon who dreamed at the leadership retreat (April 29 – May 1) about what would happen at NSCBC and on the North Shore if we re-discovered the reality of the Gospel.