On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.
Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some of the new members of the lifesaving station felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency stretchers with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members. Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do that work. The mission of lifesaving was still given lip-service but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the lifesaving activities personally.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal pattern of the club. But some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did. As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old and yet another lifesaving station was founded.
If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people don't get rescued.
I’ve used this little parable a number of times. It is a pertinent reminder of how easy it is for any organisation - including churches - to lose sight of purpose. Our mission statement is a purpose statement. It is the reason we exist. It states that St Paul’s exists To Know Jesus, Treasure Jesus and Represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people. It is a statement that it is impossible for me to over-communicate because it sits over all that we are and seek to be at St Paul’s. I don’t want us to lose sight of it. Our Vision Series for this year will be focussing on our mission statement.
As a church in a post-Christian, secular society we have many challenges and opportunities in front of us as we seek to be on mission and fulfil our purpose. The move away from the era of Christendom (where the state protects and supports the church) into a post-Christian era (where there are high levels of distrust of the church) means that the way we do ministry has to change too. The church can no longer run its ministries assuming that a stream of Christianised, traditional/moral people will simply show up at worship services. We have to go beyond simply including evangelism as one ministry among many, to become thoroughly missional. That means adapting and reformulating absolutely everything we do in worship, discipleship, community, and service, so as to be engaged with the non Christian society around us.
In his book, Centre Church, Timothy Keller suggest four key ministry areas for a church like ours to focus on in order to be missional: 1. Evangelism and evangelistic worship (raising people up to God); 2. Ministries of mercy (lowering ourselves to reach the marginalised); 3. Missional community (equipping those inside the community); 4. Integration of faith and work (reaching over to those outside the community).
Over the past 4 years we have made progress in points 1, 3, and to a lesser degree 4. I thank God for Sam and Nick who have led our progress in evangelistic worship that brings the gospel to both the believer and the sceptic at the same time. Our major deficiency is area 2 - ministries of mercy. Addressing this deficiency - while building on the progress - will be a focus for us in 2016. What are the needs of Chatswood and how do we seek to meet them? Will you join with me in praying for guidance and wisdom in how we might ‘lower ourselves’ to love Chatswood.
I’ve asked Deb Gould to plan a series of sessions designed to equip us in how to engage with some current issues of our society, serve believers and sceptics with life skills (eg. parenting workshops), and connect with our community. I plan to preach a series of sermons called Life on the Frontline. It will bring clarity to how God might use us for his glory outside the walls of the church in a secular society.
At the end of this month of vision we will be having our annual Commitment Sunday. It is an opportunity for each of us to renew our individual commitment, or commit for the first time, to God’s mission in Chatswood through St Paul’s. There are two financial matters I want to draw to your attention and have you contemplating and praying about as we head towards Commitment Sunday.
Firstly, for the 6.5 years that I have been at St Paul’s we have had the wonderful blessing of additional staff being funded through Youthsurge to the tune of $120,000 per year. In recent times these staff include David Lawrence, Tim Jones, Victor Ng, Jess Bakic and Angela Sharpe. This funding, except for 3 days for David Lawrence (who will mainly work on the development of ICS), will cease at the end of the year. I am grateful for the individual who has invested so much over many years to support Youthsurge. The consequence of this decision is that I have given notice to Angela Sharpe, Tim Jones and Jess Bakic. They will finish their employment at St Paul’s at the end of the year.
Secondly, and related to the above, the project for this year is to raise $28,000 to fund three student ministers in 2016 (James Shepherd, Victor Ng and David Chang). James and Victor are known to us. David is entering 4th Year at Moore College next year and is a native Mandarin speaker. This target is significantly larger than previous years but I believe it is essential to resource our Chinese mission field. All three student ministers will work to build on the progress we’ve made in evangelistic corporate worship.
The last two sentences of the above parable are shocking: If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people don't get rescued. Despite the challenges that lay ahead may we have such confidence in the Lord Jesus that we will be determined to treasure him and stay on purpose.
Steve Jeffrey - Senior Minister