At our annual meeting at the end of January, our congregation adopted these Guiding Principles:
- Jesus is Lord and Savior
- Everyone is welcome
- Love changes people
- We are called to work in God's world
- God uses ordinary people like us
- God shows the way
These six statements represent those things that are most central to our life together as followers of Jesus in this place. They came from months of Bible study, prayer, and conversation by many people in our congregation. As God continues the work of transformation among us, these principles will help us make decisions, help engage us in mission, and help draw us more fully into God's dream for us.
In the past month, many people have asked “Just how are these Guiding Principles supposed to work?” It's a great question to ask, because if we just agree that these statements sound good, adopt them, but never put them to use they really won't impact us. If they are really going to serve as guides, we will need to seek to use them at every opportunity. Part of our task of the next several months is figuring out together just how these Guiding Principles will guide us. What sort of changes will we need to make together? What sort of callings might we take up (or put down!) because of them? How will we continue to check the principles themselves against God's Word and what we believe God is calling us to do and to be? Its up to every one of us to help our congregation claim these Guiding Principles and figure out how to live them out more fully and in new ways.
“So, pastor,” you might be saying to yourself, “what you're saying is you're pretty much not going to tell us how Guiding Principles are supposed to work.” And I suppose that's true, but not just because I want to be difficult. There are several reasons that our use of Guiding Principles can't just be laid out by me and followed by everyone else. The first reason is that they aren't just my Guiding Principles, or the Guiding Principles of the Transformation Team or the Church Council—they are our Guiding Principles. Another reason is that a big part of using them comes from the process of figuring out how we are going to use them, together, as a community of faith—to guide our life together as a congregation, to guide each of us as we seek to follow Jesus, and to guide our interactions with the community outside our walls. But the main reason I'm not going to just tell you all how we're going to use the Guiding Principles is that I actually don't know how they are going to work on us, or just what God has in store for us as we seek to live them out. But I'm excited see!
Over the next several months there will be many opportunities for us to use, think about, and apply our Guiding Principles, both in hypothetical situations and in the real life decisions we make together. And we should be prepared for God to transform us through them—and in ways we can't even imagine. To illustrate, I'll share a story from another Transformation congregation much like ours in Phoenix, Arizona: Alleluia Lutheran Church. They adopted a set of Guiding Principles (which are actually quite similar to ours) and they decided to propose a hypothetical situation to the congregation as a way to help people see how they might work. “Suppose,” they said “the City of Phoenix was looking for a solution to help homeless people find shelter on the coldest days and they asked our congregation if we would be willing to share our facilities to help.” Instead of pitting it as an argument between one side that thinks this is a good idea, and one side that thinks its a bad idea, they used their Guiding Principles, asking “If we were to take these principles seriously what sort of decision would we make?” When they used their Guiding Principles (Jesus is Lord, God welcomes everyone, Everything we have belongs to God, Everyone is on God's team, and Everyone needs a neighbor like us) they decided that choosing to help with the homeless project would be more in line with their principles (and closer to God's dream for them) than deciding not to. “God's welcome really is for everyone, including the homeless,” they decided, “and since our stuff is really God's stuff and we are part of God's team, we should share what we have with them—and doing so is being the sort of neighbor we would like to have.” If this sort of proposal were in front of them, they said, they would participate.
Well wouldn't you know it, that very same week—completely out of the blue—they got a letter from the Mayor of Phoenix asking if they would be interested in participating in a program very much like their hypothetical one. Who would have thought! It seems as though God was calling them to be serious about their Guiding Principles! Through their Guiding Principles God has continued to challenge them and is transforming them from a dying little Lutheran congregation, into a thriving, relevant, disciple-making community of faith. I look forward to see what God is planning for us as well!
To learn more about our Guiding Principles, the process we went though to develop them, and more about Transformation in general (including a link to Alleluia Lutheran Church) click on the “Transformation” link at www.BethlehemSpokane.org.