Sunday, March 1, 2009
Prayer and Purpose
In the next several months you will be hearing the words “prayer and purpose” quite a lot. In part, this will be because this is our theme for Lent this year. But also because during this season of Lent we are going to devote some time to prayer and trying to discern our purpose as a congregation—and drafting a purpose statement. Lent is the perfect time to do this, because the season of Lent is meant to be a time of reflection, taking stock of who we are and who we are called to be, repenting of where we have strayed from God's calling, and recommitting ourselves to be about what God would have us be about.
Dave Daubert, in the book “Living Lutheran” writes the following about our purpose as the Church of Jesus: “A primary point of being the church together is to refocus us when we gather so that we can be effective when we are apart. We don't gather to escape the world. We gather to be sure we are doing a good job of engaging it. God wants our help. If a church is doing effective ministry, people leave better prepared to be missionaries to the world and ambassadors for Jesus. Our participation in this work is called our 'purpose.'” The next phase in our Transformation process is to figure out what specific purpose God has in mind for Bethlehem—just which part of God's dream are we called to be a part of?
Daubert makes clear that there is a difference between “mission” and “purpose”: “Mission is what God is up to. It is the mission of God. Lutherans are very clear that the mission belongs to God. Everything that is of ultimate importance and eternal value starts and ends there. But that doesn't mean that God prefers to work alone. In fact, God has demonstrated time after time that God prefers to work with others—to include people in the creative work of bringing in the kingdom.” (Living Lutheran, pg 38)
We've already seen the power of purpose (and purpose statements) at work at Bethlehem. Last spring, our Property Mission Task Force met for prayer, Bible study, and conversation around how God was calling us to use our property. Out of that process, we developed a purpose statement for our property which reads: “The purpose of Bethlehem Lutheran Church's property is to make clear that everyone is welcome and to help everyone encounter God in this place.” And since then we have seen some pretty major changes take place to our property, starting with a rock wall on the corner of our property, a transformation of our lobby to be more welcoming to all who pass through our building, and the cutting down of the two large trees in front of our building and the opening up of our property for a whole host of projects. And all of this has come about because we started to ask ourselves “Is our property fulling living into the dream God has for it?” and as we looked at our purpose statement we realized there were ways to get closer to this dream.
God has done some amazing things with our property through this focus on its purpose. Just imagine what God will do with us as we form a purpose not just for our building and grounds, but for our congregation. And much like our guiding principles, this purpose statements will not just come out of the blue, but is meant to be deeply connected to the things God has been doing among us for our entire history. When we figure it out, it should “feel right” for us—though it may also stretch us, much as our guiding principles have done.
I hope that you will take the opportunity to get involved in this process, because the more voices involved, the better chance we have of really hearing the dream God has in mind for us as a community. We'll be engaging in prayer, Bible reading, and conversations. We'll think about purpose in sermons (yes, the sticky notes are coming back), through some cottage meetings, in Adult Ed, during coffee hour, and in all sorts of other ways. Join in the conversation as we figure out together the specific purpose we are meant to play in what God is up to in the world.