As a church, we want to be more Hamilton than King and I, more a grafted tomato plant than a bouquet of flowers. If you don’t know what I mean, then read here, where I begin to paint a picture of where we are going as a church. Like an adolescent who is finding her identity and growing by fits and starts, so we are slowly stretching our legs, experimenting and growing into our identity as a church. Few children follow a prescribed road map to discover their unique contribution in life; the pathway to that discovery is different for each child. Similarly as a church, it often feels that our tracks are laid down as we move forward step by step. As a result, it is critical that we communicate well with one another, step out in risk in obedience and support one another as we work together. Already some of the contours of our identity are emerging as we reflect and seek to reach the diversity of our area; however we are in the beginning parts of that process. We must embrace the process. What does that process look like?
The first stage of this process is understanding. Presently we have three different congregations: Warrenville, Wheaton 9 AM and Wheaton 11 AM. Just as a strong marriage is predicated on the health of each partner, so our health as a church depends upon the health of each individual congregation. We want to understand the unique identity, strengths and weaknesses of one another as individuals and congregations. We should create shared spaces for relationship across congregations for people to pray, grow and work together for the kingdom.
From this place, we move into the second stage of partnership. The focus here is largely structural and programmatic, moving past an appreciation of one another’s strengths to a true partnership, marked by a mutual commitment to God-given goals. This partnership in new and creative initiatives will inspire faith and move us forward in God’s mission. Increasingly these creative initiatives are boiling up from the work of God’s Spirit among God’s people. Our Dominican Republic team has returned, incredibly energized, unified, motivated and with a bigger heart for God and his people. This summer we will host Kids Camp in our building to minister to under-privileged children at Lincoln School as well as providing a chance for our own children to grow toward Christ and in love for others. Each month, we serve the needy at the soup kitchen of Christ Church of Albany Park, an Alliance church in Chicago. Other opportunities abound. Working together on such strategic initiatives calls forth a deeper level of partnership, prayer and sacrifice. Through this partnership, the unique strengths and weaknesses of each congregation will shine as we work to accomplish something that none of the congregations could accomplish on their own. Such missional partnerships must be propelled by radical encounter with God.
Partnership will then lead to greater integration, where we develop more organically and relationally. As we learn from one another’s strengths and weaknesses, then the cultures of our congregations will create a new hybrid culture. As the cultures of our congregations are shaped by a radical encounter with God together, then we will grow to become more like Christ together (2 Cor 3:18). At this stage, we will have a shared heart for the church and true integration of leadership. While the external composition of a governing board and different ministry teams can be integrated earlier, it inevitably takes time to develop a true integration between the different congregations that grows from a shared understanding. As a result, our ability to reach different people in our community will be greatly heightened. By a radical encounter with God, we will be propelled to love the lost. By learning to embrace differences within our church, we will develop capacities to appreciate differences outside the church more effectively.
The Lord is leading us step by step. Let us stay focused on our mission of “forming a people in Christ to glorify him everywhere.” May we be propelled from worship to form disciples everywhere, across the street and around the world. Next week we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. And there is no better space for us to grow together as we learn to carry our cross together and follow Jesus into the power of his resurrection. So let us do this together.