After reading all of the books that our VCI travel and home teams read and studied, after considering our VCI Consultation Team’s report and their “prescriptions,” after attending three town hall meetings, and after talking with many others, I have come to some conclusions about the VCI plan prescribed for us at Chapel Hill.
First of all, there are some concerns that I simply don’t understand. For example, I personally feel the “spiritual poverty” that is identified as a concern. But I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that impression, or adequately describing what it is. I also have some doubts about the prescriptions for that concern, namely small group involvement. In the past I have experienced the strong spiritual growth that comes from being part of a small group. But, as was mentioned in one of the town hall meetings, Chapel Hill has tried small groups many times, and they are hard to organize and maintain. We will need to exert a concerted effort to order to make this prescription happen. We will need to think of and organize small groups in ways that we haven’t done before.
The VCI Consultation Team told us that an intentional plan for worship and hospitality provides the greatest opportunity to invite people to become disciples of Jesus Christ. The Team said things about our worship services that were tough for me to hear. But if I only look at the concern and the prescription from my point of view, I miss the point. To summarize the prescription, the goal is to plan multi-sensory, worship experiences that connect people with God in ways that are applicable to daily life, to identify target audiences for each worship experience, to determine the best presentation style of worship for each target audience, and to explore an ideal schedule of multiple worship experiences for spreading the Gospel. Yes, it’s about my need for a meaningful worship experience, but it’s mostly about other folks out there. It’s about how to reach them at their point of need. But it’s not about everybody. It’s about a “target audience.” This will force us to redefine who we are trying to reach, and will sharpen our evangelism techniques. This will require me to take a deep breath, and to learn to be comfortable with some aspects of worship that I’m not used to. But then, I guess that it’s not all about me.
Some of the concerns and prescriptions are obvious and easy to measure. We all know that our property and buildings need to be maintained and that there needs to be a plan to deal with our debt. The steps outlined by the VCI plan are challenging, but pretty straight-forward.
The prescription that our staff will “exhibit the five characteristics…(of) high trust, skill in addressing conflict, a shared commitment, mutual accountability, and a focus on results” is beyond my ability to consider. I simply have no knowledge of the inner dynamics of our staff’s working relationships with each other.
I firmly believe that our governance structure needs to be changed, and have for some time. This will be hard work, and I could help make it happen. I have the skills to do so, but it would not be rewarding for me. We need to let people do this who will have to stretch themselves in order to accomplish this prescription.
For a while now I have been concerned about our leadership develop process. I had given some thought as to how I could work to improve that process. The VCI Consultation team also identified this need, but expanded it far beyond my original conception. Improving this process is something that I think I can contribute to. I can’t do it alone, but with other dedicated people, and with divine guidance, I think that I can help fulfill this prescription. It will be a big stretch for me, but it will enhance my “spiritual richness.” This is where I need to put my efforts.
Some members of the Leadership Team referred to these prescriptions as a “culture change” and a “paradigm shift.” If we look beyond the concerns and prescriptions that we personally don’t like or don’t understand, and if we look at all of them as a whole, they indeed represent a major “paradigm shift” in how we perceive our congregation and our ministry. In the town hall meetings that I attended, the question of whether something that we do now will have to be changed or will need to be eliminated was often raised. Someone asked, “Will there be ‘wreckage’ if we implement these prescriptions?” My answer to these questions is emphatically YES. We need to sharpen our focus on who we are, how we grow each other spiritually, who we are trying to reach outside of our doors, and how we are being called to do that. Paradigm shifts always require letting go of some of the old in order to embrace the new. There will be fallout, and there will be “wreckage.” Hopefully we can gracefully minimize the pain that many of us will feel as a result of this. But we will be better for it, and our ministry will be more effective if we work to fulfill these prescriptions.
It was also asked if any other congregations have successfully done what we are being called to do. YES; and not only in the US. There is an excellent example in our northernmost UMC congregation that has incorporated into their ministry all of the prescriptions that we have been given. I encourage you to read about it in the latest edition of our UMC “Interpreter” magazine. UMC Vital Church
Our Leadership Team asked themselves, “Can we do this?” NO, we cannot do this – BY OURSELVES. But I have seen it done when Christian disciples step out in faith, not quite knowing how to make happen what God is calling them to do, yet believing and trusting that God will lead them on the journey and will help them find the resolve and the resources to make it happen.
Probably very few of us fully embrace all of these prescriptions. None of us has the time or ability to devote our full effort to all of them. But, keeping the overall goal in mind, each of us can the find the one prescription that will challenge us beyond our capability, and we can focus our efforts there. And…we can actively support those who are helping us to achieve the other objectives.
For these reasons, despite some of the misgivings that I have, I will cast an unconditional YES vote at our Charge Conference meeting this Thursday, June 2 at 7:00 p.m.