What on earth are we here for? Not as individual people, but as the church. This question arose anew as the Session studied J. Clif Christopher’s book Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, which offers insight about the numbers that reflect our church life: membership, attendance, and money. The primary driver of giving, according to Christopher, is belief in the articulated vision of an organization – this applies for churches, civic clubs, and other nonprofit organizations. To put the question simply, what do we do here that changes lives for the better?

We tried to dig into that question beyond our first answers to see what really sustains and motivates our life as the church. Our first answer was that it’s profoundly important for us to belong here together; being part of this community helps shape our identity and reminds us that when life gets challenging, someone else has their eye on us. Digging deeper, we considered that we encounter the fundamental goodness of God in the ways we care for one another. One of us put the word “discovering” on that encounter. That struck me as a pretty profound mission statement: we discover God together.

The inclusion of “God” in that statement may seem obvious, but it bears saying. Plenty of organizations in our greater community do good work; many people work hard to make the world a better place; but the church is uniquely invited to seek the ultimate realities and purposes of our life. We do this through our rich collection of scriptures, our deep theological tradition, and our own habits of reflecting together. We live in and for this world, but our life is ultimately directed toward something more and greater than this. We put our faith in something that is beyond our knowing and greater than our deepest hopes.

Even beyond our very real need for belonging and connection, we understand that we encounter God more carefully, graciously, and authentically when we are together. Many of us (myself included) retreat into solitude for particular and profound experiences of God, but we don’t imagine that our individual experiences show us the fullness of ultimate reality. We let each other’s questions, ideas, needs, and gifts illuminate the divine Mystery, and we’re all richer for it.

The word “discovering” captures our particular way of seeking God together especially well. We don’t fence God in with particular ideas that must be used to name the unnameable. Instead, we trust that each of our pictures of God adds something to the depth and richness of our collective understanding. We are on a journey together into an unknown depth of love and grace, and we learn together just what that can mean.

Part of what this journey reveals is that life is about more than just us. In our life together, we haven’t truly discovered God until we’re sent back out to serve, share, and contribute to the healing of the world. The people we serve can sit in the next pew or live halfway around the world, but our sharing is an essential product of our encounter with God. If the life of this church were only about us, it would be too small for the true Life that calls us together. For some of us, it’s in hands-on service that we finally start to see God. For others, service is a fruit that grows in the rich soil of focused rest in God’s presence. For all of us, service is an essential part of participating in God’s life.

We discover God together and serve the world in Christ’s name. Ultimately, it’s as simple as that. Ideally, everything we do together can be boiled down to that core mission. As we look around at the institutional and physical structures of our church, we can use this mission to test what truly “works” and what we might change or dispense with. What helps us discover God together, then turn outward in service? That’s what merits our time and attention. So may we live, with joy and hope.

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

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