7 Marks of a Vital Congregation, a summer sermon series on the PCUSA “7 Marks of a Vital Congregation”, preached Sunday July 16, 2023 at the 9:30am worship service
This Summer, we are studying 7 Marks of a Vital Congregation, 7 lenses through which a congregation can measure how alive we are, and how much life we add to the community around us.
We’ve introduced all 7 and have covered three.
1. Lifelong Spiritual Growth… forever being disciples, students of God, constantly learning and trying to understand God’s unique way of doing life and community.
2. Intentional Authentic Loving… engaging people who don’t believe or aren’t sure what they believe as already born of God’s spirit. We believe God’s love and forgiveness of them just as strongly as we hope and trust it for ourselves.
3. Active, Outward Focus… inside the church, we live beautifully equal, welcoming, inclusive lives, and we actively take that outward to anyone treated as less than or unequal or unworthy.
4. is Shared Gifts and Power.
Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Romans 12:1-11
12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is yall’s reasonable act of worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you all may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.[a]
3 For, by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For, as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy in proportion to faith; 7 ministry in ministering; the teacher in teaching; 8 the encourager in encouragement; the giver in sincerity; the leader in diligence; the compassionate in cheerfulness.
9 (So) Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal; be ardent in spirit; serve the Lord.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)
Sermon Shared Gifts and Power
When we don’t share gifts and power, things can get ugly. The pastor knew she was in a bit of trouble at her new church when one Elder on Session was chair of the Personnel, Property, and Finance committees. He was also a founding member of the congregation and served on Session constantly.
She asked Elders on Session for the one committee where they felt most comfortable and called to lead, and one other committee where they felt gifted to serve even if not in charge. He put down all three. She asked the Elders to name gifts they saw in each other and suggest two good committees for each other Elder based on their gifts. He didn’t participate. When she tallied the results, the Session agreed every Elder would take lead of one committee and support one other, much like we do here now. That Elder chose to chair Finance, of course, and stayed on Personnel, to keep an eye on the new pastor. That meant he wasn’t on Property anymore.
Not long after, the Property committee suggest to Session some property changes, to improve signage, remove some trees, and enhance curb appeal. That Elder spoke against the motion, but lost the vote. One day he showed up with a tractor to start making changes he thought Session should have approved. The pastor called all her Session for help, and some came and talked to him, stopped him.
When it was time to nominate Elders for the next rotation on Session, he assumed he would be reelected again. The nominating committee didn’t suggest him. So at election, he had someone nominate him from the floor, but he wasn’t elected. He made a scene, confronted the pastor, and left the church, taking a few others with him, and blaming her for being “power hungry.” Things get ugly in congregations when we don’t allow everyone to share gifts and when anyone won't share power.
Like that pastor, I too have found getting everyone to share gifts and making sure everyone shares power to be difficult in congregations. In my 12 years in the corporate world, before seminary, in Engineering, Marketing, and Sales, we had to modify reliable products or launch new ones. It was never easy. In a factory, engineering, quality, manufacturing, sales, accounting… we all have our own role in the corporation. Not one of these departments like it when another department makes them change. But we came together for a common purpose, good products and services at fair profitable prices. In healthy corporations, compromises happen, and if someone on the team wont participate, or gets too stubborn or territorial, there’s a meeting. Pros and cons are debated. The management structure makes a decision and we all move forward. But in church, you can’t make people participate, share their gifts, nor is it worth the confrontation of making everyone share power. People will stop coming or go to a different church.
Paul is deep into his letter to the church in Rome, nearing the end of it. He’s talked to every department. He’s weighed and measured all their best arguments and even their petty complaints. He’s written to them carefully but clearly where he believes they are on track and where they are losing their way. He appeals to them all to sacrifice their personal habits, traditions, comforts, preferences, lay down their hesitancy, laziness, or fear, and give of themselves as one to the greater purpose. He begs them all to stop talking about what I or we want versus what you or yall want, and discern God’s will, what God wants. He asks them to measure what God has given each of them and all of them together to accomplish God’s will. This life with Christ is not only about getting what I want or need, it's about noticing what the world around us needs, and going to be servants until we and all the world is good, acceptable, and perfect.
Paul names the challenge in this. Some will think more highly of themselves, their own gifts, than they should, and in so doing, think less of others. Some will think too little of themselves and hold back from offering their gifts, talents, and time. Some will think they deserve to lead. Others will assume they aren’t worthy to lead.
Paul reminds them as a congregation of Christ, they are one body. The word there is corpus, the same word we use for corporation. We often say the body of Christ has many members meaning systems and organs, yet we all share one great purpose. We could also say a congregation is a corporation of Christ, and has many departments and employees, products and services, where we all share one mission, one purpose, to be God’s loving and just presence in this world until God’s kingdom comes for all people on all the earth.
That is Paul's sermon to this congregation. He remembers their vitality when they all shared and offered whatever they could, and when everyone had a way to serve and make a difference. He wants them to be a vital congregation.
A vital congregation discovers the gifts in everyone and encourages everyone to share their gifts. A vital congregation shares decision power wisely so everyone has room to contribute to being and building God’s kingdom. Any gift, any power used for any other purpose in church is greed or arrogance.
The Congregational Vitality survey talks about the fourth mark of a vital congregation, Shared Gifts and Power, this way.
“All people of God… are given fruit of the Spirit and spiritual gifts meant for building up the (whole) Church…. we are all called to serve the Lord, to do our part… Every part is necessary. Every part is valuable, and every voice is important. Every person should be equipped, nurtured, and supported to use their gifts to glorify God… not just (the pastor, and not just) cliques of powerful people or continual (reliance on, or) burnout of the same leaders.”
When a vital congregation shares Gifts and Power, we help people share current skills and develop new ones. We treasure long-time leaders and they happily invite new involvement and give new people freedom to do new things or do old things differently. We notice silenced voices and ask what they see, what they think. We are careful with nominating and electing people to power so that young and old, founders and newbies who care first about growing God’s kingdom and second about including everyone in the work.
Do you thrive in difficult situations? Do you enjoy bending towards new opportunities? Are you able to trust and see what’s possible, and describe it to others and work toward it, even if there’s resistance? Your spiritual gift might just be prophecy in proportion to faith.
Do you like helping meet others’ physical and practical needs? Is it important to you to do something, not just talk about it? Do you have a sixth sense for others around you, and you often stop and reach out or do something for them? Your spiritual gift might just be ministry in serving.
Do you enjoy studying and learning? Are you excited by new truths, and wonder how to apply them? Do you like digging for facts? Do you organize ideas, resources, time, and people effectively, and like to find connections so things make sense and are easy to communicate or remember? Your spiritual gift might just be a teacher in teaching.
Are you naturally attracted to those who are in trouble, or going through a tough time? Do you tend to be able to see things from anyone’s point of view if you just listen? Are you willing to say a hard truth, but know how to say it gently so others hear it? Then your spiritual gift may be exhortation, the encourager in encouragement.
Or maybe, does it give you great joy to give gifts or share things with others? Do you gladly give what you can, not out of guilt or habit, but freely and with joy? Do you give a little extra when a good idea or worthwhile project gets your attention. Then your spiritual gift might be generosity, the giver in sincerity.
Are you able to comb through lots of complicated pieces and get to a good decision? Do you help others come together and flourish toward a common goal? Do you detect honesty, and understand what motivates others? Then your spiritual gift might be leadership, the leader in diligence.
Or are you acutely in tune with the emotions, hurts, and pains of others? Do you sense stress or distress in others? Do you enjoy establishing relationships with neighbors and strangers, and find it easy to talk to anyone of any belief, or no belief? Then your spiritual gift may be compassion, the compassionate in cheerfulness.
Share those gifts. Share them here in this church. Find something we are already doing, or are trying to do, and jump in. Or maybe, if you see, think, or feel something we aren’t doing and need to try, jump in. There’s a process for any idea to get all the way to Session, and they promise to use and share their power with any of you who seek to have more of God’s community here, and share more of it all over.
Sharing gifts and sharing power can be especially hard in church. But let’s find our gifts, and share them abundantly, and make room for everyone to be a part of what God is doing for us and for others through us.
To God be all the glory and honor now and forever more. Amen?
Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.