The Seven Marks of Vital Congregations
Coming out of almost two years of living with and through COVID, our congregation is beginning to consider how our life together has changed and what God might be calling us to do and be in the years ahead. At the same time, the denomination has created a “Vital Congregations Initiative” to work alongside presbyteries and leaders of existing congregations to empower congregations to renew, recover, and live more fully into faithful discipleship.
While we are not participating in the program at this time, the description of the seven marks and the supporting materials for the program caught the eyes of Pastors Kimberly and Becky. It is our hope that as we spend time this summer considering the seven marks together, we will find ourselves renewed and transformed in our lives together.
Each week, we will consider one of the seven marks and invite you to reflect with us on questions about the particular focus area. We will also invite you to pray specifically for the church every day, using the “Seven Day Cycle of Prayer” created by David Gambrell. We will find ways for you to respond specifically to a couple of questions each week, so that the pastors and the Session can gain insight into your priorities and visions for our congregation. We hope that this series will stimulate lots of conversation and give us new insights into our life together, “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
July 17, Introduction to the Marks and “Intentional Authentic Evangelism” [view on YouTube]
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:7–15. Pastor Kimberly preaching.
Even the word “evangelism” can be kind of off-putting to progressive Christians, especially those of us who take interfaith work seriously. How do we tell the good news of God’s amazing love in a world where so many of the messages people hear from Christians are negative, judgmental, and disheartening? Paul gives us the image of “treasure in clay jars” — using the ordinary things of our lives to think about and reflect on the ways in which our story is a part of God’s story. This work is inevitably tied to next week’s topic:
July 24, “Lifelong Discipleship Formation” [view on YouTube]
Scripture: Acts 2:42–47. Pastor Becky preaching.
Being Christian is not a one-and-done conversion event; it is a lifelong relationship that begins with our baptism. What are the ways in which we can see our challenges and opportunities in the light of God and seek to understand our world through the lens of faith? What are the practices and activities that the church can provide to nourish our lives and our understanding of our life together in Christ?
July 31, “Outward Incarnational Focus” [view on YouTube]
Scripture: Romans 12:1–21. Pastor Kimberly preaching.
If authentic evangelism is about intentionally sharing the Good News in relationships, and discipleship formation is about learning/understanding/living the Good News, then outward incarnation is about not limiting where and to whom we share the Good News. Outward incarnational focus is about being the gathered community of Christ sent out! Paul invites us to go into places where we are not comfortable to bring God’s loving presence and God’s care for the whole world, so that through us, people may know God’s goodness. When we look around at our community and our world, where is Good News needed? How can we bring that Good News beyond the walls of our building and into our community?
August 7, “Empower Servant Leadership” [view on YouTube]
Scripture: John 13:1–20. Pastor Becky preaching.
It may seem strange to put these two petitions together, so that we are asking “give us the food we need for today and forgive us as we forgive others”. But they are linked together in the gospels consistently, especially in John’s gospel, where it seems that God’s grace is the bread of life. The human temptation is to require people to earn forgiveness, bread and healing, and Jesus turns this around, offering people what they need so that they become empowered to build a new world.
August 14, “Spirit Inspired Worship” [view on YouTube]
Scripture: Philippians 2:1–11. Pastor Kimberly preaching.
Worship is an encounter with God that we understand and do not understand. It is an act filled with mystery and awe, but in worship we have the opportunity to express our deepest desires to God and listen for God’s voice. In worship, we also experience the call to serve and be in mission. Worship should challenge, teach, transform, convict, and call us into deeper relationship with God and one another. What are ways that we encourage everyone to participate in worship, to connect their story to God’s story, and to challenge each other to live God’s love in the world?
August 21, “Caring Relationships”
Scripture: Colossians 3:12–17. Pastor Becky preaching.
It is the most simple and significant of commands, “to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet it is, in truth, the most difficult thing to live into. Christ’s true and perfect agape-love is when the Spirit of Christ dwelling within me meets the Spirit of Christ in you, regardless of all else. What are ways that we can be more open to the power of love in our relationships with each other, and encourage each of us to be open and loving in the world beyond our walls?
August 28: “Ecclesial Health”
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16—6:8. Pastor Kimberly preaching.
Ecclesial health is about all people of God coming together in what we say and what we do, because we believe that we are ambassadors of God’s message of reconciliation in a broken and fearful world. It is about how we are church, how we enact and live out being church together. There are going to be critics and unhealthy functions of the church, because we are flawed and sinful human beings. Yet we have a Savior who is not finished reconciling the church and the world to God, and we get to be ambassadors and witnesses in Christ. What are the best things about our life together? What are the places where we still need God’s healing and hope to inspire us?