Good Shepherd has now completed a two year process of discernment and is committed to making those shifts of emphasis necessary to be an effective congregation for Jesus Christ in the early years of the 21st century. One of our many learnings has been the recognition that in the post-Christendom context of the new apostolic era, it is the People of God, deployed and dispersed in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities, who are the primary vehicle of sharing the Good News of Jesus in the world. This represents a shift from the Christendom model in which the physical place of the church, through its programs and clergy, in an attractional model, is the primary vehicle for sharing the Gospel in the world.
What does this look like for Good Shepherd?
Hopefully this picture can sum it all up memorably and succinctly. Click on the picture for a larger image.
First, the Church of the Good Shepherd, specifically meaning the People of God gathered in this particular place, are directed, pointed and focused on the task of engaging God’s redemptive mission in the world. As recognized in the opening paragraph, it is our individual members who are now the point of the spear so to speak, rather than the place, or the clergy professionals, or the program that is offered on site. The work of the staff becomes coaching, encouraging, and preparing people to answer God’s call to them at this moment in history so that they may be sent into the world.
God’s redemptive mission is first and foremost, nothing less than “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 859) Many Christians are awaking to realize that God is already about this work in the world with or without the church! Rather than starting ministries and asking God to bless them, God’s people need to get out of their churches and meet God in his world to discover what God is already doing there. Congregations then discern ways to partner with God in his mission (not the Church’s emphasis added).
Engaging God’s redemptive mission in the world takes place around three equally important and equally supported areas of ministry and action:
-Building up the Parish Community
-Caring Service in the Community
-Sharing Good News of Jesus
The notes on the illustration say a bit more about each of these three foci of action.
Building Up the Parish Community
Since the end of the Second World War in America Building Up the Parish Community has received the vast amount of time, energy and resources from Christian congregations. All you have to do to be convinced of this is to drive around our community and see all the buildings, with their construction costs, maintenance costs, and staffs busy creating programs and ministries to attract and retain members (Good Shepherd included!). Truth is Building Up the Parish Community became an end in itself rather than a means to ends, those ends being offering caring service in the community and sharing Good News of Jesus.
Churches are beginning to rediscover their first and true callings again expressed in service motivated by agape and a desire to invite others to follow Jesus Christ.
Caring Service in the Community
For over two decades now Good Shepherd has intentionally devoted itself to making a difference in other people’s lives in the name of Jesus Christ through community and world ministry. Since 1992, somewhere between 23% and 29% of annual giving in any year has been given through the parish budget for caring service in the community. That is a total of $5,308,342 given for God’s work in the wider world since 1992. Mainly through COGS and Interfaith, parishioners have also engaged in hands on ministry for others.
All and all through God’s grace and blessing we have tangible evidence of our desire be a Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) parish.
Sharing Good News of Jesus
Despite saying for many years that we aspired to be a Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) parish, we have not tangibly demonstrated that we are serious about the work of inviting others into life giving, life changing relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Yes, like almost all other Episcopalians and mainline Christians, we have implicitly shared Good News of Jesus by hoping others would be attracted to him through our worship, fellowship, programs and service. We are very comfortable with this Christendom, low key, low commitment, attractional approach to evangelism.
Yet, in the new apostolic era characterized by a wide open marketplace of loud and competing philosophies, and ideologies demanding people’s loyalty and allegiance, we shall have to taken a different approach. The attractional model may have worked in its day, but that day is now past.
Well, there you have it! As best we are able to figure, in conversation with you and with others in other churches, prayerfully and with humility, we believe we now have our marching orders. If we are mistaken in any of our working assumptions, no harm can come to the parish. If we have rightly read the signs of the times, then by God’s grace and almighty providence we may have just set Good Shepherd on a path, in 10 - 20 years time, to be a vital, useful and continuing place for God’s purposes in the world and to the glory of his incomparable Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May God make it so. Amen.
Next: Part Eleven: Get up, let us be going.