This is The Way

I am always happy when the summer comes to an end.

The Way Illustration.jpg

Not just because the heat starts to abate just a little … nor because my kids have all left the house for college … but because I love having all of you around for worship, Wednesday nights, and weekday evenings again!

Summers at KPUMC are sloooooooow.

But when school starts, everyone gets interested in church again.

That makes this a good time to announce the roll-out of The Way.

Let me start at the beginning … last fall, I called together a group of new-ish church members to a Vision Task Force. Over the course of a few months, this task force put together a set of recommendations for the church, including a new mission statement.

The new statement, adopted by the Church Council this summer, reads, “As disciples of Christ at Kessler Park UMC, we: Welcome all people, Connect with one another, Grow closer to God, and Serve the community.”

Those four words — Welcome, Connect, Grow, and Serve — form the basis of a discipleship path, or a kind of basic direction for adult training in discipleship. Since I’ve been appointed to KPUMC, I have been searching for a way to orient and align our programs and ministries to correspond with a clear discipleship path.

Put another way, I’ve been looking for language about how to invite people to follow Jesus, and then give them the tools to actually do so. I think these four words accurately sum up that path. First, we are welcomed into a faith community and experience hospitality; when we are comfortable, we seek to connect with some of the members of that community outside of the worship experience, usually in some kind of small group; as a result of this connection, we begin to grow spiritually and find ourselves getting closer to God through Jesus Christ; and as an expression of our gratitude to God, we develop our spiritual gifts and put ourselves into Christian service of others. Then we find ourselves welcoming new people into the community … and the process starts all over again.

At some point, I recognized that each of these four concepts correspond with one of the four gospels. Thus, the idea of being welcoming, hospitable and inclusive aligns neatly with the Gospel of Luke, which is focused on Jesus’ ministry to outsiders; the idea of spiritual growth fits with the Gospel of John, which is mystical and urges us to “abide with Christ.” The Gospel of Mark’s emphasis on radical discipleship points us toward service, and the Gospel of Matthew focuses on the new community and connections formed by the good news of Jesus.

I have decided, then, as your primary preacher and teacher, to focus on each one of the four gospels over the next four years, beginning with the Gospel of Matthew, and focusing on the key question that Matthew seeks to answer, “How does God intend for us to live together in community?”

To that end, I am creating a 24-week core course on Matthew which will be offered to all church Sunday School classes in September. The first 16 chapters of the book will be covered in the fall; the rest of Matthew will be covered in spring 2019. I will be writing a study guide with class instructions, and preparing a 5-7 minute video for each week’s lesson.

In addition, Wednesday Night Live adult classes will focus on the same theme. This fall, I will offer a class entitled“Reading Matthew with New Eyes” and Mike Smith will lead a study on community using the Nooma video series by Rob Bell. In the spring, I will offer a class on“The Sermon on the Mount.”

At this point, you may be wondering, “OK, but what’s the big deal? So we’re studying Matthew …” Here’s the exciting part: the Sunday School course and Wednesday night classes will all be offered online, as well as in person.

If you can’t be here on Sunday morning or Wednesday night, you can still participate in the learning, the discussion, the spiritual formation! And not only will you be able to participate, but people who are not currently members of our faith community can, too!

Everything that will be used in the class will be available online — the content, handouts, slides, videos, and discussion. I’m also planning to make additional content available online, including podcasts, interviews with Bible scholars, ebooks, and occasional live gatherings.

I’m calling this entire project “The Way.” That’s not an arbitrarily chosen name. Did you know that the first name for the new Jesus movement in the New Testament was “The Way”? Five times in the book of Acts, the movement is called “The Way,” including 9:2, 19:9 and 23, 24:14 and 22.

I love the name because it indicates that we are on a path, following a direction. We don’t have all the answers, nor do we live by a bunch of rules. We’re simply going to follow Jesus together on this way.

I can’t wait to get going … stay tuned for the details!

New Paths

If you were unable to attend the All-Church Council meeting on Sunday, you missed an exciting and invigorating presentation by members of the Vision Task Force. (You can view the presentation for yourself here.)

I assembled a group of 14 members of the church, most of them new-ish to the church, and tasked them with the job of looking at the vision and mission of the church, and evaluating our strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward pushing us forward.

They have met six times since last December, and have given me lots of food for thought. They took seriously the church’s own mission statement, and decided to make it shorter, snappier, and action-able.

The old mission statement: “We are a community of hope, founded in faith, fostering spiritual growth, and meeting human needs by reflecting God's love in Christ's name.”

The new proposed mission statement: “As disciples of Christ at Kessler Park UMC, we Welcome, Connect, Grow and Help.”

You will notice that the new statement focuses on four simple words. The group came up with these words when we pondered the questions, “How does one move from being an occasional observer to an intentional disciple at KPUMC?” and “What are the signs or markers that one is progressing?”

The group determined that there are four markers of a disciple at KPUMC. First, one is welcomed unconditionally into the community, and extends unconditional welcome to others. This is a hallmark of the KPUMC ethos; our decision to be a Reconciling Congregation affirmed this desire.

Second, a disciple is connected to others, not simply through attendance at Sunday worship, but through small groups, Sunday School classes, and other opportunities for fellowship. Nobody can be a Lone Ranger disciple; the walk of faith demands fellow travelers.

Third, a disciple is always growing closer to God. This is done intentionally through participation in worship, Bible study, and spiritual practices, such as prayer, labyrinth-walking, fasting, and meditation.

And fourth, a disciple is ready to help others, by getting her hands dirty in the mess of ordinary life. This can happen through formal and informal missions, as well as advocacy work for social justice.

That’s how these four words — Welcome, Connect, Grow, and Help — became the heart of the proposed mission statement. They are a very simple and concise summary of the Christian life.
They also make a handy and useful “discipleship path” for the church. In other words, when someone asks us, “What does it mean to be a member of KPUMC and a follower of Christ?” we can answer with confidence, “It means you are welcome here, and you’re invited to connect with others, grow closer to God, and help those in need alongside us.”

It’s so simple, and yet so full of rich potential and hope!

The Vision Task Force would love to hear your comments, opinions, and suggestions about their work. Please look at the presentation here, and then forward your thoughts and questions to

The next step will be for the Church Council to hear conversation about, and take a vote on, the proposed new mission and vision statements, which will happen in the next Church Council meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, June 27, at 7 pm. All are invited to attend.

I’m energized by this, as I hope you are. More significant to me than the results and findings of this task force is the fact that 14 people, some of them strangers to each other at the outset, bared their hearts and joined their minds together in a common effort to make Kessler Park UMC stronger and more vibrant. This church has a strong future!

My sincere thanks to all who participated, including: Sally Climer, Josh Deluna, Ashley Flores, Bridgette Hardy, Avia Haynes, Mattie Jette, Kacy Jones, Charity Meeker, John Mitchener, Barry Nash, John Ogren, Robert Rodgers, Donald Shugart, and Chris Shultz.