Over the past 10 years Laurel Heights has experienced growth in several significant areas. The district website provides a spreadsheet for anyone to review: http://www.lasmisionesumc.org/s/2016-10-yr-History-Las-Misiones.pdf. The most important growth statistic is not included however. It is also the most difficult to measure. That is how we are doing at making disciples for Jesus Christ and how well we are continuing to be shaped into the disciples that Christ would have us be. We can get an indication of how we are doing at making “new” disciples by looking at our profession of faith column but that does not give us the entire picture. Publicly acknowledging and entering that covenant relationship is an important step but it is only one of many steps in moving from visitor to disciple.
One of the things I see as an important indicator of making disciples is hospitality. Over the past 10 years I have seen an increase of diversity in age, gender preference, faith traditions, political views, skin color, socio-economic position and even hymn preference. I see this as an indicator of a congregation that is not only inviting, but welcoming. That does not mean that everyone that has been invited here found the welcome into the worshipping community they were hoping for. It does mean that a significant number did. In his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Schnase says, “Radical Hospitality stretches us, challenges us, and pulls out of us our utmost creativity and hard work to offer the welcome of Christ” (p. 25). For me, the diversity I have witnessed is not so much about the new people becoming disciples as it is an indicator of the members who welcome them moving forward in their discipleship.
Our current mission statement says “Our mission is to offer Christ to those we encounter and to nurture, equip, and enable persons to become committed Christians in our community and the world beyond” and we seem to be encountering more people who live in the area of the church. While still caring for members who have moved away or who have always driven some distance to get here, we seem to be encountering and nurturing more people in the neighborhood. And as we welcome more people from the neighborhood, they are inviting their neighbors. The direct involvement of the church with schools in our neighborhood has strengthened, shown concern for our neighbors and provided a vehicle for mutual conversation. We have revisited our Out of School ministries and considered the question of what we have done to nurture, equip and enable persons as a response to our relationship with Jesus Christ. In the fourth chapter of his book, Bishop Schnase says, “Risk-Taking Mission and Service involves work that stretches people. Causing them to do something for the good of others that they would never have considered doing if it were not for their relationship with Christ and their desire to serve Him” (p. 88).
It is always nice when you can use quotes from a book written by the new bishop so I will use one more, “Engagement with the Body of Christ depends upon the gracious, inviting quality of Radical Hospitality. The spiritual vitality of a congregation results from viewing Passionate Worship as the essential gathering of the people of God and as a place where God changes hearts, redeems souls, and transforms lives” (p.56). Laurel Heights worships well. We understand that we cannot be all things to all people but worship is a place where we can put aside our differences, leave our grumblings outside and seek the presence of Christ. Meaningful worship helps make disciples of Jesus Christ and those seeking to grow in their discipleship find it attractive. People want to be part of an authentic worshiping community. As more and more congregations move away from a traditional worship expression, what Laurel Heights has to offer in worship can increase in value and effectiveness. And it will do so as long as it is authentic, transforming and redeeming while not worshiping the style itself. Worship is effective when it is about God’s transforming power in the disciple’s life and reveals the glory of God. Laurel Heights is “Making Disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the World.” (Mission statement of The United Methodist Church.)
See you Sunday,