There’s a never-ending interweaving of continuity and change in the life of a healthy congregation. Our past is part of who we are—both the good and the bad. We can’t shuck it off even if we wanted to. Instead, we keep revising and reshaping our identity and our vision in response to the changes in our congregation and the larger community where we live. Such evolution is part of life.
Jesus’ image of a discerning scribe is apt. “Therefore, every scribe who has been trained as a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings old and new things out of their treasure chest” (Matt. 13:52). This is the raw stuff that informs our vision of who we are as God’s people as well as who God is calling us to become. Jesus drew on the best in the Jewish faith tradition to shape his life and teaching. These are to old things he drew out of the treasure chest. The new thing was the way he shaped it to meet the challenges of being the people of God in first century Palestine.
The scripture from Isaiah that he read in the synagogue in Nazareth, as he launched his public ministry, was the defining vision that guided the life and action of his band of disciples (Luke 4: 16-19). We might think of it as his spiritual/social platform: (1) Good news for the poor, (2) Release of captives and recovery of sight, and (3) the year of Jubilee involving a radical sharing of resources. Such a vision is a guiding dream rather than a detailed policy blueprint. It’s the song of our heart.
When I became the pastor of our church, people sometimes asked me what my vision for our congregation was and I honestly didn’t know. I knew our larger purpose of being a people of God and followers of Jesus. This sets the table so to speak. It’s our mission but it’s hardly a vision for our church.
It’s a recipe for disaster if a new pastor attempts to import her or his own vision for a congregation. The vision emerges among us as we together wrestle with who we are and how we engage our community. In my next blog post, I’ll write more about the “song of our heart” that is emerging in our congregation.