Feb 11, 2024: Vision Sunday
Today is Vision Sunday here at St. Luke’s, where Pastor Rob and I get to share with you where we believe God is taking our church over the next few years. What I love about this kind of message, even though it’s different than a normal sermon that you’ll hear me preach, is that it really reminds us that we are part of one church that gathers in multiple locations. So some of the things you hear about today, you may think—I didn’t know that! You might learn about a new way you would like to serve or God might prompt you to start praying about a specific ministry. And even if you hear NO new information today, I know that you’re going to hear stories of hope and impact and ways that the Spirit is moving in and through our church.
But before we get there, I want to tell you about my favorite 15 minutes of the week.
My favorite 15 minutes of the week happens in this building...right outside those doors.
I LOVE standing out there, in the Gathering Area after service just watching you all.
Now, ok. That makes me sound a little lurky. I hear it, I heard it when I said it. But I promise you, I’m not weird! I’m just kind of in awe. Because here’s what I see when I stand out there. I see hope. I see relationships. I see people who used to be strangers who are now holding each others’ babies and know the names of each other’s pets. I see kids running around and people looking at art. I hear you making plans for later in the week, and
I see new people being invited to come back or to go grab lunch. Sometimes one of you will come up to me and let me know how I can pray for you or tell me about your mom or just give me a hug.
The 15 minutes after service are some of the most encouraging 15 minutes of my week. Because in those 15 minutes...I’m reminded why we do this thing called church. I’m reminded why this matters.
As a pastor, I need that reminder. But honestly, we all do. We need to know that what we do matters and that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. That we’re part of something bigger than the calendars, the to do lists, the driving back and forth, or even the season we find ourselves in.
And in the Scripture we read today, we get a glimpse of how knowing that you’re part of something bigger can make a difference. We’re looking at the story of John the Baptist. And John was unique because kind of his whole deal was that he was there in order to make a way for Jesus. His whole mission in life was to shine a spotlight away from himself and on to Jesus. He did a lot of ministry, but it wasn’t about him and even though he had a lot of followers, even though he was kind of a big deal in his own right and had created this movement, even though the Bible says John had disciples of his own...even though all of that was true, for John, it was always about something more. It was always about Jesus.
John’s story, in some ways, has a bit of a disappointing ending. He’s put in prison by Herod, he ends up being executed, and while he is in prison, knowing what’s probably coming, I’m guessing having a lot of doubt and uncertainty about what got him there, he sends word to Jesus. He asks him a simple question:
“Are you really the one?” And in that question, he’s asking...was I right about this? Was all of this worth it? And the way Jesus responds is kind of interesting. He doesn’t say, “YES.” which would have been enough. He doesn’t say, “John, you did so great bringing all those people to me.” Instead he told the messengers to “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
He gives him stories. He gives him something he can hold on to; he gives him hope that comes from seeing all the different ways God has worked through the ministry that John and Jesus and so many have done.
Jesus knew that those stories answer the question. Those stories make it worth it. Because stories of changed lives, stories of hope, those are things worth taking risks for. Those are things worth dreaming about. When we talk about our vision as a church, it can feel BIG. And so I want you today, to hear not just the vision that we’re claiming as a church, but I
want you to hear these stories. Because the stories make it worth it.
So, two years ago, our pastors and some key leaders from St. Luke’s gathered for a months-long strategic visioning process. And we had a lot of questions. We were in a so-called “post covid” world, SO much had changed. More people were worshiping online than in person...there were just a lot of questions of what does it mean to be The Church in a world we have never experienced before? I know you’ve probably asked that question in whatever field you’re in, or in your personal relationships, or your parenting. What does it just mean to be a HUMAN in this new world?
So we were holding these questions, and with these questions we knew one thing—Jesus was still at work. Even if it didn’t look like we would expect, even if it would challenge us to try new things and get uncomfortable, we knew this was what we could trust. And so as we prayed, and visioned, and strategized, this vision statement came to life: (SLIDE) To be an explosive force of God’s radical, inclusive, and just love, reaching hundreds of thousands of people especially those who have given up on church or the possibility of a God who loves them.
Now, ok: hundreds of thousands is a HUGE number. You might think, there’s like 150 people in this room! But again, this is where it comes back to us being part of one church in a lot of different places. Not just multiple campuses, but online, we have so many chances to connect with people beyond just this
hour on Sundays. And the question I’m always asking when I think about this vision is, “who isn’t here yet that could be? Who needs to know that God hasn’t given up on them, and that there is a place to ask questions, to grow, to rest, to just do faith in a way that feels safe?”
And so it’s out of those questions and that big vision, that 4 main areas of focus emerged, to help us live into the kind of church we want to be. (SLIDE): City Impact, Equipping Disciples, Inclusive Expansion, and Multi Site.
There’s a question that I often hear churches ask: if your church closed tomorrow, would your community notice? I think that is a question that really embodies our (SLIDE) City Impact work. The team behind this work put it this way: we want to change the lives of families from birth to adulthood by establishing a community hope center that targets the tangible causes of infant mortality. And it all starts with diapers.
You know, I remember when diapers first came to the visioning process, I think a lot of us were surprised. But we learned so much about why diapers matter. Has anyone here ever had a child in daycare? If you have, you know that daycares require you to bring your own diapers...and no diapers means no daycare. Our team discovered that 3 out of 5 parents miss work or school because of lack of diaper supply.
And when diapers are scarce, parents are forced to make decisions. Sometimes they reuse diapers, which can lead to sickness. Sometimes it forces too early potty training, which can
lead to abuse. And it’s a hard problem to solve because diapers aren’t covered by government programs.
So our City Impact team got to work. And since this vision, we’ve created Hub for Hope: a place where people can come to connect and receive the diapers and services they need. We’ve distributed over 200,000 diapers into our community through the CCFP and Hub for Hope. Beyond that, we’ve worked alongside the IN Diaper Bank by supporting their clients with 100,000 diapers. We’ve hosted baby showers for expectant mothers coming out of homelessness, including one right here at Midtown!
Lives are being changed through this work, and I want to share with you Qwana’s story, one of the moms who visits Hub for Hope’s Diaper Pantry every month:
(SLIDE) Qwana is a single mom of three, a 4-year-old and a set of twins who just turned 3. Every month she comes in, grabs a snack, sits down while the kids go straight to the play area. She’s able to take a moment and relax, connect with friends, and just have a minute to breathe.
Qwana shared that with 3 kids she used to have to map out different times and locations of other diaper pantries. She would have to go from place to place hoping that they had the sizes she needed. Through our diaper pantry, Qwana has not only found hope but she is giving hope as well. She tells as many people as she can about the diaper pantry! At each distribution, we see parents, siblings, grandmas, and social
workers often waiting up to an hour before we open. As they come back month after month, we are building a bridge, one diaper at a time, to connect them to St. Luke’s, where they can find hope for themselves.
In just a few weeks, we will get to do a diaper drive to support the work of our Diaper Pantry as well as the Indiana Diaper Bank, which is just a few miles from here. It seems simple, but by bringing in diapers during this drive, YOU get to be part of our City Impact Vision.
A second piece of this vision is something we’re calling (SLIDE) Inclusive Expansion. This piece of the vision describes so much about who we are as a church. We are an open community of Christians and being an intentionally open, inclusive Christian community is at the heart of our DNA. And that openness has shown itself in so many different ways: through LGBTQIA inclusion and affirmation, through our antiracism work, and those things all made a lot of sense to us. But over the last two years God did something that surprised us in the best way. God put it on the heart of Crystal Hensley to start a Special Need’s Ministry to create a safe space for kids, students and adults who are neurodiverse, as well as their families.
(SLIDE) Josh and Haley Bring found St. Luke’s when looking for a new church that has special needs support. They started attending a year ago and found a place that could welcome their 3-year old son, Elijah. Then Josh’s dad, Peter, moved here from out west to be with his family and he started attending St.
Luke’s. Josh and Haley also attend the parent's monthly small group, their kids were baptized this winter, and Peter became a member of the church and sings in the choir. Through our commitment to making space for ALL people, an entire multigenerational family has been able to make St. Luke’s their church home.
And as people connect to St. Luke’s, the third piece of this vision becomes so important: (SLIDE) Equipping Disciples. One of the things we believe SO strongly is that growing in our faith MATTERS. Our faith should intersect with every part of our lives—our work, our parenting, our friendships, the ups and downs...it’s more than just what happens in this room. And so when we say we want to equip disciples, all that means is that we want to help people grow in their faith and be more like Jesus. We want to create chances to be formed here so that we can be people who live in that formation in whatever our real world looks like.
(SLIDE) Kristina Welch is someone who felt that nudge to keep growing. If you were with us in June, we had a week where we talked about women in ministry. After she heard that sermon, she started to feel like she wanted to get more involved. And two weeks later there was a call out for people who might lead Disciple Bible Study. Now, she didn’t feel qualified, she didn’t know if she was ready, but the door opened and she felt the nudge, and she has been leading a bible study group all year.
And the truth is, so many of you could tell that same story. You’ve stepped into leading and growing, being in community with others. Sometimes it has been scary—you've been hurt by a church in the past, you’ve had doubts about if you could get back in and serve here. And so I want you to know how grateful I am for when you’ve said yes. I know it’s a risk. I know it can be a tender place. I also know that our community of faith is better because you’re part of it. And you might start with a Lenten Group—these are small groups that kick off next week, meet for 5 weeks, and are a safe and fun way to explore your faith. You can stop by the connection center after or go to our website to find your group.
And I guess talking about finding your place is a good way to transition to our final piece of this vision, (SLIDE) Multi-Site. So, friends...you are living, breathing proof of this vision come to life! We launched the Midtown Campus in December of 2022, through the hard work and investment and prayers of 75 launch team members. In 2023, our average worship attendance was about 120...and as you can see, the room is getting more full. We’ve been running in the 140s since 2024 started and have seen growth in our kids and student ministries too.
And that growth is because of people inviting more people in. I think of people like (SLIDE) Angel, who attended Starting Point on her first Sunday and then kept connecting in a class on deconstructing and reconstructing faith. When she came back,
she brought a friend. Then, they brought another friend. And so many of you could say the same thing. You’ve been part of this community, you’ve experienced why it matters, and you’ve invited others to be part of it too.
And so we’re growing. And as we grow, as we fill this room, one of the things we’re praying about for the year ahead is adding a second service time, so that we can keep making room for more people to experience this God who loves them and the idea that church can be a safe and good space. This isn’t a moment for timelines and specifics...we’re not quite there YET. But this is a moment for preparation and prayer. And so I want to invite you to be in intentional prayer for this growth. I want to invite you to pray about what your role might look like as we dream about this future next step for our campus. Pray about how you might serve. Pray about who you might invite. Pray about what YOU uniquely can do to keep making room for more people.
Because at the end of the day, this vision that we get to live out...it’s always about that. Making room for other people. There is a story of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. Eventually he got to the point where he was unable to attend their yearly meeting, and he was so grieved by this. He wanted to be with the pastors and leaders, he wanted to encourage them in their work. And so he decided to send a message—now, at the time, a message came in telegram form. But when he went to send his message, he realized he couldn’t afford the whole message. And as he cut it down, it was still so
expensive, to where he finally got to the point where sent a single word. One word, that would be read in front of the whole conference. One word that was the MOST important thing he could remind them of, as they thought about their vision, their WHY behind the work.
That one word was (SLIDE) Others.
I think that’s the key to everything we’re talking about today. It involves us, but it’s not ABOUT us. It’s about OTHERS. It’s about reaching people who need to know that they are loved and that God is for them.
We get to do that work. And sometimes we need a little reminder, a prompt. So as we sing our closing song, I want to invite you to come grab one of the key tags that simply says “Others”.
Invite people to stand, Mindie prays over this vision and our part in it, band starts song.