© 2016 John Casimir O'Keefe

Vital Signs

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What is the healvitalth of your Congregation?

What are the vital signs?

There’s been a great deal of conversation lately centering on an idea of being a Vital Congregation. While the conversation is important, I think it’s becoming lost in the universe of church buzz words. Why? While a great many people are talking about it, no one’s willing to grab the bull by the horns and define what they mean. I recently had a conversation with a Leader in the UMC who told me, “Being a Vital Congregation is important, but we are encouraging each congregation to define what that means for themselves.” My first reaction was, “I can see that.” But soon, real soon, I thought “WHAT? No, what if a congregation felt that vitality for them was to just keep doing what they are doing what’s changed?”

Let’s start this conversation with defining vitality. Vitality is life. It is the life force that exists in every living thing; the word vitality is derived from the Latin word vita, which means life, so how can one ever see vitality as anything but life? It is living, growing, reaching, breathing, dancing, loving, caring, life. If we explore what vitality means in a biological reality, we realize that vitality is defined as a dynamic expression of life. Every living organism is expressed through a dynamic expression of self, of being. If we see individual Congregations as a living organism [and we should], the question becomes, ‘Can any congregation express vitality without the dynamic reach of self, outward in life?’ If we understand vitality as an expression of a dynamic life, the answer is NO. Because outside its own expression of life there is no expression of a dynamic system of life. Life requires vitality.

Vitality is not only the expression of life, being life itself, it is the expression of energy. It is a state of being, giving a continuance of life; it is present in all living things. Given that, we can say that if your congregation has lost its vitality, it has lost its life. For some, that can be devastating, but there’s always hope.

In Christ, there is always the hope of a resurrection, but that is going to take commitment on the part of all people and Leaders in the Congregation. It may sound impossible, but this means every single Leader, and person, must be on the same page – The author of Acts puts it this way, “The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind!” [4:32 MSG]; and when Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians he put it this way:

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. [2:1-4 MSG]

I have heard many small congregations say that they are too small, don’t have enough money, or they’re too old to do anything different. Vitality has nothing to do with the size of your congregation, noting to do with the money you have, noting to do with the average age of your members – it has everything to do with a willingness to get out of the building with a dynamic view of the world around you. Being a Vital Congregation has more to do with heart, then size, money, or age. Now I am sure you are asking, ‘How do we get our vitality back?’

I think the first step is to realize that vitality exists at the intersection of creativity and a desire to thrive spiritually. It is understanding the relationship to walk deeper with God while building honest and open relationships with those around us. It is not a program, it is not a catch phrase, it is not a project. It is life, it is seeing things differently, it is a willingness to move in areas that will cause you to cringe and run. It is the challenge of figuring out how one makes disciples in this age, and not in ages past. How one goes about it depends on the individual congregation, but vitality is not up for debate. It is asking yourselves, ‘How do we help people become dynamic disciples of Christ – without them becoming jerks?’

Second, I think all the people, mostly the Leaders, need to have the Spirit of Creativeness and Entrepreneurship.

The Spirit of Creativeness: In BoneYard; Creatives will change the way we lead in the church, and The Church Creative; how to become a creative gathering in the 21st century I focus on the need for Leaders to be creative, to go beyond the norm of what has been done and think of ways to do things very differently [this doesn’t mean adding a fog machine, and colored light, to your worship service]. Keep in mind, being creative is more than drawing pictures and coming up with cool ways to do a sermon. Being creative means you are willing to push the limits of theology, you’re willing to go to the edge – and over the cliff if need be. You are willing to question everything the Congregation is doing, and has done, and make the needed changes.

The Spirit of an Entrepreneur: Leaders need to be a people willing to take a risk, and be ready to fail. Over my years in ministry I failed many times, and with each failure I learned a great deal. One thing I have learned is that failing will not kill you, but it will focus you and direct you. To be vital, Leaders need to willing to fail. If you are in a congregation that is unwilling to have you fail, or if you feel that if you fail you will be fired, you will never risk it all, and you need to be able to risk it all.

To truly be vital, to truly express the dynamics of life, you need to take chances – live on the edge – question things that have always been done, or said – walk with the Divine, and be ready to fall, or raise.

[I can’t believe I have not posted here for a while – I have been posting on thenakedjesus.com]

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