University Baptist Church and I have embarked upon a one-year adventure in the heart of Austin, Texas. As the interim pastor, I am helping the congregation figure out its future. Below is the first in a series of letters to the church.
Peace and greetings to University Baptist Church!
It is good to be in this place. I can see that I have stepped into a special community. I am writing from the old building on Guadalupe, in the wing of offices that extend from the sanctuary. It is a good place to take in the view.
Through the window I see the church's courtyard and rose garden. Beyond is the traffic of the thoroughfare, people walking and cars moving. Across the street sits the university. I have seen some of the sights outside this neighborhood in the few days since I moved here, so I know a great city extends for miles beyond this place. I see much here in front of me; I know there is much yet to see.
Seeing is one way to define the journey we have embarked upon. We desire to discern what God is doing with this church. To discern is to see what's before us as well as what's beyond us. So it's a special kind of seeing. The Cambridge Dictionary says to discern is to “understand something that is not clear.” Sometimes the opaqueness, the fuzziness and the hiddenness of our life together in Christ is difficult to perceive, so our discernment will take time, patience, multiple eyes and multiple tries.
Over the next 12 months we will seek clarity about the future of this church. A vision will emerge, and this vision will clarify the future leadership that is needed.
What are the next steps? I see two.
First, a discernment committee of six leaders will be called together in the coming weeks. Their role will be to observe with me the congregation and our wider community, to notice signs of energy, to witness challenge and opportunity. The discernment committee will be looking for something in particular: the movement of the Spirit in our midst.
To begin, the committee will work with me to outline a process that fits with the habits of the church – the meetings, visitations, Bible study, meals, prayer, worship and service that already occur. Our process of seeing for understanding will not be one more activity for a busy people but an integration into existing activity.
Second, one-on-one conversations will begin now. While the discernment committee takes shape, I will meet with individuals over coffee, beer, or on walks.
I have blocked out some days in the next month for conversation. I hope you'll schedule time with me. ... I want to hear your story, and I want to ask what you see.
In the first letter of John, the writer says “it is not yet clear what we shall become” (3:2). And yet we look with hope, trusting, as the old hymn says, that “we'll understand it better by and by.”
I pray for God's blessings on our journey of seeing together.