You can watch a video of last Sunday’s message here. In it, three of our leaders talk about what we are calling “Our 2020 Vision”—what Northminster will look like in the year 2020. Then I give a message about how God entrusts the future of the church to us.
If you’d rather read than watch, here’s the CliffsNotes version of what I told the congregation on Sunday:
In John 15:1-2 Jesus says,
“I am the real vine and my Abba is the gardner. God cuts off any of my branches that do not bear fruit, but any that bear fruit God cuts back to make it bear more fruit” (my translation).
In the Greek of the New Testament, the words for “cut off” (airein) and “cut back” (kathairein) are very close. Jesus tells us that God cuts off—removes and throws away—every branch that bears no fruit. Every branch with potential for bearing fruit God cuts back—prunes—so that it can produce more fruit.
The fact is, each of us gets cut in life; the problem is, how do you know if God is cutting you off or cutting you back?
Say you go into work one day to the job you’ve held for 8 years, and they tell you some changes are being made at the company and that you no longer have a position. Are you being cut off or cut back?
Or you apply to the two colleges you would really like to attend, and your counselor insists that you also apply to a safety school that you’re not excited about. When the letters come, all three read, “Rejected.” Are you being cut off and thrown away or cut back so that you can blossom more fully?
A young woman sat in my office almost 20 years ago, and I have rarely seen such deep sadness. She and her husband so wanted to have a child, but they had experienced miscarriage after miscarriage. She felt that God had cut her off from her dreams. “What if you are being pruned?” I asked her. “Could God be using the adversity you are enduring to shape you into a better mother?” I think of that conversation almost every time I see her and her teenage son.
Churches get cut, too, and it’s hard for churches to know whether they are being cut off or cut back.
They estimated that 915 attended the first service in Northminster’s sanctuary back in May 1964. Two years before a committee had been formed to investigate new educational space because Sunday School attendance had climbed to 1400. By 1985, Sunday School attendance was 300, a 79% reduction.
How do you know if a church is being cut off—as in removed, thrown away—or cut back—as in pruned to foster even greater growth.
The truth is you, the members, get to choose. You are God’s hands and feet, God’s eyes and ears and heart. And Jesus’ Abba, the gardner, gives you the ability to determine whether the cutting a church experiences is a cutting off to be thrown away or a cutting back to foster greater fruitfulness. You, the members, get to choose.
A boy had grown up in a Buddhist monastery. By the time he was a young man, he resented that the Zen Master was always right. So he devised a plan to trick his master. He found a small bird and held it between his hands. He would ask his master, “Is the bird alive of dead?” If the Zen Master replied that the bird was dead, he would release it and let it fly away. If the Master said the bird was alive, he would crush it between his palms.
“Master, tell me, is the bird alive or dead?”
The Zen Master replied, “The bird, my child, is in your hands.”
This is what God is saying to you who make up the Northminster community. The future of this church—Jesus’ beloved bride, God’s hope for the world—is in your hands.