Day of Celebration and Vision (in case you missed it)

The day after the State of the Union Address, I read an on-line article entitled, “The Illusion is Over.” It was pointed out in the article how President Trump chose NOT to shake House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand upon entering the congressional chambers, and then how Pelosi chose to publicly tear up the President Trump’s speech right behind him as he finished his address. Much has been said about these two intentional acts that played out before the public’s eye. In the article I read the next day, I read these words: “We are finally able to see ourselves for who we truly are…..because, in last night’s State of the union address, there was no such illusion of civility or a rising above partisanship for the sake of a common cause. The customary pretense of civility gave way to what was a more honest reflection back to us of who we are…..and that is, we are a deeply divided nation. We can no longer escape this current situation….we are really that divided.”

After watching The State of the Union address and then reflecting upon the above words from the article I read the following day, a question began to follow me around like stray kitten that I had just given a bowl of warm milk: What are we, people who claim the Christian faith and choose to follow Jesus, what are we going to do? What are we going to do in a landscape where we are CLEARLY divided and that any illusion of civility is long gone? What are WE going to do? What am I going to do? Of course, there are several ways we could respond.

One response to our current landscape is that we keep on doing the same things and somehow expect different results. From my years in the recovery community, I know this idea is typically referred to as the definition of insanity…..just keep on doing the same things over and over again, and somehow expect different results.  Through my own personal life experience, and through the wisdom I have gained as a pastor, I can tell you that I have learned that THIS NEVER WORKS. A second response to our situation is to simply do what many other people are doing in our nation……pick sides and surround ourselves with the voices that our preferred news channels and news feeds force down our throats. Albeit this can be fun and build comradery with folks who are like us, this response will NEVER bridge the widening divisions in our culture. A third response could simply be to draw away from it all, seclude ourselves from the world in our closed-off Christian communities, and try to pretend that this stuff is really not happening. Christians have done this in the past, and albeit it may feel good for the Christian to stick his or her head in the proverbial sand, such a response stands in the face of Jesus’ example.

OR, we can choose to enter into the middle of the chaos and the division as followers of Jesus, NOT in such a way that we pretend our differences don’t exist, but in a way that seeks to follow Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor vigorously, relentlessly, passionately, and selflessly. No matter what our difference may be. No matter what political parties we support. No matter how we think on the hot-button social issues of our day. To enter all of it in the Spirit of our God who is love.  

Jesus knew that his followers were eventually going to be set against one another.  And so, recorded in the 17th chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus prayed fervently that God would make us ONE in love, just as He and the Father are ONE. We are people of ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE love. We are a part of ONE body, which makes us ONE with each other, and Jesus calls us to be ONE in ministry to the world. Jesus prays for us…….that we may be ONE in love and grace. How do we do this? We can begin by drawing closer to one another, setting aside our difference, spending time listening to one another, and reaching out to one another in love and service. And this “one anothering” is not just for those of us in this room, albeit that’s part of it. But our “one anothering” is a call for us to draw closer to OTHERS, to people at our work, in our neighborhoods, attending our schools, in the aisles of the grocery stores, on the sides of the road….to draw closer with THOSE persons that are not necessarily like us.

SO, we are going to need to be something DIFFERENT from what this world has to offer. Jesus prayed over his disciples, clearly stating that they are “not OF this world.” Jesus asked God to simply keep sanctifying them in God’s truth and to keep them from evil. Paul also speaks into this relationship we are called to have with this world when he writes in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to the ways of this world, but rather be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern God’s will…..what is good and pleasing and mature.” This transformation can only happen by the power of God, by following in the ways of Jesus while keeping our eyes on Jesus, and by asking for the presence of the Holy Spirit to fall afresh upon us, both as individuals and as a church. Come Holy Spirit! 

I have enjoyed being the pastor of Powell Church the last 20 months. Shortly in my time here as your pastor, I quickly realized how much Powell Church has been through a lot in the last 3 years or so. And a lot of it has been difficult, a lot of it has been frustrating, and a lot of it has been unsettling and has created a whole lot of uncertainty. And I know that, in the midst of it all, some divisions have crept in; Powell Church has been faced with a number of significant challenges. In seeking new directions and a way through it all, we have made and are still having to make some hard decisions. And, of course, mistakes have been made, incorrect steps have been taken. We are human, and not a one of us is perfect. But through it all, God is God, God is faithful, God is good, and God has brought us HERE today.  And I believe God is doing something new and beautiful, and I believe from the depths of my heart that God is going to continue His Kingdom work and ministry in and through a group of believers who call themselves Powell Church. That’s us!

I believe God is calling us out of a place of struggle, challenge, pain and division; I believe God is calling us into a place of unity and hope and kingdom work and vision! I want to celebrate what God has been doing and share a little bit more from my perspective as to what God is laying out before us in 2020 so that we may continue to reach people for Jesus, make disciples, and meet the needs of people.  

  1. We will continue to emphasize connecting people to Small Groups for the purpose of growing as disciples in our faith. Such groups that are meant to care for one another, encourage one another, correct one another, and serve alongside one another. We are going to continue that push right into this new decade! Over a year ago, I cast a vision to have 60% of our worshipping body to be involved in some sort of ongoing small group community. In August of 2018, about 10% of our worshipping body was connected to a small group community. Today, that number has nearly doubled with a lot of work and effort put into this initiative by Brooke Hartman. We currently have 30 small groups. Recently, Brooked and I had a discussion with another person who is willing to come alongside of Brooke to help in this endeavor. And I want to introduce Brandy Williams who will now be assisting Brooke with some of the administrative oversight and communication within our small group ministries and with our small group facilitators
  2. Secondly, I want to Celebrate the ministry of the Food Pantry. With the help of several grants, the generosity of some grocery stores in our community, and by working with the USDA program with the help of Second Harvest Food bank, we have been able to increase our ability to feed people a larger number of people our community with very little additional cost. In the last 20 months, we have been able to nearly double the number of people we serve. Joe Brawley spearheaded a number of these initiatives, and now the food pantry is moving into the future with new leadership provided by David & Lynn Bartlett, and by Chick & Pat Jennings. In the year 2020, we are getting ready to embark on a much needed expansion of the Food Pantry space for food storage space while also creating a more hospitable and welcoming space for persons needing assistance.
  3. I also want to celebrate the ministry of our Clothes Closet, and I want to express words of appreciation and gratitude for Teresa Long. Teresa ran with this vision over 7 years ago, collecting, organizing, and distributing clothes that gave been generously given by our church body for those who have clothing needs. Clothes are given out on the third Saturday of every month at no cost. Teresa is transitioning out of this role, and there is current need for some new leadership in this ministry area which meets the needs of many people every month. Please let us know if you or your small group has interest in this very important ministry of Powell Church. 
  4. This past summer, we received from the Holston Conference a “new” building. The building is the place of worship formerly known as Bethel United Methodist Church on West Emory road in between Powell and Karns. There have been discussions around the possibility of hosting Hispanic ministries and worship services to our community (we have been in discussions with a United Methodist pastor to the Hispanic community). We are still dreaming, however, as to what is God might be putting before us with this “second campus” just 5 miles away from our main campus.
  5. I also want to celebrate the grief recovery opportunities given to the scope of our ministries this past year through Powell Church’s Recovery ministry.  With the assistance of some grants, we have been able to enter into a partnership with Joy Gartner for the purpose of developing grief recovery groups that help meet some significant needs in our community; we look forward to continuing this ministry partnership in 2020 and moving forward. Through past experiences and in conjunction with some conversations I have had with our staff team and others within our congregation, I am looking at a vision for expanding this ministry for the future in the direction of Stephen’s ministry, a one-on-one ministry designed to create opportunities to connect with people who are struggling through a crisis or place of grief and loss. If this sounds like a calling that God may be putting on your heart, please let me know.
  6. I have talked with our staff team and with a few others in our congregation about a vision for a more robust senior adult ministry in the community, both on our church grounds AND at other locations in our community where senior adults live. We already have a presence at Candlerigde Plaza Apartments (a housing community for seniors aged 62 and older that is part of the Volunteers of America which seeks to help the most vulnerable in our nation, which includes the elderly, veterans, and persons coming out of homelessness) and at Morning Point Assisted Living. There is more we can do with a growing Senior Adult community in our midst. Please let us know if you would to become a part of that conversation.
  7. There’s an emerging vision for changes to our contemporary worship center and the traditional sanctuary to help create more engaged worship experiences. We will be updating appearances, improving technical needs, and modifying some of the spaces to better meet the worship needs for weekly worship and events. I also have a vision for a full-time staff position for worship leadership. I am grateful for the interim leadership provided by Rob and Kim Mason (with the help of Karin Self) over the last three years to ensure vibrant and relevant worship music and leadership have been provided since having a designated staff position for worship leadership. I anticipate such a position to be reinstated at some point in the next year or two .
  8. I have a vision for streaming worship services as a means of reaching our community with the love of Jesus and meeting people in our community with a more robust and comprehensive online presence. People shop churches online in the 21st century; what we present to people is important and should be excellent. A more robust online presence inclusive of live-streaming is a major avenue for communicating and connecting with people who are looking for Christian community and a place to call their Church home. We are also going to repair our road sign to help communicate mission and ministry with people travelling on Emory Road
  9. I have a burning vision for a more vital presence of ministry OUTSIDE the walls of this building. Examples of such ministries already exist at Candleridge Apartments, our Highways and Byways homeless ministry, Operation Backyard (home repairs and Habitat for Humanity builds), our mission teams going to serve in Haiti and Guatemala. All of these current outreach and mission ministries can be strengthened and need to be supported by more resources and more people. AND we need to be TURNED LOOSE with new ideas! Recently, a new emerging “sewing ministry” (envisioned by the Sileno Family and to be discussed more in the next couple of months) is coming to fruition in order to provide modified pajamas for children at East TN children’s hospital who are undergoing cancer treatments and other medical procedures requiring adaptive clothing to allow such medical work to be less stressful n children and their families.  Please come to us and share your visions and plans for ministries outside the walls. Jesus spent most of his time outside of the temple and synogogues.  He did not NEGLECT going to synagogue for worship and study, but the majority of His ministry happened outside the walls.
  10. I have a vision for a level of financial generosity throughout our congregation that invites us to live into a new future of ministry where we are more deeply involved in God’s Kingdom work through the ministries of the church, involvement in our community, and reaching out to the world. We hope to NOT be governed in these new callings by the lack of financial funding. Rob Mason and Bethany Rudd have worked diligently to provide a clearer picture of a our financial situation, have identified places and ways to cut out unnecessary expenses (programmable thermostats, LED lights, etc…), and have assembled a budget that properly reflects our current financial situation. There will be new ways to connect with the financial ministry of the church in 2020, with new ways in which we disseminate financial information and new ways to give God’s tithe and offerings. I will also be working with our church leadership on some best practices in which we can help create a culture of generosity here within this body of believers at Powell Church.

Thank you for your commitment to God and the work of God’s Church in our community and to the ends of the earth! I am looking forward to seeing what God does in and through His people at Powell Church, and I am already celebrating the Kingdom work that is now and yet to come! Praise God from who all blessings flow!

Grace & Peace

Pastor Brad

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