Preparing the Foundations
My first time to attend an annual meeting as a pastor, I forgot that I was supposed to give an annual report. I had only been a lead pastor for about two months. Near the end of the meeting, Cathy Williams asked if I had a report to share, and I said something profound like, “Uh, not really.” Every year since then, I've tried to spend some time thinking of an analogy or a story that will help us put the year in perspective. I've talked about zits and puberty, giant flies, Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, and how God answered a prayer I prayed while walking across a basketball court.
This year, I want to tell a story about some of the times I've worked with my Uncle John. If you think I'm crazy, you should meet my Uncle John! One year for Christmas, the women wanted to have a nice formal dinner, so they asked the men in the family to “dress up” and to put on some “nice clothes.” My Dad and Uncle John disappeared into the bedroom and came out looking like this. (silly picture) I distinctly remember them saying, “What?! We're wearing ties! What else do you want?” (They also had the nice 80's afros going, too.)
Uncle John is also an expert concrete worker. Sometimes during the summers or when I had free time in college, I would work with him doing the concrete work for new houses. The concrete truck drivers said Uncle John was so good that he could do jobs by himself that usually took 10 people to finish. When I helped Uncle John, I usually got all the jobs he didn't want – shoveling rocks, carrying steel, drilling into old concrete. But I also learned a little about what it takes to make a good foundation for a house.
Step 1: Clear and Level the Land. Before you can do anything else, you have to get rid of all the trees and junk, and you have to make the ground fairly smooth and level. No, I never got to drive one of those cool little bulldozers.
Step 2: Set the Forms. Once the ground is level, it's time to set the concrete forms. This is setting the boundaries for where the concrete will go and the shape it will take when you pour.
Step 3: Add and Level Gravel. After the ground is level and the forms are set, you've got to make a solid base for the rest of your work. Somehow you dump in the gravel, and then you use a shovel or a “come-along” - kind of like a hoe – to spread it evenly around the area. This was probably my most common job – because it requires the least skill.
Step 4: Drill into the Existing Structures. Whenever we were making a garage or a driveway, we always had to drill holes into the existing foundation. This would help the new piece attach to what was already there. We did this by using a huge concrete drill. With the bit, it was about 80 centimeters (2 ½ feet) long. Sometimes I went home with my arms and head still shaking because of the vibrations from the drill.
Step 5: Lay and Tie the Steel Rebar. Rebar is specially made steel that keeps the concrete stable and strong. You have to lay it out in a particular pattern and then tie it together with metal wires. If there's not enough rebar, the concrete will crack when the ground shifts and changes.
Step 6: Pour the Concrete. This is when it starts getting fun. The big concrete truck comes out, and you get to wear the cool rubber boots and get all dirty. You have to spread the concrete out and help it evenly and thoroughly fill the forms. Then, as it starts getting hard, you use a variety of tools to smooth it out so that it has that nice flat finish.
Step 7: Build the House. After you've done all of this work on the foundation, then you're finally ready to start building the actual house. But first you've got to do a good job on the foundation.
Instead of just reporting on what happened this year, I'd like to talk about the entire history of our church. Maybe this will help us get a better sense of the significance of this year. In many ways, everything we've done as a church so far has been simply preparing the foundations for the house that God wants to build here.
Step 1: Clear and Level the Land (1995-2001). In many ways, the first 6 years of our church was simply clearing and leveling the land. Our church started as a simple worship service in 1995. The primary goal of this worship service was to give the international teachers of KNU a place to worship in English. Through these six years, we have had 5 different pastors and sometimes no pastor at all. Often we struggled to survive and to keep going.
Step 2: Set the Forms (2001-2004). When John Bondy came to KNU, he quickly took the role of pastor of this struggling worshiping community. He was an experienced pastor, and he helped us make some significant steps. We began to identify ourselves as a congregation – maybe not yet a church – but something more than a group of people who get together on Sunday mornings. We also wrote a constitution to guide us, and we formed the first Advisory Council. We also began developing an understanding that our mission was something larger than the English speakers at KNU. In the spring of 2004, we sent a mission team to Indonesia. This was a great step in thinking and acting beyond ourselves.
Step 3: Add and Level Gravel (2004-2005). KNU asked Sarah and I come to Korea so that I could serve as pastor of this community in the summer of 2004. For the first few years, we were still trying to understand who we are. We did some soul searching and hosted some discussions to help us understand ourselves. Jean Johnson and Patricia Clark helped us write a history of our community up to that point.
During this time, we also made strides in several other areas. More and more people from outside the KNU community began attending our worship service. We had always had some people from outside KNU, but I think it was during time that we first had about 50% of our attendees from outside KNU. Our Advisory Council and our worship band also grew and strengthened.
Step 4: Drill into the Existing Structures (2006-2007). In 2006 we commissioned a Vision Team to complete our search for identity. They answered the call with a clear articulation that God is leading us to be a genuine church, not just a worshiping community. The Vision Team crafted our church motto: TO BE A LOVING COMMUNITY THAT CHANGES OUR WORLD.
Because of our growing identity and our growing attendance, we decided to move to Patch Hall, so that we could comfortably host more people on Sunday mornings. And we also made a big decision – which had its own set of conflicts. We decided to change the time of our worship service to . Up to this time, we had been meeting at 9:00 am, so that some of our people could also attend a Korean worship service. But we decided that God was leading us to be a church for people who didn't already go to another church. Most of them would be more likely to attend at a later time. Even though, some people strongly disagreed at the time, history has proven this to be a very good choice.
In 2007, we formally joined the Church of the Nazarene on the Korea National District. This was a big step for us, “cementing” our identity as a “real church.”
During this era, we also enjoyed an increasingly strong and diverse Advisory Council. In 2006, for the first time ever, we had more than one Korean serving on the Advisory Council, and in 2007 for the first time ever, we had several returning Advisory Council members. We also made progress in other ways. Our children's program grew by leaps and bounds, and Stan Martin helped us start Compassionate Hearts Ministries – a beautiful group, helping us reach out to those who need help right here in Cheonan.
Step 5: Lay and Tie the Steel Rebar (2008). This step is developing the supporting structures, which will hold us together and keep us strong. This year, we've made progress in a host of ways. Every team on the Advisory Council has grown in some way. We have made a new website which should be up and running any day now. We have increased stability in giving, attendance, and leadership. It seems like every week we are growing and becoming more diverse. But the biggest area of progress this year has been through the Planning Team. Our Planning Team identified our mission as the motto which we'd already been using: TO BE A LOVING COMMUNITY THAT CHANGES OUR WORLD.
The Planning Team also identified the three core points of our vision:
1) Renewed by God's Love
2) Multicultural Community
3) Global Change through Local Action
The Planning Team's full recommendations are part of the packet you all received tonight. It's pretty long, and the members of the team will give some highlights later. For now, let me just give you a brief overview of each of these points.
1) Renewed by God's Love means being renewed by God's love to love God, ourselves, and others. This will involve a lot of different stuff for us. First of all, it means that each of us needs to work to be healthy. We also need healthy families. We will also try to let God’s love soak into us so that we live out his love more in our daily lives. Finally, we are going to develop great leaders who will practice leadership here and learn skills that will help them and their churches wherever they go.
2) Multicultural Community means that we are embracing our diversity as God brings us together through Christ. Obviously, our church is very multicultural, but we want to make “multicultural-ness” and community core components of everything we do. To accomplish this part of our vision, we will need teams that focus on welcoming new people, hosting events and celebrations, forming friendship partners, giving support to our community, and getting out information and publicity about our church.
3) Global Change through Local Action means nurturing our local community to care for others here and abroad. We want to do this in two basic ways. First, we are going to work through Compassionate Hearts Ministries to reach out to the poor and needy here in Cheonan. Second, we want to form a long-term partnership with a poor community in another country. Instead of doing a little here and a little there, we will focus our efforts on improving lives, strengthening Christian community, and forming real friendships with one group of people in a struggling community.
Step 6: Pour the Concrete (2008-2009). This is when we put the finishing touches on our foundation. Part of that will happen right here in this meeting when we vote on the Planning Team's recommendations and when we vote about having a full-time pastor. We'll finish the rest of the foundation as we connect each part of the plan to one of the Advisory Council teams and set target dates for each goal or for portions of each goal. When we complete these steps, we will finally have finished our foundation for action.
Step 7: Build the House (2009 onward). This is when the real fun starts. Everything we've been doing up to now as a church has been building up to this time. We finally understand who we are. We finally understand where God is leading us. We finally understand what it will take to do what God is calling us to do. We finally have the resources to provide the leadership we will need to fulfill our vision.
This is the time. This is the dawn of a new era in our church.
This year is the time when we really and truly begin to live out our vision. This year is the time when we get to turn our plans into actions. This year is the time when we begin to make our dreams a reality right here in this place.
As we grow closer to God and closer to each other …
As we learn about each other and learn about our world …
As we become friends with each other and friends with our neighbors and coworkers …
As we learn to give and to serve more faithfully …
As love begins to saturate everything we do …
As our programs and structures and organic, unplanned activities all come together to make us better people together than we could ever be alone …
As we develop connections with people who live far from us but desperately need us …
As our worship services become more rich and full …
As our conversations become more real and honest and grace-filled …
As our lives become more relaxed …
As we have more and more fun together even as we give more and more together …
Then we will be a loving community that changes our world.
And we will look back on this time and say, those were some of the best years of our lives.