Vision Sunday 2020 | Part 1
Good morning Chapel family! So good to be with you today. I hope you had a great Labor Day weekend. If you were with us last Sunday, you heard my good friend and Chapel elder, Ryan Olsen, preaching the message. I’ll tell you what: for a full-time engineer, that man can preach, can’t he? And it was a great message, about seeing the unseen realities around us. So if you missed it, I encourage you to go back and listen.
The Chapel family also experienced something very tragic last weekend: some very dear friends of mine and Norma Jean’s, and I know many of you know them as well, Paul and Tracey Dangelmajer, lost their 28-year-old son, Alex, over the weekend—just a completely unexpected medical issue. So obviously the family is devastated and grieving, and they’ll gather for a service tomorrow. They firmly believe they will see their son again, because they follow a God of resurrection. But that doesn’t take away the pain right now. You know, we talk a lot about the Chapel being a family, and families don’t just share the fun stuff together; they walk through the hard stuff as well. So please join me in praying for Paul and Tracey, and their daughter Tess, and if you know them personally please reach out and help share this burden as best you can. In fact, I’d like us to just pause and pray for the Dangelmajer family right now…
This fall I begin my 25th year serving at The Chapel, and in that time I’ve preached at least 15 Vision Sunday messages…but never one like this. What’s happening in our world is so unlike anything that’s ever happened in our lifetimes, that—to use a football analogy—the playbook we were using before isn’t going to work anymore. Now, our message doesn’t change at all: we continue to proclaim the only true hope of the world, found in the death and resurrection and life of Jesus. That never changes. And The Chapel’s mission doesn’t change: we are still all about building a family of Christ-followers who love God, love people, and serve the world. That’s as relevant as ever. But the way we carry out that mission, and the way we communicate that message, looks very different now than it did this time last year. It’s kind of like school—did any of you go back to school last week, or have kids who went back to school? It’s still school, right? But it’s school unlike we’ve ever seen it. So much has changed. And it’s the same with church.
So over the past several months, the Chapel staff and elders have realized that we are in this new reality—not only because of the pandemic, but also because of the racial issues in our country, and the fact that we’re in a very contentious political season, and the rise of secularism in our country, following in the footsteps of Western Europe. It’s just a uniquely unusual time. So we’ve been praying and talking about how to best seize this moment for the gospel and be the church that God has called us to be. And we are honestly really excited to be here at this moment. And I actually have so much to share that I cannot contain it in one Vision Sunday message! So this week is Vision Sunday, Part 1; next week is Vision Sunday, Part 2.
So...over the next 2 weeks, here’s where we’re going—I’m going to paint the vision in one sentence:
This season, The Chapel will be refreshingly non-political, highly relational, and defiantly hopeful. Let me say that one more time: this coming ministry year, The Chapel will be refreshingly non-political, highly relational, and defiantly hopeful. I’m going to talk about the first two things today, and the third one next week.
So, today’s Scripture reading is found in Acts chapter 2, verses 42 through 47. Hear the Word of the Lord…
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. This is the Word of God.
So this coming season, The Chapel will be, first of all, Refreshingly Non-Political. Have you noticed that, in our current cultural climate, everything is politicized? Everything, right? It seems like there are no neutral topics, or neutral people. If you support mask-wearing, you must be a liberal; if you resist mask-wearing, you’re a conservative. Dr. Fauci: he used to be the hero of the Republicans; now Republicans have disowned him and Democrats love him. If you support the police, you’re conservative; if you support Black Lives Matter, you’re liberal. Border security, conservative; welcoming refugees, liberal. And the list goes on. So it seems like it’s impossible take a nuanced view, where you support some parts of the more progressive agenda, and some parts of the more conservative agenda. You’re not allowed to do that. You’re either on my side, or you’re on the wrong side. Everything has become politicized.
Families have become divided. Anybody had any nasty debates at your dinner table? Labor Day barbecues were ruined because someone couldn’t resist wearing their MAGA hat or their Biden T-shirt. I know family members who literally aren’t speaking to one another because they disagree politically. How do you think God feels about that? The God who said, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”?
One of the most troubling aspects of this political climate is the “cancel culture.” You’ve probably all heard the term. “Cancel culture” means that if you’re not on my side of an issue, not only do I disagree with you; I will do my best to shame you and silence you. That approach—the act of shaming and canceling someone—is always based on self-righteousness.
There’s a parable that Jesus told in Luke 18, about a two guys who walked into the Temple—a Pharisee and a tax-collector. Pharisees were the most religious people of the time; tax collectors were the most notorious sinners. And he said the Pharisee stood up and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” That’s the prayer of a self-righteous person. “Thank you that I’m so much better than those guys.”
I see this online all the time: “Lord, thank you that I’m not like these Trump voters. Thank you that I’m not so dumb and ignorant, like they are.” That’s self-righteousness. “Lord, thank you that I’m not like these Biden supporters. Thank you that I’m not so godless and sinful like they are.” That’s self-righteousness: labeling people, assuming the worst about them, and celebrating your superiority over them. And then, when 50 of our self-righteous friends give us a thumbs-up on our post, we feel even more smug and justified in our shaming. And here’s what I’m saying: as a church, that is not, and will not be, what we are about.
Sometimes I see people at political conventions, or people who go to see a candidate speak. And they’re so worked up—they’ve got the T-shirt; they’ve got the sign; and they’re almost delirious in cheering for their candidate. It feels very religious! It’s almost like they believe that if their candidate wins, injustice will cease; crime will stop; world hunger will end; peace will be ushered in; the Jets will win the Super Bowl. Utopia on earth! But I can promise you that no matter who wins this November, in four years—if we’re still here—there will be another election. And people will say, “This election is the most important one we’ve ever had.” Because the problems we face are too complex, and human nature is too complex, to be solved by any candidate over the next four years.
But beyond that, here’s the bigger issue: the deepest problem we have is not a political problem. The deepest problem we have—the thing that keeps us from experiencing shalom in our own families and communities—is not a political problem. It’s a spiritual problem. So it’s not a problem that can be solved by getting the right person in office. We don’t need somebody who can change laws; we need somebody who can change our hearts. We don’t need the right person in the White House; we need a Savior.
So this season, on behalf of The Chapel, I am renewing our commitment to be non-political. One of my biggest nightmares is for someone to come to our church, or go to one of our groups, and to walk away saying, “Yeah, that’s pretty much a Republican church.” Oh, that makes me cringe! Or for someone to listen to one of my sermons, and walk away saying, “Yeah, that’s a liberal church.” That would kill me! Because what we are about as a church cannot be reduced to a binary American political system. Because the Kingdom of God is a distinct way of life that does not fit neatly into any one political party. The way of Jesus steps on Democratic toes and it steps on Republican toes, at different points and in different ways. This fall we’re going to be studying the book of Daniel. And one of the clear messages of Daniel is that earthly nations come and go, but the Kingdom of God will last forever. So make sure you’re not placing your hope in the wrong kingdom.
So, in a culture where everything has become political, The Chapel will be refreshingly non-political.
Secondly, this season, The Chapel will be Highly Relational. Back in the middle of March, the pandemic forced church services to move online. And I was so thankful that, a year earlier, we had already developed our online campus. So it was really a seamless transition for us—our tech team did their usual great work, Pastor John Dere continued serving as the online Campus Pastor. And right from the start, our online church attendance was through the roof: we had more people attending online than we previously had in person. And that was true of strong churches all over the country. That was six months ago. Since that time, churches all over—including The Chapel—have seen those numbers drop pretty dramatically. Now, let me be clear: there are still a lot of people joining our services through our online campus platform, plus Facebook Live and YouTube. There are also a lot of people who access our services at times other thanSunday mornings, so it doesn’t make sense to just look at Sunday mornings.
But even considering all that, online attendance is down from where it started. And the question is: why? Is it Zoom fatigue? Probably. People who are in online meetings all day might not want to do another one on Sunday. Could it be that some people find it awkward to sing sitting at home, looking at a screen? Maybe. Although I don’t really mind—I just embarrass my family. But I think I know the main reason. I think for a lot of people, even though they truly appreciate the worship and the message online, there’s a part of church that can’t really be duplicated virtually. It’s the stuff that happens in the lobby and the foyer and the café. It’s the stuff that’s not planned—where people share their lives and talk about their problems and make new friends. It’s times when a pastor or an elder puts a hand on someone’s shoulder and prays for their upcoming surgery. It’s all those unscripted moments when people feel noticed and valued, like family. And again, you can do some of that online! I’m just saying that for some people, it’s not the same. And they’re just dropping off. Maybe you’re one of those people who’s dropped off—and your spiritual health is suffering.
So what do we do about that? Well, we lean into relational ministry. We get extra creative in providing ways for people to experience true connection. In our passage from Acts, it says “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” So even with some continuing restrictions from the pandemic, we are working hard to create opportunities for people to meet together. Let me mention three ways you can do that.
The first is Live Outdoor Church. In case you didn’t know, today is the first day the Chapel is offering live, outdoor services. And I am really excited about that. Because for a lot of people, the thing that they’ve been missing—those unscripted moments of personal connection—this is the way they’re going to get back to that. There will be conversation and connection and prayer in the fields and parking lots of the Chapel Campus once again. Amen? Which is a beautiful thing. So right now we have a max of 275 people each Sunday, and that filled up really quickly for this first week. If you weren’t able to get in this week, we open up registration tomorrow morning for next Sunday, so if you want to come to live church, be sure to jump on and register. Join me in praying for good weather on Sundays; I don’t care if it rains the rest of the week, just pray for dry Sundays. Obviously, there will come a point when it’s just too cold to continue meeting outside; my hope is that by that time, the governor has raised the indoor limit to a point where it really makes sense to start meeting indoors.
Okay: the second way The Chapel will be highly relational this fall is through something new that we’re calling Home Church. In our passage from Acts 2, it says “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Some of you are tremendous hosts—you love having people into your home. But you’ve never had a higher purpose for it. And this is it. When you think about Sunday mornings, some people just aren’t ready to come back to large gatherings—even if it’s outside. So this is why we’re starting home churches this fall. I’m going to quote from Jackie Van Hook, who serves on our discipleship team:
A “Home Church” is a casual gathering with other people to watch the Sunday morning online service together. It’s as simple as opening up your home and inviting others to join you. As a host, you’ll be able to make your “Home Church” exactly what you feel comfortable with. When you register as a host, you’ll be able to tell us how many people you can safely (and comfortably) host in your home, the time you’d like to meet, any special information your guests might need to know about your home (pets, steps, etc…) and about your gathering, such as if you’ll include food and fellowship before or after, and maybe even have a short discussion on the message afterwards. This is also a great opportunity to reach out and share the love of Jesus with those in your neighborhood – feel free to invite your friends, neighbors, and/or co-workers. Watch and see what God will do!
For some people this fall, this is going to be the key to not only re-connecting with church, but making some really good friends. And I actually think some of our home churches will continue even after the pandemic is completely over. So right now we are recruiting home church hosts; go to the web site and select “connect” and Small Groups, and then choose “home church.”
Okay—one more way that The Chapel is going to be highly relational this fall is through Small Groups. When the pandemic started, small groups weren’t able to meet in person, so many of them met online. That was true for my small group—we got together on Zoom every Tuesday morning, and I have to say: for this group of really busy career guys, the online format made it more accessible to more guys. So my group really thrived online—it felt like kind of a lifeline during the lockdown. And I know some of you had similar experiences. But some of you are kind of “zoomed out.” So this fall, we’re happy to say that most of our groups will be meeting in person—with a small number of people, taking wise precautions. Some groups will meet outdoors—in backyards and at the Chapel campus. Most groups will be focused on our Common Ground study of Daniel, but we have a few specialty groups as well. And as usual we have coed and men’s and women’s options. I strongly encourage you to get connected to a small group this fall.
Every year on Vision Sunday we feature some new groups; let me tell you about two new group options this fall. The first one is for married couples; it’s being hosted by Les and JoAnn Wilson, in Pompton Plains, on Tuesday evenings in their backyard, and it’s handicap accessible. They’ll be following the Daniel series. Les and JoAnn are great people and very experienced leaders, so this is going to be a great group. If you’d like to join them, just go on the web site, click on “Connect” and “Small Groups”; choose “co-ed groups,” and say you want to join the Wilson group.
Let me tell you about one more, and this is one of our specialty groups. Two Chapel couples, Pete and Carrie Chmielewski, and Levi and Shannon Schmidt, are going to be hosting a group called “Be the Bridge.” You might have heard of this organization, which is inspired by a book called Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison. And it’s basically a biblical approach to addressing racial division in our country. So this is obviously crucial topic, and these are two couples who are passionately interested in it. I know what some of you are thinking. Because everything has become so politicized, some of you are thinking, “Oh—that’s a liberal group. They must be anti-police, and the must love riots.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a gospel issue, and these leaders are very non-political in their approach. This is going to be a powerful group, and it’s open to anyone. They’re going to be meeting every other Thursday evening this fall, outdoors at the Chapel Campus. If you’re interested, go to our web site, choose “connect” and “small groups,” and then choose “Be the Bridge.”
So, those are just two options; we have dozens of other small groups meeting this fall. Take some time this week, go on the web site, and get connected. And by the way, we tried something new last year, and it worked so well we’re doing it again. We call it the “grab a few friends” approach. All you to do is grab a few friends who want to be in a group together, and we’ll get you set up to make the group happen. This year, you’ll see on the Small Groups page that we’re calling these “Daniel Groups,” because Daniel had a few friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—and this fall we’re all about Daniel.
So: live, outdoor church; home church; small groups. You might be wondering, “So what about all the online stuff? Do we phase that out?” And the answer is, “Definitely not!” It’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and. Technology is here to stay, and we’re going to leverage it for God’s kingdom. Our tech director, Brandon Kingry, said this: “Someday, even after COVID is a memory, schedules will be full and there will inevitably be people that miss out on an event due to the busyness of life. …offering events online will give people more opportunities to connect beyond Sunday morning.” I love that. And Ingrid Flannery, our Director of Special Needs Inclusion, said this: “We’ve learned that technology is not a replacement for in-person gatherings, but it can provide inclusion for those who would otherwise be excluded.” Yes. So online gatherings might not be able to accomplish everything, but they accomplish a lot, and we’re going to keep using them and improving them.
Here’s what I want you to remember. Here’s, really, the shift that we’re making this fall. The Chapel will be focusing a little less on large events, and we’ll be focusing more on personal, relational connection. We are living in a time when the reputation of the church, and the reputation of Christians, is declining in our country. Do you realize that? When people think, “Who do I really trust?”, Christian churches are no longer high on the list. Why is that? Because a lot of people perceive the church as being phony…showy…manipulative…greedy…angry…overly political…anti-science, right? All kinds of negative things. And let’s be honest and say that over the years, we’ve been guilty of some of those things, haven’t we? So our culture has some reason for their suspicion.
But we know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is none of those things. It’s not phony or showy or manipulative or greedy or angry…it’s none of those things. So how do we re-engage our culture with a more pure gospel? One person at a time. One relationship at a time. Not by using impressive programs to wow our neighbors, but simply by loving our neighbors. We need to get more relational.
One of the most important things we did this summer was to commission our younger staff members with a project. So Ted and I and our older staff members were not included in this, initially. Only the staff in their 20s and 30s and very early 40s. And we said to them: here’s your opportunity. The Coronavirus pandemic is basically forcing us to press “reset” and reconsider everything we do. It’s time to dream “Chapel 2.0,” and we need our younger leaders to speak into this heavily. Coming out of this pandemic, what should the Chapel look like.
You know what their number one answer was? We need to get way more relational. They said: “Most of us, if we look at our own history, entered this faith not through a program or an event; we entered through a trusted relationship.” And that really resonated with me, because that’s my story. I mean, I was drawn to the gospel because I was loved by people who were already following Jesus. So the young guns on the Chapel staff had this very simple advice: in this new, post-pandemic world, let’s get a little less programmatic, and a lot more relational. I think they’re exactly right. Pastor Paul Klouse, who barely qualified for that younger group—so he was like the elder statesman of that group—said it like this: “I’m excited to see The Chapel and our people step up and be the church as we give away ministry opportunities to our people and empower them to serve their family, friends, and community like never before.” I love that.
This coming season, The Chapel is committed to being refreshingly non-political and highly relational in everything we do. And next week, I get to tell you about how, in a culture that is losing hope in so many ways, with depression and anxiety on the rise, we will be defiantly hopeful.
Guys, we are heading into a brand new season, and it’s going to look different from anything we’ve seen before. But I am so convinced it’s going to be a good season—because Jesus is alive, and as he continues to build his church, and he’s going to use us to do it. What an honor!
Rise for prayer.