In his book, Becoming a Blessed Church, N. Graham Standish writes that many churches succumb to functionalism rather than openness over time. In other words, we focus a lot on the things we like to do and the things we need to do and forget to remain open to what God is calling us to do. Sure, sometimes those things overlap. We will always have important stewardship work to do to maintain our resources and be transparent through communication and decision making, but being a church is not simply like being a non-profit. We exist not for ourselves but for others. Standish says, “When the leaders of the church, both pastoral and lay, become awake, aware, and alive to God’s presence in their midst, they create the conditions for astonishing things to occur.” I shared during my Pentecost sermon that we are entering a year of waiting as a church, just like the disciples were asked to wait in Jerusalem in Acts 1. The disciples did not use that time idly. Their waiting was active and participatory. They elected a new apostle to the core leadership of their movement. They prayed, wrestled with scripture, talked, and organized themselves. They became, perhaps, “awake, aware, and alive” and the Holy Spirit did something astonish indeed. When the time was right, well, let’s let scripture speak: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” - Acts 2:1-4 (NRSV)
I can’t help but think about the multiplication that occurs at Pentecost - how God can take these handful of leaders and do so much more than anyone thought possible. Our own story at University Christian Church is filled with astonishing, Pentecost type experiences - from incredible ministries with our neighborhood like the Blessing Box and Day Center to vibrant youth groups, camp programs, bible studies, and worship. And I’m sure we can also point to times when we kept doing something just because it’s what we do, without pausing to wonder and wait on God’s Spirit to lead us in a fresh direction or breath new inspiration into that work. Maybe you have experienced that same tension at moments in your personal life. I know I have! In this coming mission year, we are going to be intentional about doing some active waiting, rooting ourselves in scripture and seeking to cultivate our ability to discern where God is leading. We will do that as part of our Future Story work which should be a lot of fun as we think creatively, talk to other churches, explore our community, and think through where God is leading us. But I think it is important for us to make sure we are cultivating that discernment in all aspects of our activity as a church - pausing for prayer and listening during our board meetings, asking our elders to wrestle with the places of hurt and pain in our church, and taking risks to let go as God moves us.
Our theme for the whole mission year will be “Grow Inward to Grow Outward”. We will be intentional in our work to be awake, aware, and alive to God’s presence. Likewise in preparation for that season, I am taking a sabbatical, a month and a half of intentional rest and renewal to be prepared to lead you in that journey. My sabbatical season this summer is a chance to wait. It will be an active waiting as I rest, renew, go on some hikes, spend time with family, grieve the loss of my father, and engage in fruitful conversation. Some of my work will be taking the next steps for my project proposal with my Doctor of Ministry program at Phillips Theological Seminary. Some of my waiting will be sleeping out beneath the stars in the great American west. I will be praying for you church, and I will be looking for my own burst of Spirit wind to bring me back with fresh insight and direction for our work at this intersection. I plan to preach on June 27 and then will hit the road with the family on the way to Oklahoma. I’ll be back in the office on August 17. During that time, our elders will receive any pastoral care concerns that need to be shared, including Sara Hindsley, Chair of Elders, and Marshall Dunn.
Our worship will continue in person and online with guest preachers, including some familiar faces and new faces. Gillian Marcus, our Worship Division chair, will provide some leadership in that time as well as Rev. Seungil Eo, our incoming Ministry Intern. Most importantly, I challenge each of you to join me on a sort of sabbatical journey, especially after the difficult year we have been in as we have endured a pandemic and faced grief together. Use our time intentionally this summer to rest and listen for God’s leading. We have much work to be done, but we don’t do the work to save our church or increase our budget. We do this work because the Spirit moves us to fullness and wholeness together.
Thank you for your continued generous support of our church. May we become awake, aware, and alive to the Spirit leading us forward.
— Rev. Nathan Hill
Some specific asks from your pastor:
- Pray for me and my family during our sabbatical. Pray for your church and our community too!
- Be faithful in worship attendance to listen for God’s word and feast at the table.
- Continue your faithful generosity to keep our mission moving forward.
- Start a new devotional reading plan or pick at least one book of the Bible to explore on your own. Keep a list of the questions and interesting verses you come across. I’d love to discuss them with you.
- Gather with our Thursday evening Bible Study.
- Carve out quiet time as part of your day to sit with God and just listen. Begin with 5 minutes then expand it.
- Think about creating a personal worship plan, picking a hymn or gospel song to sing with and guide your worship and approach on a daily basis.