Word of the Week

Who We Are

Over the past couple weeks of sermons, I've have been hoping through my preaching to articulate a vision for who I am as a pastor and who we are as a church.


I got a lot of help in planning for my first month here from Adam Hamilton’s book: Leading Behind the Walls. (I had the privilege of meeting Rev. Hamilton at a conference last October. He is rock star in the Methodist world as he is pastor of Resurrection UMC in Kansas City, the largest UMC in the United States. Thus, I believe he knows a thing or two about growing a congregation in the right ways . . . )


He suggested that there are three main questions that any church should ask itself as it thinks about why it exists: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) Why do we need the church? 3) Why do we need this church?


I modified his questions a little and formed them into four weeks of "Beginning Together" messages. The first sermon's title asked the question: "To be a Christian?" Last week spoke about the need for the church's existence. And, next Sunday will focus on how God can use us in response to our uniqueness.


But, this week, the theme of the message came out of the third of Hamilton's three questions: "Why This Church?"


I have to say, it was a delight to write my sermon this week because with every word I wrote, I was reminded about how happy I am to be a part of a congregation that is so uniquely needed the era of so much distaste about organized religion. I truly believe that there are people out there (and you might be one of them) that needs to know about my church in all that it stands for.


I thought I'd share a portion of it here as several church members commented to me after the service: "That's the first time anyone preaching here has ever described who we are correctly." The scripture story I told was taken from Acts 10 with an emphasis on verse 34.


. . . Washington Plaza Baptist Church. A community that was founded as Baptist congregation, but where all residents knew they were welcome.


A community that has historically stood up for justice—affirming the gifts of women in ministry, helping the homeless, celebrating beautifully great Civil Rights workers of our time like Martin Luther King, Jr. and welcoming any who come in these doors.


A community where you don’t have to have agree with everyone else to be accepted. A community unlike any other in Reston and I dare say in the Northern VA area—so much so that we have regular attendees who drive miles each week to be a part of what we are.


A community where you can come with all your questions, all your uncertainties, all your burdens and find hope that there are people here who love you and want to care for you.


My new friends, this is what being church is all about. This is the kind of church that I knew I wanted to be the pastor of. This is the kind of church that I am proud to be the pastor of. This is the kind of church that the community needs to know is here.


So, why this church? Our mission focused on service and justice, our welcoming fellowship, our hopes for being an even greater presence in the Lake Anne neighborhood is exactly what Reston needs. We are the only Baptist presence of our kind in Reston!


This is a truth I believe with all my heart: our church is exactly what so many people are looking for, yet they are sitting at home this morning thinking it doesn’t exist.


We are not a congregation that looks exactly like our neighboring churches. We are not repeating something for the 20th time that has already been done. We have great purpose in our uniqueness. We are living the dream of what so many great saints of the past wished they could see.


And though we may not be the type of congregation that grows to have thousands of members one day with our own parking deck, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t important. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing something very valuable and needed for those who choose to join us.


We are, my friends, in our existence, living and sharing with others, Peter’s proclamation: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”


This is the message God has given us to share with the world that even as we face this New Year with all its problems, all its hurts, all its collapsed dreams— our community has the answer: love. Just as the American journalist turned social activist for the poor and homeless, Dorothy Day once said: “The only solution is love,” so this church must continue sharing this message. Our doors need to be open to provide such a hope.


How will then, people know that we exist? Why will this church have a future?


“They will know we are Christians by our love.”


No matter what we face in our future- it is our love that will continue to allow us to shine. Our love will make all the difference. Our love will bring new people to us. Our love will help us meet community needs. Our love will carry us on for years and years to come.


Thanks be to God for such a love and such a beautiful community to live out our faith.