Waiting for Leadership - Pastor April's Sermon - 11/24

Waiting for Leadership

Rev. April S. Blaine, Given on Sunday, November 24, 2013.

This morning we continue our early journey through the Season of Advent. just a couple of weeks earlier than usual –

And we talked about this season of Advent – this time of Waiting & time of Expectancy.

This time where we are waiting – standing between what has already come and waiting for a future that has not yet arrived.


How many of you in the room get excited before your birthday comes?  There is this sense of expectation that we have – and part of the reason is that we KNOW it’s coming.  We don’t just dream that someday we might have a birthday – there is this promise that the day WILL come and so we wait with anticipation and excitement – actively being prepared for that day.


The first promise we read from Isaiah Chapter 2 - last week was a promise that God’s future will be a future of peace.

A future where there is an end to violence, where we come to God to learn how to be – and where God’s judgments of our disputes results in unity – of all people – across the diversity. Not a dream.  A promise.


And so we wait – for this promise that is not here yet – we wait with expectancy – just as we wait for our birthday – because we can see it – because we can have confidence that God is bringing it into being – our waiting is not passive.  It is active.

Come, Isaiah said – while you are waiting – come and walk – walk in the light.


And so Isaiah has continued to speak to the Israelites.  He has warned them of the challenges ahead and returns again in our Scripture today to speak about this vision of peace.


Tell me again – in the second half of our Scripture today, beginning in v. 6 - what is added to this vision??


Isaiah’s imagery of this promise of peace will continue throughout the remainder of the book.  But he begins to develop an idea in Chapter 11 - about how this peace will come about.


This future of PEACE – it won’t just magically come into being – this future of PEACE will come about because the people of God have chosen the path to walk there.


Isaiah says that people will find the path to PEACE – because there will be a leader.  Who will help them find it.


A person.  A leader.


And He describes this leader – a leader who is marked by what?


This leader – their actions will diffuse violence, their judgments will level the playing field, their understanding and wisdom will nurture the kind of knowledge of the Lord in others that people who couldn’t fathom coming together – will be brought together in unity.


God will bring about this future of peace –by rising up a righteous and faithful leader, who is filled with God’s Spirit – to bring it into being.


Now, in the Christian tradition, we have very particular thoughts about who this leader was that Isaiah refers to.  Any guesses?


For us, Jesus embodies this promise of leadership in its fullness.  And yet the full day of peace – where the lion and the lamb lie down together has not yet arrived.


And so – in this Advent season - we stand between the part of the promise that has already come (in Jesus) and the promise of the future of peace.

And we wait with expectancy.


Now, there have been many instances in my ministry where the topic we are scheduled to talk about on Sunday has been strangely perfect and relevant to the events that have happened in the week prior.  I’ve stopped seeing this as a coincidence – knowing that God is somehow at work in the midst of it.


And this week was no different.  After talking about the promise of peace and heading into a week talking about the importance of the kind of leadership Jesus showed us – we have headed into a week here at Summit – that has been particularly challenging.  Particularly unpeaceful.  And a week that has tested all of our ability to follow the leadership of Jesus toward peace.


So let me tell you all some things that I should have told you in this venue a long time ago – some things about how we got here – and some things for us to pray about – about where we will go from here.


Two and a half years ago – this church took our first All Church Retreat in August of 2011.  We spent our day together dreaming big about the future of our church and creating a vision of where we wanted to go.

After some tweaking over the next few months, we ended with the vision statement you have in your bulletin – an intergenerational community of faith – known for building sacred and secular partnerships, cultivating spiritual growth, and transforming our neighborhood.


It is so appropriate to be remembering this work during Advent – because that work we did – it was about turning our faces – toward the future.  About recognizing that we were actively waiting and expecting a future that had not yet arrived.


On that same day, we set 6 important vision priorities for the next 5 years.

We chose 3 to tackle initially –

Our value statements

Our Infrastructure

And a Sustainable Budget

knowing that if we could make significant progress in those three that the potential to do effective ministry in the other priorities would be infinitely more possible.


And so we got to work on all three of them – creating an infrastructure for better staff and leadership accountability – and an intentional way of nurturing spiritual growth and discipleship at  Summit.


And with the help of about 30 different people - We wrote our value statement – which we ended up naming our Statement of Call in 2012 – it is included in your bulletin today.


There is some beautiful language here about the kind of inclusive community we want to continue to become.  And about what we will do - even when the conversations get complicated and difficult – and we’d really rather walk away from the table.



And for the past few years, we have been working to create a sustainable budget.

At the time, we had gotten into the bad habit of using our Endowment Fund – a separate investment fund created years ago.  It was created with the idea that the interest would be able to provide critical funding for programming.  But we were not just using the interest.  We were using the Principal.  More than $50,000 each year - Just to keep the operations going.

We knew that this kind of spending was not sustainable.   At the end of 2011, we made the commitment that we would not increase the amount we took from Endowment, but each year work to decrease the amount and also to find sustainable new revenue and sustainable cost cutting measures.


Our commitment to move toward sustainability with our funds is reflected in our values statement in the middle sentence in the third section.


-       We will spend and invest our financial resources in alignment with our vision for how the world could be, while being open and honest about the limits of our reach and the need to practice sustainability


We honored that commitment – in 2012’s budget – but we still had a budget shortfall of close to $40,000


So, for the last 2 years – we have worked overtime to bridge the gap.

We have cut costs and raise new revenue.

We created an annual event – Alumni Sunday – which, in its first year brought in $31,000.

We watched where every nickel and dime meant and managed to shave off another $10,000.  We did not give our staff a raise.

We had some events we hadn’t anticipated – in August of this year - Grecca Walker’s position of Youth and Family Outreach Coordinator ended and we chose not to re-fill that position.

And we were blessed with some additional income – from generous members who chose to give more

These changes have closed the budget shortfall gap of $40,000 that we faced two years ago.  But we have yet to move closer toward reducing the principal amount we are taking from our Endowment.


This Spring, we worked with a team of about 12 people from the community to conduct an internal audit of all of the ministries at Summit.  We looked at our worship, our small groups, our children’s and student ministries, our communications, and we looked at our budget – with a careful eye to where all the money was going.

One of the things we learned during this audit – was that per person who worships at Summit - our church spent more on staff than any other church in the entire conference.  There are 1200 churches in the West Ohio Conference.


We realized that this was something that we needed to take a closer look at.  If we were going to be the most densely staffed church in the conference – then – we needed to be sure – that Every staff position was essential to moving us toward this  new mission and vision that we had chosen as a community.


In the summer, we were approached by our District Superintendent about the possibility of doing a Staff Audit.  The District would help lead us through the process and the result would be a clearer picture about which staff positions we needed to keep, which we needed to change, and which ones we needed to eliminate.  We brought this before SPRC and Church Council, who both unanimously approved the process.


This process was led by our Assistant District Superintendent –but was carried out by the elected members of the Staff Parish relations Committee – the body of the church that is tasked with the hiring, evaluating, and dismissal of staff in the church.


Our SPRC Chair is Lori Schiefer – someone who, if you do not know her, I can’t say enough about her heart of compassion, integrity, and faithfulness.


Lori will share with you the process that SPRC went through and the decision that they reached.



Roger Grace, our asst. DS made up a questionnaire for the staff audit, with the assistance of the sprc committee.  Each staff member was interviewed and responded to this questionnaire.  Some of the questions were: how does your role connect with Summit’s mission and vision?  What are Summit’s greatest opportunities as a church, and why does Summit exist?

We were asked to decide if each staff person’s role matched their job description and if the person was doing their job well or needed growth.

Roger asked us also to evaluate every job description and then to look at all the staff positions, NOT the person in the position, and decide if each position was essential, helpful but not essential, or nonessential in helping with the mission and vision of our church which includes developing young leaders, ministering to vulnerable children and families, and promoting tolerance.  We then gave our responses anonymously.

When the answers were tallied, there were 2 positions that were viewed as less essential compared with the other staff positions.

Those positions were the desk worker coordinator and the organist.

We were saddened by these results.  We are a small enough church that we know and love each of our staff and didn’t want to see anyone leave. Our committee didn’t want to make these difficult decisions that we had been asked to make but we did.

With profound sadness, sprc voted to terminate the desk worker coordinator and organist positions.

We have included generous severance packages for Andy and Narmina and have asked them to continue several more weeks.

Andy and Narmina are both talented and devoted members of our staff and we will miss them greatly.


One of the best ways I think people have often described the Summit congregation is that we are a family.  We support and encourage and love one another – and the relationships that have been built in this place run deep.

It didn’t take me long when I became a part of this family – to feel the same way about each and every one of you in this room.


And when you are a part of a family – there are few things more painful than watching someone in your family in pain.


When someone in our family is in pain – we want nothing more than for their pain to stop.


And I have to be honest with you – as we have shared this news with all of you – as we’ve watched you respond with shock, and anger, and sadness, and tears…  everything in me has wanted to take away your pain.

To take away the pain I saw in Narmina and Andy when we shared with them the decision –

And to take away the hurt I have seen in each of you as I have watched you process and hear the news.


That’s just how it is when we love one another.  Sometimes that pain and that hurt is unbearable.

And we just can’t sit back and watch others hurt in that way.


It comes from a good place within all of us.  It comes from a place of love, concern, and compassion

And it also comes as a symptom of our own grief about all of this –


So we have to be honest about that response in us – to name it -


We wouldn’t be a family if we didn’t feel some of those raw and strong emotions.


And yet – what we also know about families is that they have to go through difficult seasons.  They have to go through times where there are hard conversations – where they have to face things together that they don’t want to face – that they have to deal with realities that are not what they had hoped and figure out what to do.

And those places are often painful


But we can’t run away from them.


The leader of peace – the one that Isaiah so aptly described in our Scripture this morning – Jesus our Lord – the one who has come and is still coming into our world has made a path and a way for us.


And the pathway to the peace that Jesus leads us toward is not one we can walk toward without walking through some of the hard places.


Avoiding the conflict will not lead us to the future that God has called us to.


When we made the decision 2 ½ years ago to live into our vision as a community – we were choosing to face ourselves toward the future – a future that would mean that things in our community would look different.


So we find ourselves in the hard place.

And my question for us today is not – whether we like the decisions that have been made –

But our question is – how will we respond?

How will we respond as a community?

How will we support our sister and our brother in Christ – in finding new employment?  How will we support our brothers and sisters who had the courage to make a very hard decision?

And how will we continue to support one another?  To listen to one another – to allow each other to grieve to walk with one another and to encourage one another – even in the places of pain – to do what we can to faithfully respond to what lies ahead.


How will we be the kind of people – who take our cue from the leadership of Jesus  - the one who makes a path to peace?   So that perhaps by our actions – we can bring about a future for this community – of peace?  Of unity?  Where people who may have different opinions –can work beside one another – to bring about this future – that God has called us to…


A hard choice has been made and we do not all agree with the decision. It is ok to disagree. As your pastor, I am hopeful that we will decide to continue journeying together…  working and intentionally choosing the path of peace.


The future that we are waiting for at Summit – will not magically appear – it will be realized when God’s people are willing to walk there.  Together.