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Vision Sunday – Spring 2024

April 14, 2024

Vision Sunday – Spring 2024

Passage: 1 Corinthians1:26-2:5
Service Type:

Vision Sunday, April 2024

Rodney Gehman – April 14, 2024


[ 001 ] I know many of you are parents – my wife and I have four children of our own – and when a child is born, it’s all hands on deck, right? You’re up at two in the morning, then again a couple hours later; there are bath times and diaper changes and it’s not all that orderly or scheduled. It’s more or less survival mode, but everyone is in it together. And then, every now and then, things get really hard and you’re gassed and haven’t slept in a while and you’re not sure you can take another minute of this.

That’s a little bit the way it goes in the early days when a church begins. It’s a group of people all pitching in to do whatever it takes. There are chairs to set up, equipment to buy, trailers to hook up and back in… then reload and take back while everyone else is already done with their lunch. There are things to print, roles to fill, and that first group of people committed to the church takes it all on their own shoulders. It’s more or less survival mode, but everyone is in it together and it’s fun and it runs on adrenaline. I would say those first 2-3 years were the infancy phase for River City.

Then your child starts growing up. They start to find their voice. They begin to understand more about their surroundings. They start walking on their own two feet, and some things start clicking. They dress themselves. They start to develop friendships. They start developing their own unique personality, likes, dislikes, and it really starts to become a lot of fun and now it’s just hopping. Before you had children, you said “If I ever have my own kids, I’ll never do this or that, or I’ll always do this or that.” Well, now you know which of those were unrealistic and which ones to double down on.

Same with a church. Once the dust settles after those first couple of years, and you finally have an idea who is here to stay, a church starts to find its voice and takes on its own unique personality. Some steps are taken toward maturity and order, and growth starts to take place. You realize what dreams were unrealistic and which ones to double down on. I think River City really hit that stride in year 3 and 4.

And back to parenting, then that child enters those tween years. This stage is a little more awkward. A comedian named Dustin Nickerson describes this stage of life as a tadpole that has both the tail and the legs. Not a child anymore, but not a mature adult yet either. The conversations you have now are about phones and what they can watch or not watch, and friends and is God really real, and betrayals at school and not getting invited to the party, and why did Jesus have to die? But they are growing up. Maturing. Their voice changes. Their body changes. You start to really understand their gifts and strengths, while also noticing more glaring weaknesses and selfishness.

And I feel like that’s where River City is right now. We’ve had some significant growth and maturity in the past two years. We’re not a newborn church anymore. We’re growing in our faith, growing in our understanding of the Bible. Discipleship is starting to be intentional, and it’s been really fun to be part of.

But as we grow and mature, we’ve also seen some weaknesses develop. There’s been miscommunication, misunderstandings, some poor leadership on my part, and typical things that happen when groups of people who sin start interacting regularly together. We’ve had dear friends leave the church to move away. We’ve also had dear friends leave the church without moving away, for various reasons. Those are tough.

And that’s why, 5 years in, we can confidently say River City is a product of grace. It’s clearer than ever that when Jesus said, on this rock, “I will build my church,” he really meant that he was the one who would build the church – not professionally skilled leaders. In the text that Lucy read for us this morning, Paul says, hey church, remember God rarely if ever chooses the brightest and the best. None of you, he writes to the Corinthians, were necessarily wise, or powerful, or from good stock.

And maybe if you’re a leader in the church at Corinth and someone’s reading Paul’s letter to you, your face gets a little red and you’re like, hey, that’s not very nice. And then Paul goes on: Instead of choosing wise, powerful, and noble people, God has chosen what is foolish in the world, in order to shame the wise. He has chosen weakness instead of strength, insignificance instead of significant.

I think this is one of those things that as a parent, when your children grow up and start asking hard questions, that’s when you feel the weakest. When you’re sitting there at night trying to describe how the Trinity works – how Jesus can be in heaven, but here with you in Spirit at the same time, that’s when you feel the most foolish. You’re like, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a thought that makes sense. It’s when they drive out the driveway for the first time by themselves that your knees go weak and you realize you have no control over their lives anymore, so you just pray that God will protect them and give you the grace for whatever happens.

And as a pastor, watching the church grow is at the same time the most exhilarating and terrifying things. In the community group that my wife and I attend, I shared my testimony a few weeks ago and a follow up question from one of the other members of the group was, “how has becoming a pastor changed the way you think about your relationship with God?” And my answer was, being a pastor exposes all of your weaknesses, your insecurities, your fears, your doubts, where your trust really lies, what you really believe – but yet at the same time, my job is to herald the greatest news on the planet! My job is to hold the words of God and proclaim them to myself and to you, and to watch that word transform a body of believers that will Lord willing be part of transforming a city that will Lord willing be part of sending people to be part of transforming other cities in other places so that many, as we read last week, will be granted repentance that leads to life!

We just celebrated our 5th year as a church a few weeks ago, and so today, I want to take the next 25-30 minutes to just walk you through some of the things that leadership has been processing, and how we’re thinking about the next 5 years.

[ 002-1 ] First we want to acknowledge that as River City is growing by the numbers, it changes things. We’re not a small church anymore. The people who study church culture would say that every time we add 75 people, things change again. When we first started, we were around that 75 mark. It was small, you knew everyone’s name, as the pastor I was able to talk to almost everyone on a Sunday morning if I really put an effort in. Then, over the next two years, we added another 75. At 150, that’s when you start to hear people say, “I don’t know everyone here anymore. I’ve seen those people a couple times, but I don’t know who they are.” At 150 people, the pastor can still know everyone’s names, even if he doesn’t know them personally. Right now, we’re in the middle of the third round of 75, getting closer to 200 every week, and we’re at a place where I talked to someone recently who I thought was a first time guest and turns out they’ve been coming off and on for several months.

And let’s just be honest, some of you probably just wish it would stay small. You signed up for this when it was a small church, and you don’t like it that you don’t know everyone. You like the small church family feel, and as we grow it’s more and more difficult to maintain that. But we also realize that the family feel is one of the things that makes River City unique, and we’re going to have to work hard with intentionality to keep that up.

We believe that as Sunday morning gets larger, Community Groups are where we will go to maintain that family feel. If you don’t know, Community Groups are where 3-5 families meet in each other’s homes every other week for food, fellowship, and prayer. Right now we have 6 or 7 Groups going with about half the congregation attending, and it’s something we’d love for everyone to be able to be part of. So that’s something we want to give more attention to, and maybe expand those 6 or 7 groups to 10-15 groups over the next 5 years.

[ 002-2 ] Secondly, as the church grows and each area of ministry requires more order and attention, we’re probably going to have to add staff in a few different areas, starting with KidCity.

On a normal Sunday, we now have over 50 students who are 12 and under, and on Easter Sunday it was almost 80. I know we joke about the mass exodus that happens when I dismiss the children to class, but what an incredible opportunity we have in front of us here. We purposely keep them in our gatherings for worship and scripture reading because that’s all part of discipleship. Could they sing and read the Bible in class? Of course. But to be in this room with us, to see their parents worship, to watch adults sing and raise their hands, to stand when God’s word is read, to be part of what’s happening in this room – it’s all part of teaching them what it looks like to belong to and contribute to a church body.

I know you can’t all see this, but before I dismiss the kids for class, this whole front row over here is filled with, I don’t know, 6-9 year olds. They stand, they sing along, and when scripture is read, they open their Bibles and try to follow along. It’s the absolute greatest thing ever. Sure sometimes they get chatty and move around a little bit. But they are here!

In the next 5-10 years, those kids on the front row will become middle and high schoolers – neither of which River City has a good plan for. So we want to put some money where our children are, to see someone taking the lead on and having a vision for making sure we have a good plan in place for moving this wave of students that is in class right now, into Pathfinders, then into middle and high school ministries over the next 5-10 years. Rather than wait until we have a problem, we want to hire someone this year, if possible, so they can start developing teams and strategies for when we have 100 students of all ages.

[ 002-3 ] Thirdly, another area that’s going to have to change as we grow also possibly this year yet, is that of the Elder Team. Right now, our three pastors are Steve Hall, Nate King, and myself. Again, I’m full time in this, but Nate and Steve are doing church stuff on the side of what is already a busy schedule for them. It’s pushed them to the limits of their capacity, especially these last 6 months. So, one of the ways we can love them is to give them opportunities to rest. So that’s the plan – this summer, Nate will preach June 2, and then he and Janene will be relieved of all responsibilities for the rest of the summer. They’ll be free to just attend as a family, visit other churches, visit family, whatever is restful and refreshing for them. Steve and Kiff will follow suit sometime after the Kings, and Jodi and I after that.

That’s a good short-term solution to make sure that your pastors are healthy and able to lead well. But something more long-term is that we’d like to increase the elder team from 3 to 4 or 5 over the next 2-3 years. So in the near future, you as a church will have the opportunity to submit the names of men you think could or should be considered for eldership at River City. And don’t worry about all of that now, we’ll explain more when that time comes about what kind of person qualifies for this, as well as creating forms for you to fill out – that sort of thing. But that’s going to help us dig in for the long haul well beyond the next 5 years, if that Lord allows.

[ 002-4 ] Fourthly, as an organization grows, whether it’s a business or a nonprofit, a church or school - the tendency is to become more and more complicated and complex. As you grow and add more and more programs, policies, papers, activities, and things to what is already happening, and it’s very easy to let things become silos to themselves, like KidCity is over here doing their own thing, Women’s ministry is over here, Men’s here, CGs, etc, and no one is really headed in the same direction. I’ve been part of churches like that and it’s tough.

So I want to present something today that will hopefully simplify how we progress through the next 5 years, both as individuals and collectively as a body, and helps clarify our vision.

You can narrow it all down to one statement in Matthew 28, where Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, because I have all authority, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And, remember – I am with you always.”

A disciple, as it would have been understood in Jesus’ day, was to be an apprentice, someone who learns a trade by watching someone else. That’s how rabbis functioned in those days. The best and the brightest students were selected to follow rabbis so they could learn from them – not just information, but learn how to be them. They would mimic their rabbi’s accent, the way he walked, the words he used, the expressions, etc. You would be able to tell, just by spending 10 minutes with a student, who their rabbi was because of how much their mannerisms matched his.

Jesus intentionally used that word “disciple” to describe what it would mean to follow him. It would mean being an apprentice of his. Learning to walk like him, talk like him, and act like him. And he told those apostles to go into all the world and make more apprentices. So that is the mission of every true church on the planet. [ 003 ] And in chart form, it could look like this:

  1. Person A has maybe heard the gospel, maybe not, but they are still lost in their sin. They might even have grown up in the church, but they haven’t trusted Christ. Or maybe they are as far from God as you can imagine. But that’s where discipleship begins as Person A hears the gospel for the first time. That might be some of you in the room today.

  2. The star then is where conversion happens. This person has heard the gospel, the Spirit opens their eyes to see the glory of Christ and the weight of their own sin, grants them repentance that leads to life, and they are born again, united to Christ and the great cloud of witnesses, and become person B.

  3. Person B has begun to follow Jesus and grow in their faith. Been a Christian for a year or less, learning how to read the Bible, learning how to pray, getting involved in a local church, etc. But then, as scripture would indicate, they will at some point in their life move to person C.

  4. Person C has been a Christian for a while, but the realities of life have started to catch up with what was very enthusiastic at the beginning. Trials happen. Unanswered prayers happen. Maybe some disillusionment sets in, and the growth seems to slow to a crawl or come to a halt altogether. Maybe Person C is coming from Position B, where its the first real trials that hit, or maybe it’s a coming from a person whose at the other end of the chart, been a believer for a long, long time, but it’s a 2nd or 3rd, or 15th wave of trial or loss of a loved one and you enter something the ancient believers used to call, “the dark night of the soul.” It happens to us all. Or maybe it’s just that you’ve grown lazy in your walk with the Lord, you’ve fallen in love with the world or been ensnared by some sin you have learned to be okay with.

  5. But then Person D has by God’s grace and his presence come through those dark nights and shows signs of a new growth and a faith that is deepening, maturing, and learning to trust God, even when things are rough. Maybe the circumstances haven’t changed at all, but their heart is softer, they are wiser, and stepping into greater understanding and gifts of the Spirit and what not. Or if Person C was just spiritually lazy or ensnared by sin, they’ve repented. They’ve forgiven that person. They’ve confessed their sin and turned from it. They start to grow in their spiritual gifts and develop them. Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit as a helper, a comforter, a guide, the spirit of truth, the counselor. This summer, we’ll take several weeks to address specifics of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the ways we can expect the Spirit to empower and guide and interact with us.

  6. Person E has realized that God comforts us in our suffering so that we have something to say to others who are struggling. Person E begins stepping into compassion and wants to help others find freedom. Maybe they take it further and get specific training for this (which we need a lot more of, by the way), or maybe they keep it at a friend level. This person will at times slide back to C, where they experience another dark night, another trial or difficulty that threatens to rock them, but each one serves to make them a stronger D and stronger E. And that’s all part of the maturing process.

So the first thing to do is to locate yourself on this chart. Where are you at, in terms of being an apprentice of Jesus? Are you maturing? Are you growing in your faith? Are you more mature as a believer this year than you were last year? You might consider yourself a Christian, but would you even consider yourself an “apprentice”? Someone who is learning how to follow Jesus?

This process of moving from left to right is a process the Bible calls “sanctification”, and 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says that’s what God’s will is for us. Which means the goal for every one of us in the room today and for the next couple of years is to take a step to the right from where you currently are. Maybe that means you receive Christ. Maybe it means you are way over on the right and you need to be helping someone else along. Maybe you’re stuck in the middle and need to get some help.

But secondly, here’s how I think this could keep things simple for us for the next 5 years, and maybe even beyond that. Anytime some new idea comes up over the next 5 years, anytime mens and womens ministry or youth or children’s ministry has a decision to make or is wondering if this book would be good to study, or what topic we should have for a retreat or Community Groups – or someone wants to run an activity through the church, we bring it all to this chart and we ask “what spot on the chart does program or event most help, and how does it move them to the right?” Simple as that.

Are we sharing the gospel with people who have never heard? Are we helping new believers take those first steps in Christ, learning how to read the Bible, learning how to pray God’s word, learning how to tell their story? Are we helping people come through or out of those dark nights? Are we training experienced Christians to be able to help others? Are we helping experienced believers know how to share their faith? And what is their next step?

This should give us all better clarity on a) knowing what my next step is as a follower of Christ, and b) how each function of the body is working together to make disciples, wherever and however that looks.

[ 004 ] Fifth  Seek the Welfare of the City. There are a lot of people whose favorite verse is Jeremiah 29:11, I know the plans I have for you, plans not to harm you but to prosper you. But if you read the 10 verses before that, you’ll find God is saying that right when he is about to send the Israelites into exile in enemy territory.

And what’s tempting for the Jews once they get there would be to set up their own little Jewish ghetto, right, everyone lives close to each other, we all speak the same language, raise our kids the same, same beliefs, and we all have the same history – just huddle up and ride this out. But God tells them to do the opposite. He says “Seek the welfare of the city. Don’t hide from the city – make it better! Build houses. Plant gardens and eat the produce. Have weddings and make babies. And pray for the city, because when it thrives you thrive.”

So, we want to seek the welfare of the city here too. Some of that is simple, like participating in Trunk or Treat here at the school, where we bring smiles and joy to a day that often promotes fear and darkness. We participate every year in the TrekFest parade, handing out cold water that represents the Living Water. We buy school supplies for teachers here in this building every year, buying them lunch or coffee from time to time, etc. We’re still trying to explore the opportunities we could have in front of us as Highland moves to a 4 day school week next year, and where we as a church may be able to meet the needs of families who need help with that 5th day of the week. But that’s difficult to do without our own facility.

The school has been very good to us these past 5 years, but as we grow, we are testing the limits of the school more and more in terms of space – Christmas and Easter this past year were both over 250 people… that’s about as many as we can get in here. Yes we could pull the bleachers out and maybe get more, but that creates an even worse traffic flow than we already have, and we have no interest in doing multiple services. River City will always be just one.

The other limits we run into here at the school are just that we’re using someone else’s classroom, we can’t just call a meeting anytime we want in this space, and sometimes it’s just unhandy. So, we are moving toward having our own building, but part of seeking the welfare of the city is that we want it to be  building that isn’t just used by the church for our own activities, but something the whole city would have access to throughout the week for meals, activities, maybe weddings, sports, daycare, high school events, etc. In fact, it wouldn’t really even look like a stereotypical church building. It’d look more like a kind of community center.

By way of update, Last Fall, we as a Leadership Team asked you to pray about a decision we had to make in a short time frame on a location in downtown Riverside, the city accepted our offer, but to this point, we have still not purchased that property. No money has been spent. Our focus has been on creating a Building Team that could take the lead on all of this, from location to blueprints and dollar amounts.

So, the team is now finalized! ……  So we are one step closer! There are quite a few others who have offered to help out on the project, and we were and are very grateful to all of you who applied to be part of the team.

[ 005 ] Lastly, and most importantly, for the next five years, we’re committed to keep the gospel of Jesus front and center in all we do. 1 Corinthians 2, here’s what Paul writes: “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance or speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.”

So, for the next 5 years – Jesus Christ and him crucified is our number one focus and priority. That his life accomplished perfect righteousness, which he shares with those who believe. His death absorbed the wrath of God for sin, which is now lifted from those who believe. His resurrection accomplished new life, which he has now shared with those who believe – a new creation that is restored to the Father, the power of sin broken, the power of death and hell and Satan all now defeated. And in his ascension, he sits at the right hand of God the Father, Lord of heaven and earth with all authority firmly in his hands, and he has delivered to us a wonderful gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that, verse 5, our faith isn’t based on human wisdom but on God’s power.

One of my regrets from a few weeks ago when we celebrated five years as a church was that I only started that talk with my own story. But River City goes back much further than that. For 20+ years, people in this community have been praying daily? Weekly? for the gospel to impact Riverside in whatever way the Lord would see fit. That’s a 20 year foundation of prayer underneath this church and anyone in this city who proclaims the true gospel of Jesus. So, church, assuming the Lord does not return in the next 20 years, what are we willing to pray for without ceasing? How will Riverside 20 years from now be benefiting from what we are praying for today? Where will they see God’s power because we refused to stop praying?

We’re over time for today, but I’m going to give you a call to action today that will be a first for River City and then we’re done. We would like to ask you to join us for three days of fasting and prayer, April 23, 24, 25. Three days of fasting and prayer simply to seek the Lord on behalf of the Church here and for the city. More information coming on that this week, but for now mark that on your calendars – April 23-25, three days of fasting and prayer.

But for now, the worship team can come up, and let’s close in prayer.