VISION SUNDAY - Transcript/Notes
SEPT 20, 2020
We live on an acreage a couple miles north of Kalona, and sometimes I’ll just go for a walk around our property for the sake of exercise, and I often come across this giant oak tree that’s in our neighbor’s timber. It catches my eye pretty often, because it’s so unique among all the other trees. And I know the picture doesn’t do it justice.
But I love the way that it’s branches reach so far and how it just looks so regal, like it’s been there for two or 300 years. Now that tree also looks like it has been through a lot. It’s seen a lot of storms, and no doubt been broken a few times. Some of the branches are rotten, there are holes in the canopy, but there it stands like it is the OG of the timber, still producing leaves, still dropping acorns.
Scripture is full of trees, did you know that? From the obvious trees of the garden of eden, to the cross of Jesus Christ, and through to the tree of life in the New Jerusalem, trees are given to us as a powerful picture of the life of believers. Psalm 1 opens with a vivid picture of a tree:
Psalm 1:1-6 CSB
 How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!  Instead, his delight is in the LORD's instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.
 He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
I hope someone someday will get to look at River City the same way I look at that tree. They will see some brokenness in our story. They would see some imperfections. They will see some holes in the canopy where people who are precious to us once stood. And yet, on the day they take River City down, I pray that the glory of this church wouldn’t be the number of branches we have or the amount of years in the tree, but that the most impressive part of the Story of River City Church would be that no matter what storms and droughts and trials came along, our roots never left the stream of the gospel.
That we had never lost sight of the Story of God that started with him creating the world for his glory. That he created humanity with a need for each other and a need for him, placed them as caretakers in this beautiful world he had made and said, “It’s very good like this.” I pray that we anchor our roots deep into the stream of Life, that says we’re all made in the image of God, regardless what color our skin is, regardless what amount of money we make, or what gender we are or think we are or wish we were.
I pray that we would never lose sight of the reason there is suffering and pain in the world – that it has been brought on by humanity’s desire to be in the place of God; that we’ve created the mess we’re in and we’re not the answer to fix the problem. I pray that we would never lose sight of how each one of us, while we have different struggles that break us in life, are all broken in the same places by sin and equally desperate for saving… even if we don’t think we are.
I pray that when someone looks back on River City, they’ll admire how we stayed anchored in the truth of Jesus, who is the only way to God, no matter what society around us decided was a new revelation of how to experience God. I pray that we’ll never stop talking about Jesus life of perfect obedience to his Father and overcoming temptation to sin; His willingly and sacrificially taking the punishment for OUR sin from his Father and going to the cross instead of us; His resurrection from the dead, which means our hope of heaven isn’t something we have to strive to accomplish on our own, but something that’s been earned FOR us already!; and his ascension by which we can receive his Holy Spirit, working in us to make us more like Jesus, and through us to help others see the depths of the riches of the knowledge of God,
Until the day he returns for his bride, the Church, to wipe away every tear, to show us how all things work together for good for those that love him, and to show us that the work he accomplished on our behalf was effective for our salvation.
What I hope people see when they look at River City is every branch, every person, doing their part, using their gifts, their abilities, their time, their resources, to produce good fruit for the kingdom of God in their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, and around the world.
So really, our mission is to be ambassadors for the glory to God.
It’s simple. It’s why the global Church exists, it’s why River City exists.
So as we look to be ambassadors for the glory of God wherever we are, I think these 5 commitments will go a long way. These are not 5 ways to be an ambassador for God, or 5 ways to grow your church, or whatever. They are just 5 of the main things we want to champion as we grow at River City.
- Word & Prayer – If we are strangers in land that is not our home, as our current sermon series is all about, and our mission is to represent our King and his kingdom here on earth, then we are not at liberty to make things up as we go. This isn’t about our own efforts.
- It’s a commitment to God’s word as our authority for living, making decisions, interactions with each other, and it’s the door we walk through to know God and know our true selves.
- Prayer, then is our lifeline. It’s where we go for strength and wisdom and repentance and lament and sorrow and gratitude.
- This commitment is the foundation for all we do as a church.
- Word & Prayer – If we are strangers in land that is not our home, as our current sermon series is all about, and our mission is to represent our King and his kingdom here on earth, then we are not at liberty to make things up as we go. This isn’t about our own efforts.
- Community – After our commitment to God is our commitment to each other. We are not meant to be isolated. Yes, God saves individuals from their sin and knows you intimately as a person. But he has saved us into community, into family, and given us spiritual gifts for the encouragement and building up of others in the Church. So we commit to being ambassadors to each other here in this room as well as outside of it. Christian community is where we find our sense of belonging while we’re away from home.
- Hospitality – opening our homes, welcoming people with grace and warmth. Secondly, we open our hearts and our mouths to tell our own stories of God’s grace toward sinners. We aren’t afraid to be vulnerable because at the cross of Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God knew everything about us – knew every sin, every stain, every bit of brokenness in our story and he loved us anyway. So we have nothing to prove, except that God’s grace is enough for anyone who’ll have him.
- Generosity – we don’t hold back, we trust that God is big enough to fill the gaps. When it came to paying the bill for our salvation, God gave us what was most precious to him – his own Son – who willingly laid down his own life in place of ours. If he didn’t hold back, we don’t need to hold back either.
- Multiplication – River City isn’t the church to end all churches. We don’t want to run with or depend on only a few people’s gifts. So we seek to work ourselves out of a job. Training others to take our place at every level is something we’d like to see. So our Community Groups have co-leaders, partially to help shoulder the load, but also to make sure someone is always in training. We’re also in the early stages of round two of formal biblical training that I’m leading, which trains men and women to rightly handle God’s word. And my personal goal is that eventually, I’m preaching closer to 50% of the time instead of 90%.
So with the gospel as our foundation, Jesus as our Lead Pastor, and our roots anchored deep into the gospel, where do we see things heading as it pertains to how we gather?
As we think in that direction, here are a couple forward-looking things that we’d like to see in the future, and the number one question we often get is, “Are you guys making plans toward us having our own building?” So let me address that:
- Yes. But before I go into detail on that, let me celebrate what we have here.
- Highland has been very good to us. We have been able to develop a great working relationship with the folks here, and as the church continues to grow, we feel like we’re checking back with them every couple months to ask for something else. And they have been very accommodating and supportive.
- Secondly, we have had some of you say to us about yourselves or someone else, that having the church in the school has actually been why they are here. It doesn’t have the same feel as the church they grew up in, and they like the relaxed approach in a familiar space. So the benefit of being here at the school is that those who would never darken the door of a traditional church may feel a little more comfortable here. That’s not a small thing.
- With that in mind, as we’ve talked about a building in the past, again back to the analogy of the tree, we’re looking around and asking questions about what River City could do to bear the most fruit in this city. What could we do that would have the biggest impact, especially if we are spending millions of dollars on a building? And we are in agreement that whatever building we put up, we refuse to have it be a building that’s used once or twice a week by the Church and then sits empty the rest of the time.
- We want to build a space that works for community events, day care center, sports leagues, rental facilities, offices, etc, so that every day of the week, the building is being used to serve this city and the surrounding neighborhoods. Where that would be? Don’t know. When will that happen? Don’t know. How big of a bucket of money will we need to make that happen? Don’t know.
- We are not interested in generating huge amounts of debt or under-taking giant fund-raising campaigns where we try to financially milk you for all your worth. So it’ll get built in God’s time, in his way, exactly in the location he has already planned out.
Continuing with the tree analogy, sometimes the fruit of our labor falls under the branches and is noticed locally. That’s already happening more and more every year. We’ve been able to help with TrekFest, the school’s Trunk-or-Treat, School supplies three years in a row, helping local families in need, etc, etc.
But sometimes that fruit gets picked up and taken to another part of the world and planted. We want to be a church whose fruit plants other churches, locally or globally starting as soon as 2024, just 3.5 years from now, 5 years from our own launch date. Like a new building here, we don’t have a location scouted, we don’t have people who have raised their hand and said “send me, I’ll go”, but as you’ll hear later, we are contributing a small percentage of our month budget toward the church plant right now. Additionally, I’ve started teaching a Biblical Training class that helps your grow in your understanding of the Bible, and how to communicate it to others. Not because I am trying to uncover the next church leaders, but because we want to be ready when God calls.
This one is in the early stages of development, but what if we were a church where marriages thrive, not just survive? Of course the goal of any church is that there are no divorces, right? But what if we went a step further and said, God we want to be known as a church where marriages grow and develop and are strengthened intentionally and not just accidentally?
I feel like God could do that. And our first step toward making that a reality is that in November, as we study 1 Peter, we’re going to get to a section on marriage. We’ll take three weeks to study marriage and divorce from a biblical perspective. Then, in January, I don’t know how all of this will pan out exactly, but Lord willing, we will begin a marriage specific pathway designed around maintaining healthy marriages BEFORE they get into crisis mode. We will talk more about that in the coming weeks, but that’s something I’m really excited about.
Children and Youth
The last thing I’ll mention before I invite up the rest of the Team is what we’re hoping to accomplish with youth and young adults. Currently KidCity supports nursery to 8 yrs old. We recently expanded from two classes to three, and we are just months away from needing to add another class for 8-10 year olds.
God has brought on an explosion of new birth and young life to River City simply by his merciful hand of grace and our apparently very productive sexual activity. Which is not me being crass, it’s simply how God has uniquely gifted our church. Praise God for those little squeals and cries during the sermon or during singing – that’s the next generation of ambassadors right there, and we have a responsibility to be good stewards of what we’ve been given.
So with that being said, October 25 is Child Dedication Sunday. If you are interested in having one or more of your children dedicated to the Lord, look for announcements on the screens, FB, or via text in the coming weeks.
The second part of this is that at River City, we have an unreached people group. That is those 12-19, who are too old for children’s ministry, but often have specific applications that aren’t addressed in sermons. I try to keep my children in mind as I preach, but it doesn’t always work that way.
But we have to start thinking about a jr high, high school youth ministry. Even if right now we only have a couple of youth, we have a great ministry in KidCity for 8 and under and all of those kids will grow up.
That said, I’m a believer that we don’t have to treat our MS and HS students like they are 6. They are more intelligent than us sticking them in a side room with old couches and fruit snacks during the sermon. I’m a huge fan of them sitting in the service, learning the deeper truths of theology along with their parents. I think it honors our teens to say, we think you are smart enough to handle truth without it being watered down.
But throughout the week, there needs to be a check in point; an opportunity for them to express to someone they trust, how they’re feeling about current events, processing loss, handing trials, etc.
This too is a goal that will require someone to step up and be trained to fill that role. Right now, we don’t have it. Our youth are attending youth group at other local churches, to which we are thankful for extending their arms to gather in our youth along with their own.
To bring all of this together, our vision is that, using our gifts/abilities/time/homes/resources for the glory of God, every man, woman, and child in Riverside and the surrounding communities would have a gospel-centered, grace-driven interaction on a daily basis.
Rodney: I would like to invite the rest of the Leadership team up here this morning to introduce them to you, and give them a chance to share what they are excited about.
But let me start with my wife Jodi here – I think it’s safe to say that planting a church was never on our radar of things we had dreamed of doing in our lives. We had a happy little photography business that was going pretty well, and all of a sudden we sense God moving us into something new. Part of what you loved about photography is telling stories through images. I know you’re one of those people who serves willingly wherever you’re needed most – worship team, children’s ministry, prayer, etc. What is it about stories that you love?
Jodi Gehman: When I think back on the wedding years, I loved interviewing the bride and groom and finding out how he was the hero of their story – the knight in shining armor – and that was the fun part of the wedding. I enjoyed learning how to weave that into their story. Now, I like to tell people’s stories of how Jesus is the hero, and how he came in and made the difference in their lives. I would love to be able to develop a story telling ministry here at River City to tell people’s’ story of how Jesus is the hero of their story. It’s in the early phases but it’s something I really want to get going.
Rodney: When it comes to stories, Steve and Kiff, your story is one of serving. You guys have been missionaries in Texas and Mexico in the past, and here at River City, Steve you’ve been helping develop a men’s ministry that got put on hold during COVID, Kiff, you’re helping lead women’s events, you both been serving in children’s ministry, setup/teardown, Steve is preaching on occasion – so you’ve had a lot of opportunities to see God working in your own weaknesses, maybe insecurities, etc. Steve let me start with you: What are one or two things that stand out in your mind where you’ve seen God at work here in River City where you said – oh that can only be God!
Steve: Two things I think of when I think of only God: First is it’s the Community that we have here at River City. The fellowship, the friendship, people caring for each other, people genuine with each other. It’s something that’s exciting to see and be part of, it really is. Kiff and I have been to a lot of churches in the US and in Mexico, and what we have here is very unique and very special. Secondly, the financial giving. God is moving in our hearts to give, and to be a small church and be doing as well as we are doing is a testament to God’s faithfulness and to how he is working in our hearts, and how our hearts are surrendered to him. And I’m excited to be part of a body that is that generous.
Rodney: Even though you wear a lot of different hats here, what is an area of ministry you’re passionate about?
Steve: Great question. Two things again: First is to see men fall in love with Jesus, to learn what it is to walk with him on a daily basis, to get up in the morning and have jobs, have a life, and to walk with Jesus through that life each and every day. We need, as men, to be led well by Jesus so we can love and lead our families well. Second is raising children. Those who have had children know it’s hard to have and raise children, but it’s not impossible. With prayer, with intentionality, and Godly involvement in our children’s lives, a lot of grace and forgiveness, its very rewarding!
Rodney: Kiff – you’ve been helping facilitate women’s ministry now for a while, with Thursday morning prayer and the book study that is starting up again – How do those things fit the vision to equip people for ministry?
Kiff: Two important factors in spiritual growth are of course prayer and Bible study. So in women’s ministry, we want to come together in community to both of those. A show of hands – how many of you, during COVID, really enjoyed attending church in pajamas? I got really comfortable during those times, but it wasn’t until we came back together that I realized how much I need the body of Christ for my own spiritual growth, so that’s the goal of the women’s ministry. Our prayer meeting times are at 6:30AM Thursday mornings at Madeline’s Coffee House here in Riverside, and it’s a great time to be with other ladies, just drink coffee and pray! The second thing is the Book study that got shut down in the beginning of the year we’re starting back up again on October 5. Even if you weren’t part of the beginning of the book study, you’re still welcome to join in! When we started this study, we had no idea how many people would show up, but our first night was a great group of ladies, and it was encouraging to see so many show up to dig into the Word.
Rodney: What are some things you’ve seen in the last year or so that have you excited for the women of River City?
Kiff: Along the same lines, just that desire to walk with the Lord and a hunger for the word. I hear it and see it in conversations that I have. Obviously none of us are perfect, but it’s so excited to walk in freedom and grow together. I also love to see so many families coming to church together, wanting to raise and teach their kids well.
Rodney: Talking about men and women’s ministry leads right into what you guys are passionate about. Because when it comes to family the enemy seems more determined to cause havoc than other places. Marriages are under fire, parent/kid relationships are under fire, and then add 4 months of quarantine. What you guys do in formal biblical counseling comes right alongside men and women that need intense discipleship to help them through the dark times. I heard this week that most couples will be in crisis mode for six years before they reach out for help. So I hope what people are hearing today is that we want to be a church that cares deeply for and pours our resources into marriage and family. So, Toby, why do you think people are turned off by the idea of counseling? Why is that word scary?
Toby: We watch a movie or something and see someone laying on a couch, and we think, “no way, I’m not doing that.” That’s not what goes on. But at the heart level, the main reason we don’t want counseling is our pride. We think we can fix ourselves, and realize we can’t. Also counseling is uncomfortable. It requires you to be vulnerable and open, and you might be uncomfortable talking to someone you may not know very well. And last, choosing counseling is the hard path to take, it’s not the easy road. It can be difficult.
Rodney: What do you envision as you think of the counseling ministry here at River City? 10-15 years down the road from now, what are you asking God to do here in Riverside?
Toby: In the next 5 years, I’d love to see a dozen men and women that are either involved in advocacy or counseling actively helping people. That starts with people I’m meeting with now, not just equipping them to be transformed int heir lives, but as Paul said, to help them bring that comfort that they’ve been shown to others. I’d also love to see a vocational counselor on staff, and to have a space where we can counsel here in Riverside, both to River City and for the community.
Rodney: And to clarify, the counseling we’re talking about is free.
Rodney: Erin, you’ve recently been coming alongside Toby, especially in the couples or marriage sessions — What are you most encouraged by as you sit in the counseling room with people every week?
Erin: I think one of the most encouraging things is when people come through our door, they are usually in despair and feel hopeless. I love watching the transformation of people as they go through counseling, and into graduation where they are on fire and even thinking missionally.
Rodney: The vision is to see every man, woman, child experience the gospel, not just in a crisis situation when they end up in the counseling office, but on a “daily” basis. We realize that Sunday morning gatherings can only go so far in accomplishing this vision.
But something can get lost in the Sunday morning gathering, and that is those deep, meaningful relationships that Believers are meant to have with each other, where someone doesn’t only know your name and what you do for a living, but having someone know your story and you knowing theirs, and walking with each other through the ongoing highs and lows of life. A person can show up here at 9:30 every week, enjoy studying the word together, but still feel isolated and alone in the day to day stuff of life. That’s where Community Groups come in.
First of all, Nate, give us an overview of the purpose of Groups and why you think they are important at River City.
Nate: We were created for relationship. We all need something more than the “ Hey how ya doing?” on Sunday morning. Deep down in the core of our being we were created to know and be known. And the crazy thing is, each one if us has something valuable to bring to the table to bless the greater body.
Successful groups are healthy relationally. No one is left behind. There are different components that make up the evening - sharing a meal together - praying or studying God’s word together but no one of those activities make up the core of group. The core of group is knowing and being known and as we care for each other in love we will speak the gospel in to each other’s lives in care and love.
Of course, it does take a few meetings for things to kind of gel but that would be par for the course in human experience for any new club you’re going to join. We don’t have any crazy fraternity hazing rituals going on and if anything our groups should be marked by genuine Gospel care for each other and for newcomers. Jesus was nothing but a perfect gentleman so as we are getting to know Him better we will also emulate that. I know the dislike for going to someone’s house you don’t know well, it smells different than mine and the furniture is arranged different and maybe not to your tastes but in Christ this is family.
Groups generally meet Sunday nights and that can vary by group, meeting biweekly. Sign up on the website, fill out a card at the welcome table or see Janene or myself afterward.
Rodney: As we’ve gone around the table here today, we’ve talked about seeing the gospel in children’s ministry, in marriages, in counseling, in gathered worship, in community groups, etc. Janene, you are involved in a lot of different areas around here, but there’s one more place that we want to touch on this morning where we can see the gospel at work, and that is with our money. Jesus said that our money leaves a trail to what our hearts find most valuable.
So now that we’ve laid out our vision for River City, the question is, how does OUR money follow the vision to see every man, woman, and child have an interaction with the gospel on a daily basis? As people tithe/donate to River City, first of all, what are you seeing in terms of giving here? Are you encouraged, concerned, a mix of both?
Janene: We feel incredibly encouraged! When River City first launched it felt like a big step of faith, we were starting from zero and we had no idea what our giving would like. But what we did know was that we had been called to Riverside and that God would provide. We are extremely humbled at the faithful giving and the generosity of the body here. Both in their giving and in giving of time and encouragement.
Rodney: So another question people might have, there are visions of our own building in the future, even for a church plant... What are we doing in terms of saving for those things? What is our agreement with Highland Elementary as far as being here for the foreseeable future?
Janene: We are currently working on signing a contract for 2021 with Highland and in our conversations with the school they know that we will be here for the foreseeable future. They have been extremely accommodating and gracious as we have grown and requested more classrooms. We also are very excited about the relationships we have been able to build through the school and continue to pray for open doors to further cultivate those relationships.
We are currently putting $5000 a month into our building fund — as you can see on the budget detail sheet we handed out we have $68k in that fund currently, and we are putting 1% of our giving into an account for a future church plant. We also have a healthy benevolence fund, and a few places we gave to last year were:
- Ainsworth food pantry during the early stages of COVID
- A check was sent to another Sojourn church plant who was struggling because of Covid
- A charity in CR that was directly helping impacted folks there from the derecho
- A local family here in Riverside that had some unexpected medical bills.
Rodney has mentioned to us as a team several times that, having talked to fellow pastors from Sojourn Network, their stress levels are high from not knowing how the funds for their church will work out. That has absolutely not been the case here at River City, and our hearts are overflowing at the abundance of God’s provision through his people. It is quite unusual for a church plant to have books that look as healthy as ours do and it is God’s goodness and a reason for celebration going into the Thanksgiving season!
Rodney: So we we bring this morning to a close, we could go on and on talking for a while about the details of our vision, and where our finances are at. But we’ll leave it at this for now. If you have questions, you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a text to 319-302-3221 with questions. Feel free to chat with any one of us more after the service, but I know we’re over time so let me close with prayer.