“The Power of Shared Vision”
August 23, 2009
A common goal and common commitments produce uncommon results.
I. Trinity’s goals and commitments
II. Common goals and commitments (Colossians 1:3-8)
III. Uncommon results (Colossians 1:9-13)
Once upon a time, about seventeen years ago, there was a group of people who came together to form a church. Like any such group, they didn’t want to be like every other church: they wanted to be different, they wanted to do it God’s way, they wanted to make a difference for him in their community.
In those days there wasn’t a lot of help for church planting. Today you get all kinds of seminars, training and coaching. Back then you got a smile. Even so, we knew that in starting a church we needed to set direction to have a vision and a goal. So we crafted a vision statement to help people know what we were all about, what they could expect to see as our priorities and our programs.
Now I’ve seen vision statements only a few words long. Our district’s vision is “Multiplying healthy churches across Texas and Oklahoma!” But our vision statement was designed by committee, so it’s two sentences are really two paragraphs. Still, I like it: it puts in concrete form what Trinity is all about. This morning I want to share that vision with you, because I believe our effectiveness as a church will be multiplied when we pursue a shared vision. As each of us plays our part, we’ll be a church that makes a difference in the lives of those inside this building, in our community, and around the world.
Our vision statement lays out a common goal and common commitments. And as we share that goal and take up those commitments, we will see uncommon results. Our Scripture text, Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1, shows the same common goal and common commitments at work in the life of a church, and it shows the uncommon, extraordinary results he expected and prayed for.
I. Trinity’s goals and commitments
Let’s begin with the vision statement itself: Trinity Fellowship is a body of believers whose goal is to glorify God by growing toward maturity as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ - through faith. We commit ourselves: to learn and obey His word, to depend on Him in prayer, to exalt Him through worship, to love and care for one another and to share His love with others in order to make new disciples in our community and around the world.
The common goal is making or becoming disciples. One key scripture is the Great Commission, Matthew 28. Jesus says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Trinity’s vision is nothing less than Jesus’ vision for the church, Jesus’ commission for his followers. This common mission is our common goal. All of us are to be committed to becoming disciples in order make disciples.
Now in the vision statement we’ve surrounded that goal with several key words of the Gospel. We’ve said first that we’re a body of believers. Two important words: body and believers. Paul says to the church at Corinth “Now you (plural) are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” We are one body, with many parts, each part is important, and the vision of the church to make disciples can only happen as each person does their part.
The thing that unifies the body is that it’s made up of believers. We are people who have trusted, who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior. We recognize, both individually and corporately that we are sinners and rebels, separated from God by our sinful breaking of his laws and ways. We recognize that the result of this sin is death – eternal separation from God.
But we also recognize that the loving heart of God does not desire that separation. He loved us rebellious creatures so much he sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while were still sinners, Christ died for us.” On the cross Jesus bore God’s wrath against sin. So when we put our trust in him, when we become believers he freely and graciously forgives our sins. He makes us his own, and part of his body and gives us the Holy Spirit to work in us.
Trinity Fellowship, then, is a body of believers whose goal is to glorify God. Now you’ll say ‘I thought our goal was to make disciples?’ But that’s shorthand, the concrete evidence of this larger goal. Even Jesus, whose mission and commission was to make disciples, had as a larger goal the glory of God. In the upper room with his disciples Jesus said “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” The reformers, when they formulated their doctrine said “what is the chief end of man?” “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Our immediate goal is to make disciples but our overarching goal is bring our creator and redeemer the glory he deserves.
Our goal is to glorify God by growing toward maturity as disciples. This is a process. Followers of Jesus aren’t stamped out from a mold of instant perfection: instead we grow and mature. Paul emphasizes this in his vision of the church in Ephesians 4. He says church leaders are to “prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
But all of this is ‘through faith.’ We cannot claim, that any of this happens through our own human power, human goodness, or human works. It’s by grace, through faith. Ephesians 2:8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Our goal, then, is to become disciples, and at the same time to help others become disciples. In the first days of Trinity we concluded that this process will be effective when we live out certain simple commitments. These are the second half of the vision statement, the things we emphasize because of their impact on us as individuals, but especially on the effectiveness of the body.
So, we commit ourselves to learn and obey His word. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable, for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting and for training in righteousness.” Those wanting to become mature will be thwarted without the input of God’s word. It needs to be taken in and lived out.
I’ve had three images floating through my brain as a result of thinking and praying this week. One is scurvy. Do you know what scurvy is? Basically, vitamin C deficiency. Symptoms include spots on the skin, spongy gums, and bleeding. Victims are pale, depressed and partially immobilized. Advanced cases have loss of teeth and open, pus-filled wounds that lead ultimately to death.
At one time scurvy was a huge problem on long ocean voyages: the lack of fresh food led to disaster. But the cure for scurvy, discovered in the 1700’s, was as simple as citrus juice. If you get vitamin C you are healthy. If you don’t get any for a long period of time, you sicken and die. So it is with these basic commitments of the Christian life. They are the vitamins of your spiritual existence. If you get the Word into your life you will be healthy and growing. Neglect it and you will sicken spiritually and die.
So we are committed, not only to the word, but to depend on God in prayer. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” As we depend on God in prayer, he is able to provide us all that we need, beginning, according to this text, with peace, but including all the blessings of the Christian life.
Prayer is the conversation that drives our relationship. Prayer the way we praise a worthy God, confess our own unworthiness and failures, cry out and cling to Him when life is difficult, lift up the needs of others, and give thanks for His provisions. It’s also the way we listen. The silence of prayer enables us to hear his word spoken within us when we need guidance or comfort or peace.
Next, we exalt him in worship. God is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving, for who he is, for all his perfections, for what he has done, for his loving kindness to us. “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are worthy of our praise.
Notice that this commitment moves more to corporate expression than the first two. We do praise and worship God individually, but often we gather to sing his praise. Psalm 79 “We your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.”
Another key corporate practice is loving fellowship. Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” When we are cared for in godly ways, and when we love and care for others, we grow as believers. Furthermore, this love is the ultimate witness to the world that Jesus is real and means what he says: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, when you love one another.”
How do we do this? We spend time together; we get to know each other; we pray for each other; we listen and we care; we recognize and meet each other’s needs. We study, pray, worship and minister together. We intentionally seek to become a community. This fall, in the Trinity Vision Bible Studies, you’ll be spending small group time with your brothers and sisters, not only to study the vision statement but experience this love-one-another community.
Finally, we commit ourselves to share his love with others, in order to make new disciples both in our community and around the world. This is outreach, this is evangelism, this is missions, this is compassion ministry; direct obedience to the great commission. Jesus says “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations . . .” Peter says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
So invite your neighbor to a ball game; develop shared hobbies into friendships; share the Gospel message with a visiting child at Awana; go door to door in an apartment complex; gut someone’s house after a hurricane; go overseas to live the life of Jesus into the lives of children and their families. This is sharing his love with others that they might become disciples.
The second picture that kept occurring to me for this message was that of a team. We are all one body and individually members of it, just as a football team is made up individuals who work together toward a goal. Great sports movies like “Facing the Giants” display the power of shared vision.
Each person on the team learns and practices the basics. Then through practice the individual’s strengths and weaknesses become shared resolve to accomplish the team’s goals. In a church, we also all have strengths and weaknesses. But if we share a common goal, making disciples, and practice the basics of the Word, prayer, worship, fellowship, outreach, we can see uncommon results.
Much more could be said about these things. In fact, we’re preparing to help you discover much more in the Trinity Vision Bible Studies. Our goal is to share this vision, not on the level of agreeing with a sermon, but on the level of discovering it in Scripture. I really want to encourage you to get involved in these Trinity Vision small groups as they gear up over the next three weeks.
But this morning we need to see this at work in a specific Scripture. So far we’ve identified a shared goal: becoming disciples, and shared commitments: the word, prayer, worship, fellowship and outreach. But the thing we haven’t done is seen the power of this shared vision in the church. I think Paul’s opening words and prayer in Colossians 1 show us that power.
II. Common goals and commitments (Colossians 1:3-8)
So, in verses 3 to 8 we get a report that gives us glimpses of the shared goals and the shared commitments of the church at Colossae. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints-- 5the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth. 7You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
It’s obvious that Paul in this brief snapshot of a church, didn’t have Trinity’s vision statement in mind. Yet he echoes both our common goal and common commitments. “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.” Paul models two shared commitments. He’s exalting God in worship, praising and thanking him and praying for the Colossians.
Verse 4: “because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.” Faith is the way we become believers and the way we become disciples. Paul sees faith at work in this church. He also sees ‘love and care for one another’: they have love for all the saints. These basic commitments are what make a church the Apostle Paul could be proud of.
Verse 5: “the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6that has come to you.” The church at Colossae was born when someone shared God’s love; the gospel of hope; the word of truth.
Verse 6: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.” When God’s love and the good news of Jesus is shared with others, it produces fruit. And Paul is probably not just talking about conversion, but about growth and the fruit of maturing disciples.
Verse 7: “You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” Ephaphras was committed to sharing God’s love with others. He was a native of Colossae; he’d apparently been saved in Ephesus, and brought the gospel message home with him. Epaphras wasn’t one of the twelve or an apostle like Paul, but he was used by God to start this good church.
So my point in these verses is not to show a one to one correlation between this church and our vision statement. If I wanted to do that I’d look at Acts 2, where all our commitments are seen in the earliest Jerusalem church. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the student – specifically the student of these Trinity Vision studies. What I am trying to show is that you can’t talk about a good church without at least implying the presence of this common goal – growth to maturity in the faith, and these common commitments: to the word, prayer, worship, love for one another and the spread of the good news.
III. Uncommon results (Colossians 1:9-13)
These commitments, when shared in the body, yield uncommon results. Paul knows the power of shared commitments. We see it in his report of how he prays for them. Verses 9-14: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding
10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Paul had never visited this church, but he prays for them powerfully. Given his priority on things like the word and outreach, you might have expected him to pray for those things. Instead he prays for the results of these disciplines in their lives. He shows what can happen when a church experiences the power of shared vision. He describes a church what we want for ourselves.
First, he asks God to fill them with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. What confidence and peace we would have if we were filled with this knowledge of his will, with this understanding and this spiritual wisdom. We would be believers who don’t see things from the world’s point of view, but see the spiritual truth behind outward appearance and apply godly wisdom to human concerns. That’s uncommon maturity.
But there’s more. Paul desires practical godliness: “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.” Real discipleship is revealed when a person lives a life worthy of the Lord, and lives to please him. Most of us would admit we’re not there yet. But think about this: if you really love someone, you want to please them, and not to dishonor them. Living this way is evidence of mature love for Jesus.
In the same way Paul prays that they would bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God. Both require the consistent application of these common commitments. You bear fruit in good works when you love and care for your brothers and sisters in Christ, and for others who need to know the compassion of Jesus. You grow in the knowledge of God when you spend time with him in the Word, in prayer and in worship.
These wonderful results are evidence of mature discipleship. But Paul is clear that this doesn’t come, ultimately, from us. He says they are “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might.” God gets the glory when we follow him because he’s the one who strengthens us. In fact the true power that energizes shared vision is God. It is his glorious might which is revealed in the uncommon result of our goals and commitments. For example, as God strengthens us, we receive endurance and patience. Aren’t the people you know to be disciples of Jesus those who endure, persevere in difficulties, stresses and trials, patient toward the weak and those who oppose them?
This is the fruit of mature discipleship; the fruit of shared vision. The third visual image I’ve dwelt on this week is of the carrot seed, the story I read to the kids. Despite everyone telling the little boy ‘I’m afraid it won’t come up.’ he continued to pull the weeds and water the ground. He continued the basics, the common commitments of planting. And then one day a carrot came up.
And the thing I love is how huge the carrot is. It’s an uncommon carrot, an uncommon result from a simple commitment to watering and weeding. But the shared vision we can have will produce remarkable fruit.
Paul goes on. As our shared vision produces this fruit, we joyfully give thanks to the father. Mature discipleship is revealed in joy and thanksgiving. Jesus had it: Luke describes him as full of joy through the Holy Spirit, giving thanks to his Father. How could we not offer joyful thanksgiving to God when our discipleship bears fruit in our lives and the lives of others?
Finally, as he always does, Paul grounds all this uncommon blessing in the simple truth of the Gospel. He prays that the church of Colossae will give thanks to the Father, “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” By his own grace God is calling out a people for himself, a people to live in his kingdom and inherit his blessings.
And his grace is seen in Jesus. Verse 13: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” What a great way to end this great prayer. None of this maturity, none of this discipleship, nothing in this vision is possible without apart from the rescue plan of God in Christ Jesus. In him we are no longer dominated by sin and rebellion and death, but he has brought us by his own free grace into the kingdom of the Son he loves, the kingdom where Christ reigns victorious, the kingdom in which we have been bought back from our bondage to sin and forgiven forever.
The church is a body of believers, those who have trusted in this wonderful grace of Jesus, who have received this redemption and forgiveness. Strengthened by the God who loves us, we are marching together toward the goal of mature discipleship, with all its uncommon benefits and blessings. But the power of the church comes as we share that common goal and as we participate in the simple common commitments of the Word and prayer and worship, love for one another and the sharing of God’s love for others.
The power of shared vision is a goal we hold in common and commitments we hold in common that lead to an uncommon supernatural work of God among us. Here at Trinity we are ordinary people with an extraordinary God.