Psalm 13 speaks to where we have been for much of this season. The Psalmist David was not going through a pandemic, but he was faced with challenges all around him. He begins…

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Maybe that has been your thoughts and questions for the past few weeks. How long?  It feels like we are turning the page, but then you hear reports of different states seeing large upticks due to the virus.  I know that has been my question, How long?

Regardless, it has been an important thing for me to recognize that we must plow forward, regardless of the circumstances. There is no room to just stop, but there is more of a reality of adjustment or change.  On Sunday, June 28th, we marked some of the milestones so far in 2020, even in the new context.

There are a few things we can put a bow on:

1.       Our streamlined leadership structure has been a blessing during the first half of the year. We were able to make decisions and stay focused even when situations continued to change around us.

2.      Everything, including sound and technical updates has been completed in the fellowship hall.

3.      Our Foyer/ Café project has been completed.

4.      Kid watch has reopened and has been doing very well this summer.

5.      Our wedding ministry continues to grow and thrive.   

6.      We have managed to produce a weekly service for both those who are present and for those watching online.

7.      Within the month of July, we will be revamping the sound system in the sanctuary for better clarity and sound balance.

Apart from these things, we continue to work within our purpose and vision.   The purpose of the church is to have a great commitment to the great commission and the great commandment. The church has been left on the earth to make disciples of Jesus Christ and as a result, bring glory to God.  We know that God has a specific plan for each local assembly rooted in their culture, time in history, spiritual gifts resident in the body and needs of their community.  So, there is a plan for the CHURCH, but there is a specific plan for Paradise Church, 619 E Main Street.

The New Vision Statement for Paradise Church could not have come at a more poignant time.  Our Vision Statement was meant to move us to action. It should cause us to do something. 

At the Intersection of faith and Real Life.

As we mentioned back in 2019, the statement spoke to a number of ideas.  Paradise is and always has been the center of town. In terms of events, activities, meetings, this is the center of town. I want to get us back there spiritually.  We wanted to merge the ideas of faith and real life. You are Paradise church whether you are in the sanctuary, the football game, Giant Eagle or repairing a house in North Carolina or Houston.

And as we have seen over the last few months, the challenges we face are real life, we cannot put on the faith blinders and just pretend it’s not happening.  We can’t bemoan the culture, we need to live in it and accept the realities and what they mean for this church. In terms of approach, strategy and finance.  God meets us at this intersection.  God is waiting for us on Sunday.  But it is our calling to take God home with you.  Our faith is not separate from life, but integral to it.  This cannot just be a Sunday thing for us. It needs to go beyond.  Service and ministry to the community, being inclusive, being a place of change & healing, truly experiencing God, unity of purpose… these are the things we must be circling around.  To do these kinds of things, we need to engage what the intersection of Faith and Real Life Looks Like.

The reality that is before us is to recognize the we must be Paradise Church…even in seasons when the building is closed.  There may come another time when the church will be closed again.  And we cannot simply stop being the church when that time comes.  In our message to the church at the end of 2019, we called upon people to pursue MVI or MVI=Minimal Viable Involvement.  This is what we are looking for and expecting from everyone.

A.     Worship Attendance                                         Experience

We want worship to be an Experience.  Something that moves you, takes your breath away.  We want to see lives changed on a regular basis.  We want regular attendance to be a priority. Not in a legalistic way. But because this is the family you belong to.  And the services are things you are drawn to.  Your attendance is important, whether it is online or in the building.  But it cannot simply stop there. It cannot stop only at attendance.

B.     Small Groups                                                        Connect

We want everyone to be in a small group. Small groups will be returning in the fall of 2020. To provide growth, fellowship, a sense of connection, and pastoral care.  Sundays are good, but Small Group is your community.  Again, there may be a season when the building is shut down again. Being in a group will be vitally important to the life of this church.

C.     Giving                                                                      Invest

In our new logo, we included the date of 1863.  It is not simply to say how old we are, rather we do not want to forget where we came from.  There were generations of people, our forebears who invested in us.  We want giving not out of duty or sacrifice, but because we believe in what we are doing here and support the vision that God has given to us.  Giving is not about Paradise, rather it is a reflection of your own relationship with God.  It is funding a mission we believe in, not stewardship.  Our whole approach to giving has changed in recent weeks. The concept of passing an offering plate has been put on pause and may never return.  We recognize that has been a beautiful part of the worship service, but this is an area in which we need to adapt. We are suggesting to everyone to consider Automated Giving, whether that is online or through your bank.  We are asking that your giving in not based on attendance but is a plan you have made in your own life.

D.    Community Involvement/ Ministry             Reach

Missions.  The process of getting out from behind the window, out of the building.  Reaching into the community and participating mission projects locally, nationally and eventually internationally.  Making ARK a part of our daily life.  This is on us.  COVID-19 and recent racial tensions point to a world that is in need. Now, more than ever we need to be activated to respond. All of us were caught off guard in March, but we cannot be again. We need to be ready to mobilize if this happens again. 

E.     Outreach Evangelism                            Go

Inviting people to come to church.  Plain and simple. Engaging in regular, natural opportunities to invite people to come.  People are mourning loss, this is a natural time for us to step in.  The question that David the Psalmist asks and the question that I ask is the question that everyone is asking.  How Long?  In a few months, we will be hosting Back to Church Sunday. Back to Church Sunday is September 20th, 2020.  It has always been a big day for us, this year it will take on even more significance.

To do these five things is to fulfill the idea of intersecting faith and real life.  That is what we want people to see when they look through the window.  And that is what we want people to see when they meet us outside the window.  To accomplish all of this, we had to ask, how do we structure our budget, staff, leadership and use our resources towards this vision statement?  Those leadership changes were made in 2019. The budget was updated to reflect our new direction and the addition of new staff will be another step in all of this.

In February, we decided as a leadership team to begin searching for a staff person.  It required us to look at the budget in a new way and ask what our priorities truly are.  At this point, we are looking for a Family Pastor and a Discipleship Pastor and we are planning on introducing candidates to you this summer. 

David begins Psalm 13 is a place of doubt, but this is how he closes it:

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

May it be the same for us.