Volunteer Thank You - Vince Brackett
A memory that’s meaningful to me
I’ve shared before that a big source of life for me week-in week-out is my Men’s group through this church — we get coffee every Friday, each of us shares how we’re doing, and then we pray for each other.
One of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had as a part of this group was like 3 years ago.
It was a rough Friday morning for me. I was feeling really down, and in ways that just always seem to come up for me, which feels extra hard.
Does that feel true to anyone else? Like a stress or fear or sadness that is tied to something I know will pass is hard of course, but there’s something about the stresses and fears and sadness that just keep coming back to haunt us, season after season, that really have a way of burying me.
That morning it was about the longing in me to see this church explode with growth and impact on the Northside of Chicago, and just not seeing explosions.
I, like everyone I think, long to feel important, to feel like I matter, to feel acknowledged and celebrated for the work I do, to feel like other people want what I’m putting out in the world.
I didn’t feel like a failure that Friday morning, but I didn’t feel like a success either. I felt like I, and the church, were fine but still struggling and scrapping. And that was weighing on me.
And so my turn to share came, and I shared this. And then everyone was praying for me.
And then, as we’re praying, one of the guys in the group says that he feels like God is highlighting something to him to encourage me, and that it is so obvious it’s hard to see. It’s something hidden in plain sight.
He said: I’m not sure you realize, Vince, that none of the 4 of us guys (the other 4 guys in this group besides me) would be going to church at all if not for Brown Line Vineyard, your church.
And the reason, all four guys echoed, was because churches, as they each had known, just felt culturally foreign.
They didn’t feel like they fit well culturally in church and religious settings, NOT because they didn’t believe in God or spirituality, BUT because the way churches tend to talk about life and the world felt like it set up faith as “at-odds” with their lives and their cultures and many of the lessons they’d learned in life and the stories and movies that spoke to them, and the jokes they laughed at, etc — ::as if they and their culture were an enemy, that had to be turned from the dark side to the light.::
At the very least, they felt like churches in general were speaking a different language and asking different questions than they were. They just didn’t feel at home.
UNTIL, each in their own way, they ended up connecting with Brown Line Vineyard. There is something about ::the unique culture and vision of this church:: that has felt like home, that does speak their language. That hasn’t made them feel like enemies that need to be turned from the dark side. But has made them feel like welcome parts of a faith community.
And they went on to share the incredible gifts having this spiritual home has given them.
We’d probably believe in God, they said, and maybe have some semblance of a spiritual life, but…
- A regular experience of deep community, where people don’t just laugh together but can also cry together? Nope. - Growth and maturity in their emotional and spiritual lives? Nope. - A picture of God that feels loving and close, like Jesus, and not distant and cold? Nope. - A picture of life and the world that includes hope and not just cynicism? Nope.
All of that is because of Brown Line Vineyard, your church.
This gets me thinking about our vision here
This memory is so important to me. I ask God to help me recall it a lot, because it reminds me why we started this church, and that gets me up in the morning.
It reminds me also of a story in the Bible that I’ve been using a lot lately to tell this church’s story.
It’s from the Book of Acts, which chronicles the earliest Jesus movement and the beginnings of the first churches by Jesus’ followers after his death.
In chapter 17 of Acts, we’re following St. Paul, who had a unique position in his society. For various reasons, he had developed a mutual respect with BOTH culturally-Greek Roman citizens (the majority people group in his society) AND the religious minority group to which he belonged: Jews.
This was unique because, in general in that time, there was animosity between Jews and Greeks. They often defined themselves on the terms of “not being the other” —
- The purity-focused Jews tended to demonize all non-Jewish Greeks (or Gentiles) and their religious and social practices as evil and irredeemable.
- According to some scholars, there are records of basically the ancient equivalent of nursery rhymes for kids taught to Jewish children that sang something to the effect of “I’d rather be a dog than a Gentile”
- And Greeks, unsurprisingly, responded in kind with their own prejudice right back —
- which often meant violence and domination (because they were in power)
::But, counter to that hostile backdrop, here is the way Paul, a Jew, spoke about God and faith in Jesus to the Greeks of the city-state Athens.::
22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’
What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands,25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.26From one blood he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live,27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to [turn toward him],31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness [not in tyranny] by a man [Jesus] whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising [Jesus] from the dead.”
I love the way Paul speaks here!
As he shares the life-change he’s experienced and the hope he sees in following Jesus, he is not in the least bit condemning of other religious perspectives. He professes genuine respect for the Greeks, and even appeals to their sources of truth to make his point!
He does not say “leave everything you’ve known, curse it as evil, and trade it for this entirely different path that is the true way”, he says, “the path you are already on can also lead you to this same Jesus I’ve come to know.”
Paul used his unique position of having mutual respect with both Greeks and Jews to continue what Jesus’ life was all about:
- building bridges,
- increasing compassion and care for neighbor,
- self-sacrificial love, not ethnocentrism or stroking our own egos.
At Brown Line Vineyard, we want to be like Paul here in his message and the way he used his position.
And I think this is why those 4 guys from my Men’s Group who’ve never felt at home in other churches felt at home here.
In our environment, it’s not Greeks vs. Jews, ::but isn’t it often Wider Culture vs. Christians?:: Isn’t Christianity so often used by people to define themselves as “separate” or “above” all that is quote-unquote “secular” or “religiously-other”?
That’s what had felt so enemy-ing and culturally foreign to these guys in my men’s group in the brushes with churches they’d had before Brown Line Vineyard.
I think what they needed was a message like Paul’s in Acts 17, and a messenger like Paul — not someone giving off a vibe of “turn from the dark side, and come to the light” but someone giving off a vibe of respect.
Kyle’s and my sense when we started this church was that we are in a Paul-like position: Both of us, through the courses of our young lives, developed a strong faith in Jesus, BUT, also, both of us have never fit very well culturally in church settings.
We can use that unique position to show respect to our wider culture, not demonize it, and to help people find Jesus loving and guiding them from within that culture.
Volunteering is everything to our vision here
BUT… and here’s where I get to what I really am excited to do this morning, ::a vision or a message (even a powerful one) is nothing without people to carry that vision and message.::
What does it take to week-in week-out keep at our 21st century America version of Paul’s message in Acts 17? What does it take to foster this way of doing community and church that doesn’t demonize our wider culture, but respects it and looks to Jesus from within it?
It takes people volunteering to carry this — in countless ways!
Every single volunteer task, even seemingly mundane ones — from setting up our bagels and doughnuts to plugging in an audio cable to comforting a crying 6 month old — is a part of our vision of creating an Acts 17 space, because all of these tasks join together to make people feel welcomed and safe and connected and open to God.
And the results go beyond just the guys from my men’s group:
- We survey this regularly, and have found that 30 to 40 % of the people you see here any given Sunday were not regularly attending a church before connecting here.
- Sociologists estimate that for most churches in America that number is 5 to 10 % (!)
Volunteering is how we’ve been able to foster this type of community.
::And so today is about saying thank you — for being a part of this Brown Line Vineyard vision!::
Right now, I want to invite up our Volunteer Team Leaders.
While they’re making their ways up, first off we have a small thank you gift for anyone who has volunteered in the last year — no matter the capacity. If you’ve helped us set up or takedown as we turn the Davis Theater into a church, if you’ve volunteered your talents with our bands or with our tech team or by hosting people for a BLV small group or event, or if you’ve volunteered with the Warming Center for homeless neighbors, or if you’ve volunteered in Kids Church, or if you’ve helped put our Kids Church materials away after service when you were picking up your children, or anything I’m missing, please take a stylish BLV pen. We’ll pass this basket through the theater.
And now each of our Team Leaders have some specific thank you’s to share.
Sergio & Keziah
Chances are, if we’re saying thank you to you today, then Brown Line Vineyard’s vision isn’t the only thing you say “yes” to. Chances are, this is an amazing quality that is a part of who you are. And that is awesome.
But people with this amazing quality, people who say “yes” to volunteering, to their life being about more than just themselves, to experiencing God through the Jesus way of sacrificing parts of oneself for others’ sake — people like that are prone to feeling tired, to feeling burnt out.
To keep at such a life (which is so worth it if we can maintain it) we need to regularly be re-filled, re-fueled, re-juvenated. It is a tragedy when burn out or a lack of appreciation or disenchantment or cynicism steal this quality from people. But it does happen, and it can happen to any of us.
And one of the biggest ways to fend off burn out and disenchantment is to regularly put yourself in position to be filled back up — by God and by others. This also is the Jesus way — Jesus did not live out self-sacrificial love on a whim. We see him, in the Gospels, regularly retreat to quiet places for prayer, and spend time in community with his closest friends, and directly ask God and his community for what he needs.
That is how he accomplished his vision: by insuring he was filled up. And that is how we as the people carrying BLV’s vision can accomplish ours.
If you would stand with me, let me pray for us.