Essay

A Future Not Our Own: Some Thoughts After Another Vision 2020 Gathering

By September 23, 2019 11 Comments

The cabin of the plane is quiet except for the low, steady hum of the engines. It’s mostly dark, a few reading lights scattered here and there. My laptop is open, the screen light on dim so as to not wake the person next to me, who is fast asleep with her ear phones in.

I write this as I’m flying home from Chicago after a Vision 2020 meeting. It was our first “in person” gathering since General Synod*, and this time spent on the airplane gives me space to process the past couple days–to begin to sort myself out.

I’ve written about the Vision 2020 team in a previous post, and many of you reading this know what I’m referencing. We’re a team of twelve (plus a few others) who’ve been tasked with helping the Reformed Church in America (RCA) try to find a way beyond some of our deep differences. The team’s heading into year two of our work. This past General Synod was an important checkpoint—an opportunity to present the work done so far, albeit unfinished and imperfect, and engage Synod delegates in the process.

While there has been much affirmation for our team’s part at General Synod, there has also been no shortage of criticism and skepticism. I don’t spend a lot of time on social media, but I’m aware of conversations happening (on all sides) that have been less than favorable. I say this not to fish for praise nor to muzzle criticism. I’m just stating what is.

I want to be careful what I write here. The reflections in this post are mine alone. I do not speak for the Vision 2020 team. An update will be coming soon that is representative of the whole team and shares what transpired over these past couple days. While the charge we’ve been given still feels so incredibly daunting, as I sit here on the plane in the dark, a stubborn hope stirs within me that just will not die.

This morning, as we began the second day of our work together, Jim Herrington (one of our facilitators) invited all of us to share Scripture or any reflections with the group. Members of the team offered morsels of wisdom that were like manna for the work ahead of us.

One team member reflected on Jesus’ parable of the talents. He recalled those servants who “played it safe” by burying their talents in contrast to those who took whatever talents they had been given and risked it for the benefit of their master. “There are plenty of critics and skeptics out there regarding the work we’re doing,” this team member said. “But at least we’re doing what we can to not bury our talents.” Then his voice broke and his eyes teared up. “At least we’re trying. Regardless of the outcome of our work, we’re all showing up and we’re trying. And that means something.”

Those simple words brought me back to the essential question, “Why did I say yes to this task?” God knows how reluctant I was, how many others are far more qualified, gifted and competent to serve on this team than me.

Here’s why I said yes…and why I keep saying yes no matter how hard this gets:

Because I love the Reformed Church in America.

Because when I was fifteen years old I became a follower of Jesus, and the only RCA church in the town where I grew up became my church family. It was the community that taught me the story of Jesus, helped me discern gifts for ministry, and loved my family through our pain when my parents divorced and our world turned upside down. I have found a theological and ecclesiological home in the RCA. This is where I feel like I belong.

The kingdom of God is bigger than the RCA. I get all of that. But I carry in my heart a sense of responsibility born of gratitude, a responsibility that is not just burden but also blessing. A sense of being beholden, not out of weighty obligation but out of a fierce and tender love for this denomination and what it has meant to me. That’s why I said yes to be on this team.

And as my team member reminded me, all I can do is try. It’s all any of us can do. Regardless of the outcome, I will keep showing up and, in God’s strength, I will keep trying. I will keep risking.

My prayer is that doing just that—showing up and trying–really does mean something. Call me a fool. Call me naïve. But in the economy of God’s grace, it could end up meaning more than any of us thought at the time.

“It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. …We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” – Archbishop Oscar Romero

*General Synod is the annual denominational gathering for the Reformed Church in America.

Brian Keepers

Brian Keepers is the lead pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa.

11 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    Thank you. So much that you write is true for me too.

  • Nathan DeWard says:

    Brian, I love your heart and the heart of every member on the vision 2020 team. I will not call you a fool. But I have sadly concluded that you have been sent on a fool’s errand. You have been sent out to build a bridge that leads to nowhere. If you are not a fool, then who is? All of us who are not rising up to denounce our division and allowing us to rend the heart of our Christian unity.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Rev. Keepers,

    Oscar Romero, huh?

    Was his quote so compelling you just had to include it, despite the political connotations that inevitably are associated with him?

    What if someone from the Gospel Alliance wrote a similar essay, and then ended with a quote from Franklin Graham (example: “I’ve read the last pages of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right.”)?

    It just doesn’t appear as a peacemaking gesture.

  • Dale Cooper says:

    Your piece blesses and encourages me, Brian. Thank you for your own and for your fellow committee members’ diligent efforts. Simple faithfulness in trying is a thing of beauty to Jesus . May each and all of you who are working together on this important assignment be aware of our Lord’s favor and delight.

    Dale Cooper

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    Keep fighting the good fight to keep us together but I do wonder why we have to fight about this one issue to the exclusion of all other issues… We are fiddling while the earth is burning up. Churches in America seem to be fixated on sex while ignoring wars, hunger, injustice, and other ibig ssues.

  • Tim McMichael says:

    Blessings on your work. May you and the team find a way via media – perhaps a look at Erasmus of Rotterdam may be helpful. Reforming the RCA is a very hard task that I know you and the others on your team can find a way. You remain in my prayers my friend.

  • Helen P. says:

    Thank you Brian for your thoughts – especially for the Romero quote, one that my sister, Rev. Barb Pekich shared with me years ago.
    I wish you had been at my church, Central Reformed, on Sunday to hear Steve Pierce’s sermon. You would have appreciated it I think.
    I believe the flame is still burning in some congregations because being one is what Christ calls us to.

  • David VanDerWiele says:

    Outcomes are not in your hands. But you do have the opportunity to model what love, grace, charity, integrity, wisdom and deep prayerful discernment looks like in action. This will be a powerful statement, not only to the RCA, but also your younger sister (the CRC), and many other denominations and churches who care to pay attention. It will leave a legacy of light to those who come behind on what it means to trust in the Lord with all of your heart, not leaning on your own understanding. That in all of your ways you are putting God’s Kingdom first, trusting that He will direct your path (Proverbs 3:5-6). May you first and foremost remember that you are serving Him. And even if you are called fools, you stand in good company with many saints who set their sights on an eternal goal. Blessings to you and the team as you continue in this journey of faith!

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