Thursday, October 19, 2006

Moving Forward into a New Presbyterian Future - Part 4

Last week I looked at the possibility of a future in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) without synods and presbyteries. Monday I started giving my suggestions for how the PCUSA can move forward into a new present and future. This topic will continue throughout the week.

  1. Repentance: On Monday’s blog…
  2. Prayer and fasting: On Monday’s blog.
  3. Move off of the sidelines: On Tuesday’s blog.
  4. List the essentials and make them essential: On Wednesday’s blog.
  5. Building relationships: The PCUSA has claimed to be a “connectional’ church—nothing could be further from the truth! Gathering for meetings does not make us “connectional,” it just means that we attended the same meeting. I have been a presbytery geek since coming under care, way back when. I started going to presbytery meetings while under care of my presbytery. During seminary (Fuller) I was youth director at a small church and attended San Gabriel Presbytery meetings with the pastor of the church. While doing an internship in Dallas I attended Grace Presbytery meetings. I was ordained in Presbytery de Cristo. Since that time I have served in Central Washington, Alaska and Olympia Presbyteries. The only presbytery where I experienced the connectional Presbyterian Church was Alaska—there was a close bond between pastors and elders throughout that presbytery. Synod and General Assembly keep us from being connectional—in my opinion. Our connectionalism has to be built from the bottom up. Presbytery meetings do not make us “connectional;” relationships make us connectional. The time has come for us to build relationships. The presbytery can’t do it for us. The New Wineskins Association of Churches has hit a home run (I’ve got the Mets-Cardinals game on) with their ministry networks. We need to start building networks today! Pastor… get on the phone and call some other Presbyterian pastors and set up a gathering (between 3 and 8 pastors). Meet together. Pray together. Hold one another accountable. Get our churches to partner together for ministry and mission. Elders… find what pastors your pastor is partnering with and begin meeting with some elders from those churches. Gather together. Pray together. Hold one another accountable. Get your churches to partner together for ministry and mission. BE THE CHURCH! Ministry networks can join together to form regional networks. These groups are not forced on us by the “system.” These groups form organically by brothers and sisters in Christ.
  6. Be informed—keep the church informed: Information can set people free. A person waiting for test results from the doctor is in bondage to his/her own imagination and fears. The same can be said for people in the Presbyterian Church. Keeping informed allows us to think critically, pray pointedly, act wisely and hope eternally. I am amazed at how few pastors keep up on what is happening in our denomination. Then there are pastors like me who have tried to shield our congregations from many of the denominational controversies for fear of losing to other, more biblical denominations (or non-denominational churches). I am coming to grips with my fears in this area and I am now willing to open the floodgates of denominational information. Web sites I regularly monitor are: Presbyweb (it is the best subscription I have--they give people a free 30-day trial!), New Wineskins, Confessing Church, Voices of Sophia, Constitutional Presbyterians, PCUSA, More Light Presbyterians and Presbyterian Global Fellowship. I follow LOTS of blogs! Here are some of the most helpful: Classical Presbyterian, Quotidian Grace, Mark Roberts, Truth in Love Network, Eagle and Child, Shuck and Jive, Tom’s Thoughts, Berkley Blog, PCUSA Pastor’s Blog, Kruse Kronicle, Reflections for Renewal, Curmudgeon’s Progress, Dr. Jack Rogers, Measuring Days and Experiences in Church Transformation. All of these can be found on my delicious account ( under the bundle called “PCUSAsources.” I have made a commitment to stay informed. I have just made a commitment to keep my church informed. Are you willing to make the same commitments?
Check back tomorrow for more thoughts on this topic.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Moving Forward into a New Presbyterian Future - Part 3

Last week I looked at the possibility of a future in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) without synods and presbyteries. Monday I started giving my suggestions for how the PCUSA can move forward into a new present and future. This topic will continue throughout the week.

  1. Repentance: On Monday’s blog…
  2. Prayer and fasting: On Monday’s blog.
  3. Move off of the sidelines: On Tuesday’s blog.
  4. List the essentials and make them essential: I will never forget the presbytery gathering that I attended within a few days of the ending of this past General Assembly meeting. We were going to be “debriefed” by our delegates and General Presbyter. The person who had served as the moderator for our Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) had the “floor” and was asking some questions. She was totally shocked when our General Presbyter told our gathering that the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly said that there is no list of “essential tenants of the Reformed Faith” for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It seems that our CPM had been teaching inquirers and candidates a particular list of “essential” of the Reformed Faith. Now, as a denomination, we have arrived at a place where there is no “list” of essentials and that any ordaining body can determine if our essentials are really essential. The PCUSA has reached the point of insanity! THIS IS A TIME FOR RIGHTEOUS ANGER AND ACTION!
    The “anger” part is already sweeping through the denomination. Presbytery after presbytery are defying the denominations Stated Clerk and setting their own “essentials.” It is now time for a national set of essentials that are written out. The New Wineskins Association of Churches has a very good list of essential tenants. Here is my very brief summary of the topics covered: God; the Bible; humanity, sin and redemption; the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the sacraments; making disciples of all nations—evangelism and mission; Christ’s return. We need thirty or forty presbyteries to adopt these essentials and overture the next General Assembly to adopt them as the essentials that MUST be adhered to by all ordained persons in the PCUSA—no scruples, wavers, exemptions, etc. This leads to my next point.
  5. The Book of Order can only be amended in years that end with “0”: We must change the way we “do” General Assembly. It is ridiculous that the major task of the General Assembly is amending our constitution. We can’t be “changing the rules” every time the assembly meets. Between assemblies the “rules” will need to be rigorously enforced. If an assembly votes to ordain sexually active GLBT persons and it is ratified in the presbyteries then it will be “church law” for at least ten years. The same can be said for banning such ordinations. We can get on with being the church when we stop fighting over changes to the constitution. The meetings of the General Assembly would look and feel very different. Pastors and elders would have time to network and learn from each other. There would be laughter, and maybe a few tear. We could talk about strategies for stopping the catastrophic membership loses of the PCUSA. Any pastor or elder could attend meetings of the General Assembly. General Assembly meetings could offer workshops for various ministry areas: choir directors, worship team leaders, evangelism, technology, prayer, small groups, blogging, networking, children’s ministry, etc. The facilitators could be the folks in our churches that are doing fabulous work in these areas. I DO NOT believe that the PCUSA has the guts to make this kind of powerful policy! No one would want their pet “theology” or “belief” to have to wait ten years for the chance of becoming church law. I believe that the vast majority of Presbyterians are tired of the constant fighting and would embrace such a change.

Check back tomorrow for additional thoughts on this subject.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Moving Forward into a New Presbyterian Future - Part 2

Last week I looked at the possibility of a future in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) without synods and presbyteries. Yesterday I started giving my suggestions for how the PCUSA can move forward into a new present and future.

  1. Repentance: On Monday’s blog…
  2. Prayer and fasting: On Monday’s blog.
  3. Move off of the sidelines: One major problem with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is that too many people sit on the “sidelines.” The tendency for the sidelines runs rampant at all levels of our denomination.
    1. The local church: How many people sit on the “sidelines” at my/your church? Our churches have “members” who attend church less than once each month. The local Rotary club would never allow that kind of attendance by its members—and Rotary is JUST A CLUB!! The church is supposed to be the body of Christ and yet we set the participation “bar” lower than a local service club! There are “members” of the church I serve that are kept on the active roll because of the fear that other family members will leave the church if their loved one is place on the inactive roll. These “seldom attenders” are not the only ones on the sidelines. Our churches are filled with people who attend worship, and that’s it-- they are on the sidelines. We have faithful church attenders that never crack open their Bibles or pray—they are on the sidelines. We need to get off the sidelines. We need to get others off the congregational sidelines.
    2. The presbytery: The sidelines of the presbytery are even more crowded than the sidelines of the local congregation. There are pastors that never/seldom attend presbytery meetings—with good reason. For the past year I have been in this category. I do not have the seven or eight hours to waste by attending a presbytery meeting. Presbytery will never attend until we all attend and DEMAND that things change! We have to stand up and say what we believe even if the “major players” in the presbytery will disagree with it. I/we need to get off of the sidelines. We have pastors who faithfully attend presbytery meetings and yet NEVER speak out or take a theological stand—they are on the sidelines. There are pastors in my presbytery that have never taken a theological stand on the floor of a presbytery meeting. How can they justify their silence to their elders who attend the meetings? We need to develop backbones that are Biblically grounded and theologically orthodox. We need to change the way delegates are selected for synod and GA. GET OFF THE SIDELINES!
    3. The synod: It is time to “fish or cut bait” concerning the synod. If we are going to keep synods then they have to provide a NEEDED service to our presbyteries and local churches. The only way to do this is to have a serious discussion at each presbytery within our synod to talk about the future of our synod. There should be discussions between the various presbyteries in each synod to see what those discussions have yielded. If there is agreement that the synod is not providing needed services then a plan for fazing out the $$$ support should be developed. I would tell the synod that we will pay the synod per capita one more year and then they will not receive ONE ADDITIONAL PENNY! They would be free to try and raise funds by contacting local churches and if they receive sufficient funding then they will be able to keep their doors open. If the synod goes out of existence it would then be up to the presbyteries to build new partnerships for common ministry.
    4. The General Assembly: I am aware of one church in our synod that has a committee that monitors the actions of the General Assembly. Needless to say, that church is informed about what is happening at the national level of our denomination and they have experienced righteous anger toward the PCUSA. We can no long keep our congregations in the dark about what is happening in the PCUSA. Our churches need to know that Louisville seminary was the site of a lesbian wedding – a wedding that our denomination says is sin. Our churches need to know what is published in “Horizons.” Our churches need to know when our Stated Clerk files “friend of the court” briefs in court cases. Our churches need to know that the PCUSA gives more per member support to the Natioinal Council of Churches than other denominations and they need to know what the National Council of Churches is doing. Our churches need to know that the Social Witness group is doing at the national level of our church. This denomination will not change until the people in the pews DEMAND that it changes. We need to change the ways that our presbyteries select delegates to General Assembly. As pastors, we need to begin attending General Assembly meetings and speaking at the committee meetings. We need to take elders to do the same. Most churches are working on their budgets for 2007. We need to ensure that those budgets have sufficient dollars set aside to send pastors and elders to important national and regional meetings (GA, GAC, Social Witness Policy, New Wineskins, etc.). We need to demand that all meetings of national groups are open meetings unless they are dealing with personnel issues. We can no longer allow the “few” at the national level drive this denomination to ruin. YOU AND I MUST GET OFF THE SIDELINES OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY!

Check back tomorrow for additional ideas on this important topic.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Moving Forward into a New Presbyterian Future

Last week I looked at the possibility of a future in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) without synods and presbyteries. It is my contention that things in the PCUSA have to change. We cannot live the next thirty years like we have lived these past thirty years. Change we must! If all I do is point out things at aren’t working in the denomination then I am a part of the problem—not a part of the solution. I want to be a part of the solution. I hope that you do to! With that in mind, I am going to take several days to make some suggestions as to how we can move into a new present and future for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

  1. Repentance: We need to humbly come before God in an attitude of repentance. There are many areas in which we need to repent—as individual Presbyterians; as pastors, elders and deacons; as presbyteries; as synods; as General Assemblies.
    1. As Individuals: We have not been committed to prayer, fasting, the reading and studying of scripture and the spread of the Gospel. We have not supported the ministries of our local churches to the best of our abilities with our time, talents and financial resources. Our primary focus has been on the local church and we have failed in our responsibilities to the larger church.
    2. As Pastors: We have become so busy that we spend too little time praying and studying God’s word. We have been afraid to fully proclaim the Gospel for fear of alienating people in the pews. We have sacrificed our families for our churches. We have shielded our congregations from the higher governing bodies of the denomination. We have failed in our responsibilities of being “good” presbyters.
    3. As Elders and Deacons: We have too rooted in doing things the way we have done them in the past. We have focused our energies on the local church and avoided the other governing bodies of our denomination.
    4. As Presbyteries: We have wasted the most precious commodity of our members—their time. We have been self-serving. We have longed for our theological “way” rather than standing firmly on the Word of God. We have had too many committee meetings that accomplished nothing. We have not stood by pastors and congregations that we hurting. We have become so set in our ways that WE are killing the church. We have failed to find new ways of being the church in an age of information technology. We have passed “problem” pastors on to other presbyteries.
    5. As Synods: We have tried to manufacture reasons for our existence. We have sought to “do” our own programming rather than to listen to the presbyteries and discern what they need from us. We have allowed campus ministries to preach and proclaim that which our denomination forbids. We have failed to effectively bring our presbyteries together to enable joint mission projects and opportunities.
    6. As General Assemblies: We have consistently gone against the will of the local churches and tried to force our ideas and theology on them. We have allowed “related groups” to do what ever they please without consequence. We allow staff to attend meetings with a disproportionately high number of folks as compared to official delegates. We keep asking the same people to be on committees. We have abandoned the mission field. We have forgotten that the only reason for our existence is to enable the frontlines of ministry.
  2. Prayer and fasting: Jesus prayed and fasted before beginning his public ministry. The church in Antioch prayed and fasted before deciding to send Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey. The Israelites prayed and fasted when the army Edom was coming to wage war against God’s people. There needs to be a time of individual prayer and fasting in the Presbyterian Church. Each of us needs to humble ourselves and seek God’s leading and directing. The transformation of our local church and denomination will not occur if we trust in our own wisdom and strength. We need to humble ourselves before God. After that, we need to have a time of prayer and fasting for the denomination. A week needs to be set aside for this to happen. Some will choose to fast for a day. Some will choose to fast for a couple of days. Some will choose to fast for the week. Some will want to fast longer than a week so the date needs to set sufficiently far in advance to allow this to happen. I believe that without prayer and fasting there is no hope of the transformation of this denomination.

Check back throughout this week for additional thoughts and a proposed time table.