Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Moving Out of Dry Dock

The PCUSA has been experiencing tremendously unsettled waters. This series of posts as looked at the causes of rough water and how to examine the structural integrity of the good ship PCUSA to find some of the things that could cause it to sink. A sailboat should be ready for sailing when it leaves the dry dock repair facilities. The boat may be in better condition than it was when it came in for repair. Here is the remaining problem—if the captain and crew of the vessel remain unskilled and ill-prepared for the storm waters ahead the boat could still sink to the bottom of the ocean!

I have been a boater for the vast majority of my life. Our family purchased its first used motorboat when I was about fourteen years old. By the time I was seventeen I was hauling the boat thirty miles to the Columbia River to go waterskiing. While serving as an Associate Pastor (focusing on youth ministry) we had our boat out twenty-five or thirty times each year for waterskiing. In Alaska I learned how to sail and have been sailing ever since.

In all of the years I have been boating I have witnessed people make just about every mistake possible on a boat. Most of those mistakes come from a lack of appropriate training. Some of the mistakes are made by people who have been boaters most of their lives. Just because a person can start the boat and get it from “point A” to “point B” in good conditions does not mean that they have the training needed to be a skilled captain of a boat. A letter to the editor of a local boating magazine was complaining about the new law requiring boaters to take a class and pass a test to receive a license to operate a boat in Washington State! The author of the letter was outraged at the prospect of having to get a license. Anyone with enough money can buy a boat and have it on the water in Washington State this very day!

When I “captain” a boat I am responsible for everything that happens on the boat--I am responsible for the boat and the safety of each person on the boat. I take that responsibility seriously. To that end I have taken classes from US Sailing and received certificates in the following areas:

  • Basic Keelboat
  • Basic Cruising
  • Bareboat Cruising
  • Coastal Navigation
  • Coastal Passagemaking

Still, I recognize that I have a lot to learn.

You might be getting tired about reading about all of this “boating stuff” but there is a connection with the PCUSA. Without proper training of its leaders the PCUSA may not survive the rough waters it encounters. The training has to be a blending of biblical and theological training and business training. I had a conversation with a very well-to-do person that is very involved in missions. She told me that one of the biggest problems on the mission field is that the mission workers have a passion for Christ and the church but have little or no business experience—their hearts are in the right place but they do not have the technical skills to effectively run a mission endeavor. I firmly believe that the same thing could be said for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The current head of World Vision was a very successful CEO of major corporations who took a pay cut to come on board with World Vision and provide the leadership that they needed. He has the “faith” and the “technical skills” needed to lead such a large mission organization. There are no skills required to serve in leadership of the PCUSA or our presbyteries. Yes, we have people of faith in these positions. Too often leadership and management skills are lacking.

“Al” is the most skilled leader I have ever had the privilege to work with. It is humbling to think that he looked up to me as his pastor. Al is a retired full-bird Army Colonel. He had the skill to run large Army bases and work at the Pentagon. He has a passion for Christ and God’s Kingdom that is unparalleled. I have watched him and followed his leadership counsel as our church dealt with some very serious issues. His blending of faith and technical skills is what the PCUSA needs. Here’s the problem—he would get so fed up with the “stuff” back in Louisville that he would never go there to work! It is kind of like politics in our country. Our nation’s best leaders would never run for President or Congress because they would never put up with the “garbage” they would have to experience and put their families through. The same thing is very true about the PCUSA. The vast majority of our skilled leaders avoid Louisville, General Assembly, General Assembly Counsel and Presbytery General Counsel like the plague!

If we cannot attract skilled leaders to serve in the leadership of the PCUSA we are in big trouble.

Is it possible to “train” or “equip” the people we already have in leadership. It is possible—it would be very difficult.

John and Amanda Swan-Neal run an offshore training school for sailors. They recognize that sailors need a blending of education and practical training. They purposely sail into “rough waters” to train their students on how to sail in those conditions. Their classes are not always fun. Some students are frightened beyond belief. They push their students very hard. Most of their students will NEVER be as skilled at rough water sailing as are John and Amanda. If I had to take a boat through very rough water I would want John and Amanda to be in control of the sailboat. If they weren’t available I would want someone who had taken their class to be in charge of the boat.

Are there John and Amanda “types” out there for the PCUSA? I firmly believe that there are. Without serious changes in the way our denomination is run they would probably never come on board the leadership of the PCUSA. Are there “training” programs that our leadership could take advantage of to gain needed skills for navigating our troubled times? I don’t know. All I know is that I see a lack of leadership at all levels of the PCUSA. It’s frightening!


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