Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Tipping Point: A Response – Day 2

The February 28th’s edition of Presbyweb carried a link to an interview that General Assembly Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick had with Presbyterian News Service (PNS). The Stated Clerk said that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is “in a potential tipping point of renewed growth and vitality.” This is a bold statement! What would lead the Stated Clerk to say such a thing? Additionally, he said that he is thinking about running for a fourth term as stated clerk of the PCUSA. This is day two of my evaluation of his interview.

Yesterday I looked has Kirkpatrick’s statement about numerical growth in the PCUSA. Today I will look at the “vitality” of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

There are going to be numerous ideas of what it would mean for the PCUSA to have a renewed vitality. Each definition of vitality is going to depend on the person’s theological/political viewpoint. Here are some possible definitions of Presbyterian vitality:

  • Those on the liberal/progressive side of the denomination would probably say that the PCUSA would exhibit a spirit of vitality if there was a renewed push for social justice, a strengthened women’s ministry, a local option view toward ordination, an expanded ecumenical push, greater racial diversity and a renewed push to influence public policy.
  • Those on the conservative/evangelical side of the denomination would probably say that the PCUSA would exhibit a spirit of vitality in there was a push toward expository preaching, an expanded push for study of the Bible (including memorization of the Bible), a new emphasis on prayer and fasting, a smaller national focus and more of a local church focus, an acceptance of stronger biblical guidelines for those who are in ordained ministry, an expansion in evangelism efforts, if more missionaries are sent overseas and if there was a new focus on new church development (church planting).
  • There are those that would say that we will have renewed vitality when we stop focusing on the authority and interpretation of scripture (which includes ordination standards) and focus on other issues.
  • There are those who would link vitality to membership growth for the denomination.

It is possible for a church or organization to have “vitality” and not be a Christian church or organization. As an organization Rotary International has vitality. There is a passion among Rotarians. Rotarians desire to improve their local community and the world. Yet, Rotary is not a church. There are many Metropolitan Community Churches that exhibit vitality. They are passionate about the issue in which they are involved. Their folks are passionate about their church. Most, if not all of them, have tremendous ministries to those who are HIV positive or have AIDS. Yet, the Metropolitan Community Church is not a Christian church.

Vitality in the Presbyterian Church must be a secondary characteristic to being Christ-centered and biblical.

It is going to be difficult to renew vitality in the governing bodies above the church session. I have not experienced a sense of vitality at a Presbytery meeting since coming to this Presbytery 10+ years ago. Our Presbytery meetings are boring. There is little or no time for networking with other pastors and elders. There is no time or place to find out what types of ministry are going well in our various churches. To be blunt, 75% of our Presbytery meeting is a waste of my time.

Two months from now I will be at the annual meeting of the Purpose Driven Presbyterians Network. Very little of that meeting will waste my time. We will have vital, passionate worship, there will be interesting breakout sessions, plenary speakers will be practitioners in the field, there will be plenty to time to network with others involved in Purpose Driven ministry. The last time (and first time) I was at their gathering I experienced a vitality that I have NEVER experienced at a Presbytery meeting!

The PCUSA will never experience a renewed vitality at the GA or Synod level until it is experience in our Presbyteries.


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