Monday, January 08, 2007

Dry Dock

Boats needing a thorough inspection or repairs often head for “dry dock.” A “dry dock” is where the boat can be taken out of the water, transported to a nearby storage area (like parking an RV) and supported by sturdy stands so that the needed work can be accomplished.

A marine surveyor would be the first person I would call if my sailboat had experienced a horrific storm. A marine surveyor is specifically trained to look at all aspects of a boat to determine its condition and if repairs are needed. The surveyor examines the hull—inside and out. Their tools enable them to detect high moisture content with the fiberglass. The surveyor looks at the entire support structure of the vessel. The surveyor goes over everything on the boat—from the top of the mast to the bottom of the keel! They can then help the boat owner prioritize the list of repair projects that need to be completed.

Years ago I was the Associate Pastor of a church that called in a “church surveyor” – a consultant from the Alban Institute. The Senior Pastor had had a “run in” with a very influential member of the congregation. Both were partly “right” and partly “wrong.” Both were pig headed and wouldn’t admit that the other person was partly right. The fight had nothing to do with our church—it had to do with another church in town (the church member had a family member attending that church). The church member left our church over the disagreement and so did six other tithing families. Within a month our giving had decreased by almost 25%. The church was in panic and conflict. People were frustrated with the pastor. No one knew what to do, so at a session meeting, I suggested that we ask the Presbytery Executive for help (I had told the pastor I was going to make that suggestion prior to the meeting so he wouldn’t be caught off guard). The Presbytery Executive suggestion we contact a particular consultant from the Alban Institute. Calling in the consultant was exactly what that church needed. After the first set of meeting with the consultant our church “felt” different! The consultant came back several times and each time it was as though a huge burden was lifted from the congregation. The consultant helped the session look at the church through new eyes and make decisions that needed to be made. The consultant told the Personnel Committee how to deal with a church staff person who was like a cancer in the congregation. The consultant coached the senior pastor and me on how we could be more effect leaders during this time in the life of the church. The transformation the church went through was unbelievable!

The pastor never forgave me (or the church) for bringing in the consultant. He felt that it was a challenge to his ministry and leadership. He refused to implement many of the suggestions that the consultant gave him concerning his leadership style. The senior pastor took early retirement within five or six months.

Here is where my example breaks down—are there any “church surveyors” trained and equipped to look at an entire denomination? The person would have to have the following qualifications:

  • A historical knowledge of the PCUSA;
  • They cannot be vested in the former mainline denominations—they have to be able to think outside the mainline “box;”
  • They have to be biblical in their beliefs and suggestions;
  • They have to be willing to make VERY DIFFICULT suggestions and be willing to alienate people within the PCUSA leadership and congregations.

I am not aware of a single denomination that has been able to be turned around. I don’t think that it is impossible—it would be very difficult. I believe that the PCUSA needs to bring in a Presbyterian businessman who has a track record of turning around large businesses. That person needs to assemble their own “team” to critically look at all aspects of the PCUSA. There needs to be a season of prayer and fasting during their examination/assessment. Their findings and suggestions would be given to the entire church.

You might be thinking that we have already done this with the Peace, Unity and Purity (PUP) Task Force. I am sorry, that is not what they tried to do. The PUP task force was made up of folks within the PCUSA with personal agendas. There is no way that the task force was going to come up with a recommendation that we ordain persons who are sexually active outside the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman. On the other hand, there is no way that the task force was going to come up with recommendations to totally slam the door shut on the possibility of ordain such persons.

The consultant from the Alban Institute kept telling our church that the most important thing we had going for us was that we were strong at the center—our core beliefs were the same. Our core beliefs were held by the vast majority of those who attended the church. Those beliefs were biblically based. The PCUSA is not strong at the center! We do not have shared core beliefs. We use the same words but those words have different meanings. We have different agendas and goals. We are heading in different directions.

The PCUSA has been such an important part of my life that I want it to move forward and thrive. If the only way for this to happen is for me to leave—then so be it! The fighting needs to end. There is no way that this will happen with our current structure and systems.

PLEASE… someone who is powerful in the “structure” of this denomination… call in a “church surveyor!”