Friday, March 02, 2007

The Tipping Point: A Response – Day 3

Today I will be looking again at Kirkpatrick’s comments to the Presbyterian News Service. Today I will look at our partner churches around the world.

The Holy Spirit is doing great things all around the world. Churches are being planted. Lives are being transformed. Supernatural signs and wonders are a regular occurrence. The transforming power of the Holy Spirit is working mightily in churches in the developing world. These churches are biblical! These churches are evangelical! These churches have a passion for Jesus!!

Now let’s look at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Our denomination is RICH and has forsaken its first love. (Revelation 2:1-7) The PCUSA is like the church in Ephesus in the Revelation of John. We tolerate those who are “wicked.” We “wink” at those who commit abominable sins. We keep false “apostles” in our midst. The number of clergy and denominational staff (presbytery, synod and GA) who do not believe that Jesus is the only way to God is unacceptable. We (the church) allow them to live in our midst, teach in our midst and we honor them with positions of power in our denomination. They are false “apostles” in our midst. As horrible as these things are they pale in comparison to how we have forsaken Jesus! Too many deny his virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Too many deny his miracles. Too many do not see the need for people to accept Jesus Christ as their savior and Lord. Too many ignore his command to go into the world and make disciples.

The warning to the church in Ephesus is coming true to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Christ is taking away our “lampstand”—the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We crumble and waste away while faithful churches around the world grow and transform lives.

Revelation 2:5 says that the church needs to repent. The only way that growth and vitality will return to the PCUSA is by our denomination repenting and returning to Christ.

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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Tipping Point: A Response – Day 1

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. His statements in the PNS article need closer examination.

First, on a personal note, I want to congratulate the Stated Clerk on the birth of his granddaughter. I hope that she as she grows she comes to the point of knowing Jesus Christ as her Lord and savior and that she knows she is loved by her grandpa. May they have many memorable times together. Now, onto the analysis of the article.

What exactly did the Stated Clerk mean when he said that the PCUSA was at a “potential tipping point of renewed growth and vitality” and how did he come to that conclusion? There are individual churches in the PCUSA that are showing growth and vitality. People can get VERY excited about their local church. There is no doubt that many, if not most, local churches will survive our current season of crisis in the denomination. It is a HUGE stretch to go from growing and vital local churches to a growing and vital denomination!

To become a growing denomination we first have to stop the membership losses. When was the last time that the PCUSA did not have a membership loss? Could it be thirty years ago? How about thirty-five? According to the PCUSA statistics it has been forty-two years (1965) since the PCUSA and its two predecessor denominations had numerical growth. That is almost a half of a century!!! It would be nice if the Stated Clerk would give his reasons for thinking the denomination’s membership loses are going to stop—especially, during this time of unrest in the PCUSA.

What will it take to turn around the membership statistics? That is the big question!

There are times when a corporation spins off multiple smaller corporations. Typically, this type of move happens when a corporation is too diverse—it has too many dissimilar areas of operation. Such a move makes it possible for the new, smaller corporations to specialize in their area of expertise.

Personally, I think that the fighting over the authority and interpretation of scripture will continue until a non-revocable position is taken by the denomination. Such a decision would cause one or more of the “groups” to leave the denomination. I believe that there could be three growing denominations that spring forth from the PCUSA: a liberal/progressive denomination, a conservative/evangelical denomination and a middle-of-the-road denomination. Such a move in the PCUSA would be daring—but it might be the best possible solution to our constant fighting.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Moving Beyond Staying—Purpose Driven!

It’s easy to be critical of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Let’s face it; there are many things that are “out of whack” in our denomination. Our GA Moderator and Stated Clerk have asked us to stay together as a denomination. “Staying” for the sake of staying doesn’t make sense. One reason for staying is the possibility of turning the PCUSA around. The Purpose Driven Presbyterians Network offers a model that can transform our churches and denomination.

Churches of most all denominations have looked at the Purpose Driven material and applied them to their own ministry situations. The five purposes (worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry & mission/evangelism) are biblical. The Purpose Driven Presbyterians have made it possible to learn from other Presbyterians who are implementing the Purpose Driven model of ministry.

The annual Purpose Driven Presbyterians gathering is April 25-27. Trinity Presbyterian Church, of Satellite Beach, Florida, will again be hosting the conference. This gathering will be beneficial for churches that are just exploring the Purpose Driven model. Two years ago I attended the conference. Evergreen had just completed the Forty Days of Purpose campaign. We had not committed to the Purpose Driven model at that time. The conference was pivotal in helping our church decide to become a Purpose Driven Presbyterian Church. The gathering will be beneficial to churches that have been using the Purpose Driven model. We will be able to learn from other churches that are walking the same Purpose Driven path.

Becoming a Purpose Driven Presbyterian Church has been very beneficial to Evergreen Presbyterian Church. Choosing this model helped us look at what we believe as a church; it also helps newcomers know what Evergreen Presbyterian Church believes and stands for. One struggle in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is that our churches span the theological spectrum—no two churches are alike. When a visitor walks through the doors of a Presbyterian Church they have no idea of what they are walking into—the church could be conservative/evangelical, liberal/progressive, liturgical, contemporary or charismatic. We are now very purposeful in what we do in all aspects of the churches life. Newcomers know what we are, what we believe and what is expected of members. Becoming Purpose Driven revitalized our church!

Now is the time to prayerfully consider going to the annual gathering of the Purpose Driven Presbyterians Network. Their brochure is available online. I believe that one source of hope for the PCUSA’s future is the Purpose Driven Presbyterians Network.