BECOMING MISSIONAL (Part One)

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At the heart of my ministry has been the call to be a missional church.  I hope this reaffirmation by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church doesn’t get lost amid the ‘hot button’ decisions made at this meeting.  The action item approved by this assembly is for the church to:

“join intentionally in God’s mission to transform our world and address root causes of societal injustices by following Christ’s example of service through faith, hope, love, and witness.”

I am wondering:  How are we doing?  Note at the end of this rational a listing of specific action items for churches to consider.

From the report to the General Assembly:

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a historical commitment to joining Christ’s mission in local and global communities and many have discussed and written about the concept of the missional church in recent years. The Presbyterian Mission Agency, in its 2013–2016 Mission Work Plan, has made engaging young adults through mission and volunteer service a priority and believes shaping multigenerational, faith-based relationships dedicated to service in local communities and the world will help the church better follow Christ’s mission.

 

For nearly 200 years, the Presbyterian church has served as one of the greatest forces for mission in the world. The church is called to minister to the immediate needs and hurts of people. The Book of Order states: “In the life of the congregation, individual believers are equipped for the ministry of witness to the love and grace of God in and for the world. The congregation reaches out to people, communities, and the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ, to gather for worship to offer care and nurture to God’s children, to speak for social justice and righteousness, and to bear witness to the truth and to the reign of God that is coming into the world” (G-1.0101).

 

Presbyterians have sought to be a mission-centered church from their inception and have a strong, unwavering belief that there is no other way truly to be the church. Many have discussed and written about the concept of the missional church in recent years. One Presbyterian scholar, Darrell Guder, has written on this vital topic for the church today. In his book, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, Guder and his colleagues provide key insights into the recent missional church movement.

 

Guder and his colleagues discuss three themes that are important to this proposal: the shift the church must make, the purpose of the church, and the role of denominational structures. Guder argues that to be missional the church must “move from church with mission to missional church.”[1] Most churches articulate a commitment to mission and have a mission program. If they are large enough, they likely will have a specific pastor devoted to mission. Many churches support several overseas missionaries and are probably contributing money and service to a local mission, homeless shelter, or food bank. In this construct, mission is seen as one of the many activities and programs of the church. The purpose of the local church is not to be what Guder calls “vendors of religious services and goods,”[2] with mission merely being one of a myriad of programs. Rather, doing mission is central to what it means to be the church. This is the shift that the church must make.

 

The second major theme in Guder’s work challenges the very definition of what it means to be the church. Guder argues that it is “a new understanding of the church as a body of people sent on a mission.[3] The church is thus not only a body that gathers for a worship service. The church is also a group of people organizing together so they can serve the community around them most effectively. The purpose of gathering is to be sent. Guder states, “The public worship of the mission community always leads to the pivotal act of sending. The community that is called together is the community that is sent. Every occasion of public worship is a sending event.”[4] To be a missional church, worship is driven more by what must happen after the service.

 

What it truly means to be the church, according to Guder, is “the people of God who are called and sent to re-present the reign of God. This vocation is rooted in the good news, the gospel: in Jesus Christ the reign of God is at hand and is now breaking in.”[5] For Guder, the focus of the staff and the commitment of the resources are directed toward helping people to re-present Christ to their neighbors in their everyday lives. They do this through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues. The activities of the church should model these forms of everyday interactions. Guder writes: “The ecclesial practices are never esoteric or supernatural but involve ordinary human behavior: joining and sharing, eating and drinking, listening and caring, testing and deciding, welcoming and befriending.”[6] To do this effectively, the church must know its neighbors and understand what things they care about, so as to cultivate authentic, genuine friendships.

 

This initiative seeks to inspire Presbyterian congregations to reach out to their communities through acts of service that lead to connectivity with local communities and demonstrates the love of Christ to their neighbors such as:

 

•      Every congregation would determine a number of volunteers and volunteer hours they would commit to their community and fulfill that commitment for the year.

•      Adopt a community in need of refurbishing in the U.S.

•      Actively engage youth and young adults in volunteer opportunities.

•      Support young adults and others called to serve in God’s mission in the U.S. and abroad.

•      “Re-presenting” Christ in their everyday lives through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues.

•      Support the Living Missionally initiative in prayer.

•      Actively engaging at least 1,000 PC(USA) congregations each year (2014–2016) to focus on becoming “Missional Churches” through acts of service in communities around the world.”

 

[1] Darrell L. Guder, “Missional Church: From Sending to Being Sent,” in Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, ed. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 6.

[2] George R. Hunsberger, “Missional Vocation: Called and Sent to Represent the Reign of God,” in Missional Church, 108.

[3] Ibid., 81.

[4] Guder, “Missional Structures: The Particular Community,” in Missional Church, 243.

[5] Guder, “Missional Church,” in Missional Church, 15.

[6] Inagrace T. Dietterich, “Missional Community: Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit,” in Missional Church, 181.

 

From a Distance!

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From a Distance!

From a distance, I decided to prepare a short blog on how I experience the General Assembly from my home as a disabled teaching elder and at-large member of the Presbytery of Lake Huron.  I just went on disability six months ago.  I am still in the process of re-defining myself as a teaching elder experiencing the church from a different perspective.

I am experiencing the meeting of 221st General Assembly from the comfort of my home. I now have extra time to log into www.pcusa.org.   From this page I can get to plenary sessions, PC Biz, and various articles summarizing GA business.  I am grateful for the on-line streaming that has allowed me to catch a glimpse of what those who are in Detroit are experiencing.

I am grateful for social-media and the dozens of posts lifting up faces and experiences of those who are part of this Assembly.   I have been able to share emails and FB posts with friends and colleagues who are in Detroit.   The ‘connectionalism’ we celebrate as Presbyterians is visible / palpable through pictures and videos and short articles.  As one who has attended many of these Assemblies in the past, I can feel the Spirit of God at work. 

The PC-Biz is an amazing tool.   Now that committees are meeting, I am able to follow work that is being done with various overtures.  An Example:

I wanted to learn more about the new proposed Directory for Worship.  While this is not one of the controversial pieces of business, it is a document that all teaching elders need to study as they create worship experiences faithful to our Presbyterian theology.  I logged in.   Amazed, I already had a password on file!   I downloaded the document and plan to listen to the plenary discussion on this item of business.  Yes, this item is going to be pulled from the consent agenda.   http://www.pc-biz.org/PC-Biz.WebApp_deploy/(S(ll14lzm4n3iujv1bptzdrowt))/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=4711

I have decided that there is no predicting what this Assembly will do with the ‘hot’ issues related to marriage and Israeli // Palestinian relationships.  I have my opinion.  I have also learned, from past experience, that it is nearly impossible to know the heart of the assembly.  I will be praying for the commissioners from the Presbytery of Lake Huron, of which I am a member.  I will be praying for the new moderator Heath Rada and this Assembly doing important work on behalf of all Presbyterians. 

I am listening.  I am participating, albeit from a distance, as a proud teaching elder. 

Honestly, as a disabled teaching elder unable to attend this assembly, I am feeling connected.   Image

 

  

 

PRE-ASSEMBLY and PRAYER and REFLECTIONS from a GENERAL ASSEMBLY JUNKY

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PRE-ASSEMBLY and PRAYER and REFLECTIONS

FROM A GENERAL ASSEMBLY  JUNKY

 Most gracious and glorious God:  Guide me in prayer for the 221st meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meeting in Detroit June 14-21st.  I ask for you to surround elected commissioners with your spirit of discernment.   Empower committee leadership and staff as this assembly seeks to do Your will in doing Your work.

Hear the prayers of your church for sacred worship.  May worship and fellowship fuel this assembly through Word and Sacrament.   Fill our congregations with faith and hope and love as we live out our baptism.    

 Hear my prayers.   AMEN

 


 

REFLECTIONS

 

My first meeting of General Assembly in the former United Presbyterian Church was over forty years ago.   I believe the first Assembly I attended was in Denver in the mid-1970’s.  I have been able to attend about one-third of these Assemblies throughout my career.  [I would have gone to all of them but for the work I was called to do as a pastor.]    

 

I didn’t really become a true “junky” until elected to the General Assembly Council twenty years ago. It was while serving on the GAC and the COGA (Committee on the Office of General Assembly) that I grew to appreciate all the efforts of staff and elected leadership in creating a balanced national conversation on issues we face in church and world.  It is these conversations we hold officially as an assembly among elected representatives that lead to decisions that help build this part of the church we call ‘Presbyterian’. 

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) now meets biennially in even-numbered years.   It saves money to meet every other year.  This also gives the church to deliberate and implement as congregations and mid-councils the work that has been done nationally.   The General Assembly consists of commissioners elected by each of its 173 presbyteries. The GA consists of ten long days, worship, business sessions, committee meetings, an exhibit hall, and tours sponosred by the Presbytery of Detroit—the host for this 221st Assembly.   These assemblies create life-long memories for ruling and teaching elders as well as those who visit these national meetings.

The first day of this Assembly on Saturday, June 21, will consist of worship and the election of a new moderator.  I am biased.  A friend and colleague, John Wilkerson, is running for moderator.  (see http://www.johnwilkinsonpcusa.com/a-shared-vision/)  In my mind and heart, I cannot think of a more qualified person to lead our church with “energy, intelligence, imagination and love”.  I wish I were a commissioner so I could give him my vote.  My voice of support is what I can offer through this blog.

From the official web page of the General Assembly:  

The General Assembly has several specific responsibilities outlined in Chapter 3 of the Book of Order. The assembly seeks to protect our church from errors in faith and practice, is responsible for assuring that the expression of our theology remains true to the biblical standards in our historic confessions. The General Assembly presents a witness for truth and justice in our community and in the world community. It sets priorities for the church and establishes relationships with other churches or ecumenical bodies.  http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga/  

 

There are literally hundreds of issues that go before various committees as commissioners meet.   This is always an intense, joy-filled meeting in giving glory to God for the gift of Jesus God’s beloved Son.  At the same time as in all family gatherings, this national meeting of Presbyterians also has a fair share of controversy and healthy debate.

 

There will be those issues that threaten to divide us as Presbyterians. For me two issues top the list – the issue of same-gender marriage and Middle East Peacemaking top the list of controversial issues where the Assembly is unlikely to find full consensus.  The challenge, as I see it, is lodged in the HOPE that those who don’t always agree on complex issues will not forget we all are called to be “One in the Spirit, and One in our Lord”. At the same time we pray for our polity that allows us to move forward even if it means agreeing to disagree.    We are called to seek God’s will committed to pray for God’s love and peace to build us up and bind us together.

Finally, may we join in regular prayer for this Assembly.  Let’s take time to follow the work that national leaders are doing on behalf of us all. 

May God continue to bless Christ’s Church and the denominational family named ‘Presbyterian’.

 

THE BLACK CHURCH IN DETROIT

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THE BLACK CHURCH IN DETROIT

Preparing for the 221st meeting of the General Assembly in June

SEE:  http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/today/gospel-detroit-061 

This is painful.   Only one full time black Presbyterian pastor in Detroit with an African American Population in the city of over 82%!   Where are the resources from “connectional” friends in Presbyteries and the General Assembly?  What happened to support urban congregations used to get from General Assembly?   I don’t believe we have a single staff person assigned responsibility for helping urban congregations in doing urban ministry.

 

The congregation I served in Saginaw, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, had around 18-20% African American membership.  This is another example an urban church in a predominately black population and I am was a white pastor.  The only black pastor in the Presbytery of Lake Huron is in Flilnt, Michigan.  Again our multi-cultural/urban congregations need more support / resources and black pastoral leadership. 

 

What are we doing as a General Assembly, specifically and intentionally, in growing multicultural urban worshipping communities?  Isn’t this a goal of the 1001 New Worshipping Communities?   What about support our established urban congregations need to survive?  And yes, we need to find ways to support our black pastors wishing to serve in our cities!

 

This quote from an article I recommend reading (that elicited my writing this blog):    

Our cities—and the churches in them—are in trouble. In 1960 Detroit had 45 Presbyterian congregations. By 2013 that number had dwindled to 12—and of those 12, only four had full-time pastors.    If we in the PC(USA) recognize that the church is to stand for peace in the neighborhoods of cities like Detroit, how do we explain the demise of African American Presbyterian congregations in the host city for the 221st General Assembly (2014)—a city that is so predominantly African American?

……In a city (Detroit) with such pressing needs, what few Presbyterian congregations there are have been largely unable to afford even the minimal compensation necessary to support full-time pastors. In a city where 82.7 percent of the population is African American, like Jesus and like Betti Wiggins I weep when I sit at a table with the mayor and other leaders seeking a better life for its citizens and realize that I am the only black pastor representing the Presbytery of Detroit. One is a lonely number.