Maintenance or Innovation?

Last week, I was in Estes Park, CO for a national gathering of the Company of New Pastors. I spent the week with recent graduates from all of the PC(USA)’s seminaries who were selected for this program because of the particular promise that they showed for ministry. There were some good things about this week, but there were also some things that I’ve observed that leave me worried about the future of our denomination. Here are a few:

1.) We gathered for prayer three times a day. The first session was Tuesday evening. Chris and I were running late, and as we were walking down the hall to the meeting room, we heard the sound of voices singing “In the Secret.” We were both pleasantly surprised to hear passionate singing, no less singing of a song written this century. We then neared the meeting room, opened the door, and discovered a room full of young pastors sitting around and waiting for things to begin. The singing was coming from another room. Instead, our worship, (admittedly with some noble exceptions) slavishly followed the Book of Common Worship’s daily prayer rubrics. This made for worship that was theologically sound, but missiologically ineffective if ever attempted for use with laity (and even some clergy) under the age of 40 (and even some over 40).

2.) The retreat also included a panel discussion in which we could learn from several experienced mentor pastors, all of whom were very qualified for the task, and had good things to share. Since we’re all entering a ministry context in which the denomination we’re serving in is declining in numbers, young people are seemingly uninterested in the gospel (or at least they way in which it’s traditionally been presented), and we had a panel of entirely white pastors and the Company of New Pastors class was probably about 90% white (maybe even higher) despite the fact that ethnic minorities are all growing, you’d think there would be some significant discussion about missiological, evangelistic, and cross-cultural aspects of ministry. Nope. Most of the discussion centered on administrative issues of ministry; interacting with sessions and personnel committees, handling vacation and continuing education time, and so forth.

3.) There was also a time for people to meet in small groups based on ministry situations. (Solo pastor; associate pastor; still seeking a call; women in ministry). Given the context I described above in 2., and the fact that this was a gathering of the seminary graduates showing great promise, there would be a significant number of people going into new church development or the mission field. Once again, this wasn’t the case. Apart from Chris and I and those still seeking or not-yet-seeking a call, everyone else was in a traditional pastorate.

What bothers me about all of this is that our denomination is declining, even failing, and we desperately need new ministries and new structures if the ministry of the PC(USA) is going to continue. Instead, much of this retreat encouraged the maintenance of the present institution. The Company of New Pastors is an opportunity to challenge some of the PC(USA)’s best new leadership to taken on challenging and innovative ministries that can renew and revitalize our denomination. If only that challenge would be given…