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…

Confession of a White Male

I recently returned with my friend, Chris, from the PC(USA) multicultural conference. Chris has already posted a good summary and reflection on the conference on his blog, so I’m not going to bother rewriting what he’s already done a fine job doing.

I do though, want to reflect on what it means to be white/Euro-American. Honestly, I’ve never really thought about until this conference when Rev. Jin Kim of Church of All Nations challenged Chris and I to do so. Something that I’ve been learning from my Asian friends over the past year or so is the importance and significance of communal identity. As Euro-Americans, our culture is so terribly individualistic that we have no understanding of corporate identity, corporate sin, or even ethnic heritage. As I’ve been reflecting on this for a few days, I’ve been feeling the need to confess and repent, and while a don’t consider a blog post to be a valid Christian form of confession, I nevertheless want to write out what I feel I need to confess as a white male:

I confess that I’ve inherited and benefited from a legacy of oppression. I’ve benefited from a history of stolen land and slave labor solely because of the color of my skin. I’ve also received unjust privilege because of my gender, and have contributed to the unjust suffering of minorities in America and the poor across the world by virtue of the food I eat, the clothes I wear, and other ways that I’m probably completely unaware of. I confess that, until recently, I either didn’t care, ignored facts, or rationalized my way into denying the sin of my people. (And I could easily go on…)

I’d like to say that I repent of this, but sadly I’m not sure if I know at this point what genuine repentance looks like in this case. How does an individual repent of corporate sin? In concrete terms, as I turn away from the above what am I turning to? How do I completely crucify my ‘white privilege’ and to what am I raised? (And I could easily go on…)

Presbymeme 5

OK. So Bruce Reyes-Chow started a fun chain of posts about being Presbyterian. Brian tagged me, and here we go:

The rules are pretty basic:

  1. In about 25 words each, answer the following five questions;
  2. Tag five Presbyterian bloggers and send them a note to let them know they were tagged;
  3. Be sure to link or send a trackback to this post

1. What is your earliest memory of being distinctly Presbyterian?

Freshmen year of college, when a Baptist friend questioned me on infant baptism and the ordination of women.

2. On what issue/question should the PC(USA) spend LESS energy and time?

This isn’t technically an answer to the question, since it deals w/ money rather than energy and time, but the PC(USA) wastes way too much on General Assembly meetings. There’s no reason to have them in convention centers and fancy hotels when we have Presbyterian colleges across the country that could provide meeting spaces and at least some lodging at a more affordable cost. Let’s move out of the Hilton and into the world.

3. On what issue/question should the PC(USA) spend MORE energy and time?
Being on the front lines of the Kingdom. This means placing greater focus on New Church Development domestically and also the adoption and evangelization of unreached people groups internationally. (With the latter, we’ll also need to focus more on cross-cultural partnership).

4. If you could have the PC(USA) focus on one passage of scripture for an entire year, what would it be?
I’m torn between two. Either Matthew 6:33 (“Seek first his kingdom…”) or 2 Corinthians 6:3-13 (Paul describing his life as a servant of God; we need to recover the Christian willingness to deny self, self-sacrifice, and even suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ).

5. If the PC(USA) were an animal what would it be and why?

A frog… in a pot of water that is getting warmer and warmer. Christendom is over, and we’re living in a culture growing less and less ‘Christian.’ We need to learn again how to be the church in an increasingly less-supporting, even hostile, environment and not simply accommodate ourselves to the whims of the culture.

Ok do I actually know 5 presbyterian bloggers who haven’t already received this??? Matt, Andrea, and…. no. No I don’t.