Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Report to the Presbytery: September 25, 2007

Am I allowed to lead? In this era when we have clearly defined the purpose of the Presbytery as supporting, resourcing and encouraging the ministry of our congregations, what does it mean for me to lead? Am I allowed to lead?

In my opinion, leadership from my office means three things: First, to understand our congregations and see where the Holy Spirit is inspiring good ministry. Second, to name and celebrate that good ministry. Third, connect the good ministry of individual congregations to one another and thus help move it to a higher level of energy and commitment. Leadership from the Presbytery means finding out what we do best and helping us to do it better, together. Am I allowed to lead?

Clearly, in my experience so far with this presbytery, what our congregations do very, very well is mission work. Our Mission Committee, under the leadership of Elder Skip Becker, has done a comprehensive telephone survey of our congregations. The picture that develops is beautiful. We have across our congregations a truly remarkable commitment to mission work.
Am I allowed to lead? If I am allowed to name a vision and direction for our Presbytery and for our Churches it would be this: an intentional and robust commitment to mission. This is my vision:

Every congregation will move toward an intentional, defined mission budget of at least 10% of total income every year.
Every congregation will devote at least half of their mission budget to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission work in both designated and undesignated expressions.
Every congregation will make a significant financial commitment to undesignated Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission giving. We will work harder to understand, celebrate and interpret our church’s mission work.
Every congregation will connect with opportunities for active, hands on mission service for their members, including mission trips. We will work harder at connecting congregations together for mission service and mission trips. Lend a Hand is a stellar example of this kind of cooperation.
Every congregation will have an international component to their mission commitment. Every congregation will seek to understand and celebrate the amazing things God is doing in Churches all around the world, outside of the United States.
Every congregation will make a significant and active, hands-on commitment to at least one of the mission agencies which we support within the presbytery bounds. For example, Skip Becker and I recently visited the Check-up Center, a remarkable medical mission right in the heart of the one of the most oppressed and dangerous, urban areas in Harrisburg. The Check up Center is remarkably good ministry, providing free medical care for extremely underprivileged children. But only two congregations in our Presbytery actively support the Check up Center.
Every congregation will make a gift to our Funding the Future capital campaign in support of Camp Krislund.
I ask for permission to lead mission trips as part of my position. I requested and the Administration approved, and you will vote on today, adding two weeks per year for mission work, including funding, into my 2008 terms of call. I hope to create the relationships and infrastructure for mission trips so that every pastor and church leader will have the opportunity to participate.

Am I allowed to lead? Let me be bold:
We can support the General Assembly’s Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts and Hands. Our Presbytery can create and fund a new international mission co-worker position. Our Presbytery can commit to growing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) international mission work.
We can begin a conversation to ponder a Mission Coordinator staff position at the Presbytery level. The responsibilities of this person will be our disaster response ministry through Lend a Hand, connecting congregations together in active mission service and mission trips, and connecting us as a Presbytery with the beautiful work that Presbyterian missionaries are doing around the world.

Am I allowed to lead? What does that mean? To me it means identifying and naming what we do best, and helping us do it better together. Let’s do mission in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Conversations with the General Assembly Council

There is a lot of new conversation and discernment going on at the national level of our church. I want with this report to share some reflections from my perspective as a new Executive Presbyter.

First, when I was a pastor I never knew that there is a para-church organization in our church called the Association of Executive Presbyters. This is a support group for Executive and General Presbyters across the church. This past week, September 18-20, 2007, I participated again in our annual meeting. For my first two years as your Executive Presbyter, I participated in the new executive training provided by Association of Executive Presbyters for first year and then again for second year Executives. This training and orientation has been a valuable and important experience for me. The value of these orientation sessions was not necessarily in the skills I learned, but in the relationships with other new Executives which were forged, and continue to be important relationships for me in the church. Thus for three consecutive years I have participated in the annual meeting of the Association of Executive Presbyters. This is a remarkable group of people, with deep passion for the work we face to build a new church for a new day.

Exactly at the same time as I started my service as your Executive Presbyter, the national church started a serious of conversations intended to build bridges and discern a way forward in these chaotic times. This started one year ago when the Office of the General Assembly, which sponsors an annual polity conference for all our Presbytery Stated Clerks, met simultaneously with our Association of Executive Presbyters. That meeting in Tucson in October 2006 was an exhilarating week for me. I was there for two days of orientation with new Executives starting their second year; participated in the Office of the General Assembly’s polity conference, participated in the meetings to build communication between the Office of the General Assembly and the Association of Executive Presbyters, and also participated in the meetings of the Executive Presbyters. I fully understand the challenges which face our church. But the more I meet with and work with church leaders in other presbyteries and at the General Assembly, the more impressed I am with the vision, commitment and devotion they bring to our common work.

These national consultations have become required when the 2006 General Assembly mandated annual consultations. Now the General Assembly Council meets with the Association of Executive Presbyters annually, an event which took place last week in Louisville. Aside from our meeting, I was delighted to have the opportunity to tour Presbyterian Center. All the General Assembly staff were available to us for conversations and questions while we toured their offices. We also had a meaningful worship service in the Presbyterian Center chapel with a brilliant sermon by Rev. Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Church and a Presbyterian leader from Ghana.

Our discussions with the General Assembly Council last week were focused on the “adaptive change” issues facing the church. In other words, we were looking at the big picture questions facing our church. I believe the distinction between adaptive change and technical change is very important in the church today. Technical change is about problem solving, and finding solutions. Adaptive change is about changing the culture of the church. The conversations were rich, perceptive and challenging. The truth of the matter is that we are faced with the challenge of creating a new church for a new day.

I want to share here some of the questions which we articulated as important in the church today. These are all huge questions of adaptive change. Answers to these questions are complex, multi-dimensional and will require sweeping spiritual and cultural change in our church.

Can the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), in this particular time, find a common vision?
In a purpose-driven world, what is the purpose of the PC(USA)?
Who nurtures the relationships and honors the connections that are at the heart of this network of congregations, pastors, educators, and presbyteries?
Facing the realities of our 21st century context and respecting our historic polity, what can and should leaders do?
In a post-Christendom world where each congregation is a mission post and every member a missionary, can we make disciples through one hour of worship and fifteen minutes of coffee fellowship on Sunday morning?
How do we address the congregational dilemma of moving from a 1950s fellowship/membership model for doing church to a missional/outward model for being the church?
Does the PC(USA) have a fundraising problem, a stewardship problem, or a spiritual problem? If, as the Book of Order states, “We believe that Christ calls and gives the church all that is necessary for its mission in the world,” what are the current funding issues saying to us?
Is the PC(USA)’s communication network effective in an internet age? Who’s talking, who’s listening and who is telling our story?
If the world is becoming flat, what does it mean organizationally for the PC(USA)? How and where can we begin having a conversation about structure, leadership, accountability, decision making and partnership for the 21st century PC(USA)?
What does a healthy denomination look like? How do we get there?
Without constraining the movement of the Holy Spirit, how can a better process be put in place to help each General Assembly focus on what is vital and important to our long-term health and faithfulness?
By the Spirit of Christ we are called to create a new church for new day.