Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Report to the Presbytery January 22, 2008

“Sent” is the Church’s word.

“Sent” is the church’s word. Jesus heard that word. The Christmas miracle which we just celebrated again is the about Jesus the Christ being sent into our world. Peter heard that word, and after Pentecost he was truly a sent person. Paul heard the word “sent” in his heart and off he went in the name of Jesus.
The Presbyterian Church has always been a sent church. For our own American Presbyterian history we may consider the first, official organization around this call to be sent to be in 1837. Of course, many heard the call before that, but in that year the Board of Foreign Missions was formed. At that time the Board of Foreign Mission had responsibility for forty-four international missionaries, twenty of whom were women. This work grew enormously; the church heard this call to be sent. In many ways this work was driven by Presbyterian women. Before 1900 there was an American Presbyterian missionary presence around the world including: West Africa, China, Siam, Colombia, Japan, Chile, Guatemala, Korea, Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and the Congo. The high water mark for American Presbyterian mission work was 1927: 1,606 international mission workers from the northern church, 553 mission workers from the southern church serving all around the world, fully supported and funded.[1]
The Presbyterian Church was created to do mission. The rise of the concept of the denomination happened, in part, because of the need to centralize, organize and efficiently administer the church’s international mission efforts. Over the decades the church has become a very highly organized, centralized and an administrative heavy institution. Now, of course, the pendulum has swung the other way. Today congregations are the center and the locus of all mission activity.[2]
What I am proposing may be called an exercise in appreciative inquiry. What do our congregations do best? How may the presbytery help us to do that better together? Clearly, what our congregations do very, very well is mission work, in an amazing variety of expressions. How may we build on that strength.

My proposal has three parts:
One: The Center for Parish Development[3]
We need to develop a theological foundation for our presbytery’s mission and ministry. This effort will seek to provide a theological foundation for the work of our presbytery and our church within our Reformed Tradition. Essentially we are seeking to define a strategy for missional transformation for our presbytery with a Reformed understanding of missional theology at its core. From a theological perspective, what does it mean to be sent? How may we create a vision and strategic plan around a missional theological vision? What would it look like if we comprehensively embodied and expressed this biblical call to be sent into the world as disciples of Jesus?
We have an ad-hoc study group that has been reading and discussing missional theology for almost two years. There are plans around this effort to organize our study group into a presbytery wide ministry initiative and use the services of the Center for Parish Development. This ministry initiative would seek to create a strategy for missional transformation for our presbytery and for our congregations.
I am seeking to create a second, ad-hoc study group to ponder these same questions. You may want to educate yourself about the work of the Center for Parish Development. If you are interested please let me know.
Second: Harrisburg Mission Initiative:
Currently, we have an energized mission advocacy committee led by Elder Skip Becker. Our Mission Committee and I are calling for a Harrisburg Mission Initiative. We want to gather all the pastors and mission-committed people together for one conversation. We want to ask, how can we focus our energy and resources into inner-city Harrisburg where we have connections with a whole list of mission agencies? The mission committee is hosting a lunch meeting on Wednesday February 13 to ask this question.
If the presbytery can begin to focus our mission efforts into Harrisburg, where we have the highest concentration of churches, then I hope we may begin to replicate that same kind of cooperative effort in other areas of the presbytery.
Three: International Mission Co-Worker position:
I want to offer a bold vision of what is means, to me, for our presbytery to take seriously the biblical call to be a “sent” people. I propose that our Presbytery fund our own international mission co-worker in cooperation with our Worldwide Ministries Division. Our Presbytery would be involved in identifying this person, fully participating in their ministry wherever they are serving in the world, and funding their ministry. We would be very intentional about creating close relationships between our mission co-worker and our congregations.
As you know we now have international mission co-workers sent out from our church all over the world. The history of our Presbyterian international mission work is a remarkable and beautiful story. But you may also know that the number of our mission workers has been decreasing in recent years because the funding has not been available. There is a lot of hand-ringing and whining about this decrease in international mission work.
The reason why our number of international mission workers has decreased is easy to understand if you simply follow the cash flow. Our congregations, especially in the past twenty years, have shifted their money from funding international mission positions to local mission projects and doing mission trips. In fact the money for mission has increased every year, total Presbyterian giving has increased every year, but the amount of that money that is kept within the congregations, and not used to support international mission co-worker positions, has also significantly increased. I am a strong advocate for mission trips. I believe mission trips are vital in the spiritual development of our people today. In fact I am sponsoring a mission trip to Honduras this June. But we must find more balance. We cannot continue to shift all our money to congregation-based mission work. We must balance local mission work with support for long-term, professional, international mission co-workers.
I ask you to begin a conversation at your session about support for international mission work. Can we ponder a better balance between the mission giving we provide locally and our international mission work? Can we provide a better balance between our mission trips and our funding for international mission co-workers? Is it time for our presbytery to make a bold commitment to our Presbyterian mission work around the world?
We are a sent people. How are we going to claim and live into that calling as a presbytery?

[1] See G. Thompson Brown, Presbyterians in World Mission, Revised Edition, (CTS Press, 1988).

[2] See Chapter Five, “The Organizational Revolution: Mainstream Protestant Denominations and Mission” in Vital Signs: The Promise of Mainstream Protestantism, Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks, (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996).

[3] For information on the Center for Parish Development please see their website at missionalchurch.org. “The Center's purpose is to help churches strive to become more faithful and effective missional communities that engage the culture with the gospel, liberate themselves from Christendom bondage, and equip themselves to discern and participate in God's redemptive mission.”