Saturday, June 21, 2008

General Assembly reflections part 2

The 218th General Assembly (2008) reflections part 2

Quoted here is the recommendation coming to the General Assembly asking “organizations to affirm and adopt the following invitation.” I shared this document with our Presbytery at our June meeting, asking us to consider it for adoption in September. I hope this invitation will help us have conversation about mission in our Presbytery, and make a renewed commitment to our world mission efforts:

As a result of the Worldwide Mission Consultation, “Renewed Call to Presbyterian Mission in the World! Dialogue for Our Shared Future” that was held January 16-18, 2008, in Dallas, Texas, the Moderator, together with the Stated Clerk and the General Assembly Council, recommend that the 218th General Assembly (2008) invite the sessions, middle governing bodies, seminaries, General Assembly Council ministries areas, and all PC(USA)-related mission organizations to affirm and adopt the following invitation:

An Invitation to Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission

As members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) committed to God’s mission, accompanied by global partners, we gathered together January 16-18, 2008, in Dallas, Texas. We acknowledge the rich Presbyterian heritage in world mission and reaffirm the Presbyterian understanding of God’s mission as it is expressed in “Gathering for God’s Future,”

The Good News of Jesus Christ is to be shared with the whole world. As disciples of Jesus Christ, each of us in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is sent into the world to join God’s mission. As individuals and as a church, we are called to be faithful in this discipleship. Our mission is centered in the triune God. Our mission is God-called, Christ-centered, and Spirit-led. Our mission is both proclamation and service; it is the reason the church exists. …

Our renewed call from God is to face the challenges of witnessing and evangelizing worldwide, equipping the church for transforming mission, engaging in ministries of reconciliation, justice, healing and grace, and living the Good News of Jesus Christ in community with people who are poor, [persecuted, and living in the midst of violence]…

The church is part of God’s plan. We are called into the community of the church, and we call new disciples into that community. With Christ as our head, the church community exists for the sake of God's mission. We learn to serve in mission in a way that is faithful to the triune God. We are to model the kind of community God intends for all humanity. To be the church is to be one large mission society. [PC(USA), “Gathering for God’s Future: Witness, Discipleship, Community: A Renewed Call to Worldwide Mission,” 2003, pp. 1, 16. Text in brackets is added.]

Grounded in this theological foundation we realize that God is calling us to new patterns of mission. The world has changed, and the majority of the world’s Christians are now in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The great growth and mission faithfulness of the Church outside the West invite us into a new posture. We must listen and learn to receive. We must also be open to new patterns of collaboration. These new patterns involve new cooperation and partnerships within the PC(USA).

I. We recognize that God calls us to mission that is grounded in confession of our sins, grows out of a life of prayer and is sustained in worship. Therefore, we covenant to live and serve together in God’s mission according to the following values:

1. Trusting in the Holy Spirit and trusting in one another as each discerns how God is moving us in mission. (Acts 10)

2. Doing mission in the way of Jesus who humbled himself, showing the way of self-giving and self-emptying. (Philippians 2)

3. Seeking to be faithful to God as we live and proclaim the fullness of Jesus Christ’s good news; personal witness to those outside the church, justice for the oppressed, and compassion for those in need. We accompany others in their efforts to be faithful. (Luke 4)

4. Affirming the complementary nature of God’s gifts to all in the one body of Christ and encouraging one another in living out those gifts. (1 Corinthians 12)

5. Recognizing our responsibility to each other by communicating openly, acting transparently, and speaking and hearing the truth in love. (Ephesians 4)

6. Striving in our mission to be aware of the context out of which we come, to respect the persons with whom we labor, and to honor the context in which they live. In an era of massive global inequalities we commit ourselves to be sensitive to and address the issues of power that result from our differences. (Philippians 2)

7. Valuing long-term relationships, partnerships characterized by perseverance and long-term commitments, which support and encourage global partners. (1 Thessalonians 2)

II. We seek to live out these mission values with humility, integrity, and steadfastness. Recognizing that God invites us all to be full participants in God’s mission, we commit ourselves to work cooperatively with one another in the following ways:

1. We will affirm and encourage World Mission as it continues to move from a regulatory role to a more enabling and equipping role.

2. We will celebrate and encourage diverse Presbyterian approaches and structures for mission while maintaining the unity of our participation in God’s mission.

3. We will share responsibility for the education and preparation of all Presbyterians for mission.

4. We commit ourselves to seeking more mission personnel who will serve long-term in cross-cultural contexts through the PC(USA), and to supporting them fully.

5. We commit ourselves to enabling and supporting our global partners as they send their mission personnel in cross-cultural service.

6. We recognize and affirm the growing opportunity for cross-cultural mission in our own increasingly pluralistic and multicultural society, and we receive the global community from near and far as mission partners and God’s gift to us. We seek increased integration between local and global mission.

III. As we move forward together in God’s mission, we commit ourselves to calling the church to ongoing intercessory prayer for God’s mission and to the following tasks:

1. We will form a coordinating committee to ensure that we will meet together to share and cooperate on a regular basis.

2. During the coming year we will work to address two immediate priorities:
a. to coordinate and collaborate in the sending of mission personnel;
b. to expand Presbyterian funding for mission personnel.

3. During the next three months we will share this document and invitation with our constituencies.

IV. With bold humility we invite those who would covenant with us to join in this new collaborative model of Presbyterian mission, and we ask for encouragement, for guidance and for prayer, remembering Jesus’ own prayer:

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)

General Assembly reflections part 1

The 218th General Assembly (2008): Reflections part 1

Saturday June 21, 2008

The report of the Form of Government taskforce is certainly one of the most important issues before this year’s General Assembly. This is a sweeping, comprehensive revision of the Form of Government, which is, of course, the largest part of our Book of Order. (Our Book of Order also includes the Directory for Worship, and the Rules for Discipline.) Although the General Assembly’s first business meeting convenes today at 10:00, there was already, late Friday evening, an open presentation by the Form of Government taskforce concerning their proposal. Clearly, the taskforce has done an amazing amount of work in preparation for this decision this week. I have written about their proposal and discussed it in several different forums since their first draft was distributed last fall.

I am of two minds concerning the Form of Government taskforce proposal. I like it; I like the flexibility and streamlining of our polity which they have built into their proposal. I like the serious shift of authority and decision making back to the presbyteries, where historically it belongs. I like the focus on function rather than structure. On the other hand the approval of this proposal will require a much higher level and trust and cooperation across the church than currently exists. This kind of massive change in our administrative organization requires a very high level of trust. Does such trust exist in the church today? If not, this proposal may degenerate into deep conflict or move many people into deep apathy as they simply withdraw from this complicated conversation.

The distinction between function and structure may be the deepest change which this proposal brings. It is this distinction which may be the most important shift. The proposed Form of Government defines the function and responsibilities of the various “councils” of the church (sessions, presbyteries, synods and General Assembly). But the proposal does not define specifically how those functions should be expressed and implemented. For example, the proposed Form of Government does not explicitly state, as our current Form of Government does, that each presbytery must have a Committee on Ministry, a Committee on Preparation for Ministry and a Committee on Representation. In fact, many of the specific implementation steps and specific rules of the current Form of Government are dropped out in the new proposal. Instead broad responsibilities are outlined but specific steps for implementation are left to the decision of the individual councils.

Given some of the conversation we have started in the Presbytery of Carlisle, I want to emphasize that this proposed Form of Government is intended to be a “missional polity”. What does that mean? I want to quote here some background which was distributed by the Taskforce to help us understand their purpose and task. I quote here from “An Introduction” which is a short paper the Taskforce shared at their presentation Friday evening.

“The Form of Government proposed by the task force seeks to implement a missional polity. What is missional polity?
· To be missional begins in the confession that God has sent the church into the world to bear witness to God’s activity in reconciling and transforming the world. Therefore, mission is not something the church does; it is what the church is.
· Polity is the architecture of mission. A missional polity recognizes that the church councils – session, presbyteries, synods and General Assembly – guide and support the work of the congregation, and connect and coordinate that work with other congregations so that the whole church may witness more effectively to the activity of God in the world.
· A mission polity provides flexibility so that each congregation, as it engages the world in it particular corner of Christ’s kingdom, may do so effectively as possible, while still maintaining overarching constitutional standards that apply across the church.”