Monday, January 26, 2009

Report to the Presbytery Jan. 27, 2009

In anticipation of his Invocation at the Inauguration of President Obama, there was a lot of criticism of Rev. Rick Warren. I read a comment from Rev. Warren where he responded, “I am not for the right wing; I am not for the left wing; I am for the whole bird.” I like that image. I feel that way also. I am for the whole bird.
On this day, at this meeting of the Presbytery of Carlisle, we participate again in the great debate about the qualifications for officers in our church. In my mind, and I know many others agree, there seems to be a deep spiritual fatigue around these issues. Here we go again; many of us feel with frustration and resignation. Will anyone change their mind? Are there any new insights and arguments which we have not heard before? Here we go again, and it all seems tired and deeply wearing. From my perspective, there has been very little interest in these questions in our presbytery. I have not been invited to a single session meeting or a single Sunday school class to make a presentation on these questions. On the other hand, I have done numerous presentations on missional theology, our world mission work and on Camp Krislund. Of the two, open discussion forums I created to talk about the General Assembly, one was cancelled because of a lack of response. The second, hosted by our Greencastle Church, was an excellent discussion and a good event, but with only five of our churches represented. As far as I know, our General Assembly commissioners have not been invited to other churches to discuss their experiences. In my very casual conversation with a number of pastors, I am not aware of any churches that have had session discussions, or congregational conversations around these General Assembly amendments. I hope that there has been some discussion at your session meetings in preparation of this vote today.
At the same time, I have a very different perception of our Presbytery. In many ways, and I can list examples, this Presbytery is very engaged, energized, motivated, healthy and vital. This is, in my mind, a remarkably good and healthy Presbytery, and my opinion is confirmed when I hear stories from my colleagues about some of the dysfunction and conflict that is happening in many other presbyteries. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work and serve in this presbytery.
Obviously, we have something very, very special in our presbytery. There is a tremendously high level of trust and support. There is a deep and abiding sense of collegiality and friendship among our church leaders. We have been, two years in row, the number one Presbytery in the nation in per member basic mission giving. There continues to be very strong participation in Per Capita giving. There is, I believe, a wonderful good spirit at our presbytery meetings and a very high level of participation. As I am out and about in our churches, I am blessed by the respect and appreciation which I receive. This is not about me. This reflects a high level of respect and appreciation for my office, and thus for the presbytery itself. We have a remarkable gift and grace in our presbytery.
So I ask this question: out of our health and out of our spiritual vitality as a presbytery how may we serve the whole church? How can the Presbytery of Carlisle contribute to the peace, unity and purity of the whole church? I have been pondering this question since the meeting of the General Assembly last June; I have not come up with any brilliant answers.
I put together a draft overture to the General Assembly which proposed that all changes to our constitution be decided by supermajority voting. In my own mind, I pondered this idea as a way to create a higher unity, and a greater consensus around these questions. But as I shared my proposal with some friends around the presbytery, I quickly realized that proposal did not bring people together across the great divide but, in fact, fell right into the old divisions.
So I ask again, what may we do, as one of the healthiest and vital presbyteries in the church, to share our gift? How may we give what we share to the whole church? How may we contribute to the peace, unity and purity of the whole church out of the deep sense of peace, unity and purity which we share among ourselves?
So I put that question out there for us to ponder and consider. I only have some tentative suggestions which move us in that direction. I suggest that we make a commitment to enhancing and growing what we already do very well. Let us build better relationships, enhance the bonds of unity and trust, and grow the connections which we already share in this presbytery.
Some modest proposals:
Let us organize a presbytery wide pulpit exchange this year. As a Presbytery, we did this before, long ago, in celebration of the Presbytery’s 150th anniversary. This will be an opportunity for our preachers to share their gifts with other congregations and in a small way connect our congregations together.
Let us create a church to church partnership program within the presbytery. By linking up churches with one another we create a whole list of ways in which we may grow the relationships among us. Sessions can visit the other church for worship, there may be an exchange of Sunday school teachers for some classes, or maybe congregations can join together for a common worship service or maybe a picnic.
Let us make a common, renewed commitment to Camp Krislund. Let us build a camp and holy place dedicated to bringing people together across the dividing walls which separate us.
Let us explore and commit to a new international mission partnership, not as individual congregations but as a presbytery. I encourage your to join me in our Church Leadership Conference in Tegucigalpa this March. This is an excellent experience for pastor’s continuing education.
Let us have more fellowship and fun together. I encourage your participation in our presbytery retreat. I encourage your participation in our Presbytery day at the Harrisburg Senators baseball game this June 28.
Most of all let us continue to be the best Presbytery we can, let us grow the bonds of spiritual connection and mission involvement, let us learn each others names, and preach in each others pulpits, let build on the wonderful gift we have as a presbytery, and together let us discern ways we may share our abundant gifts with the whole church.

January 27, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ordained Leadership in the Church

A paradigm is an intellectual and mental framework for understanding. I like the concept of paradigm. It helps me realize that the way we think about things, the way we look at things, and our perceptions of reality are flexible and changing. We can, in fact, change our perceptions of reality. We can shift our most essential paradigms of thought.

We need a paradigm shift in the church. We need a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking and conceiving, one of the most essential aspects of the church, our leadership. What does it mean to be a leader in the church? How is leadership expressed? Who are the leaders and how did they become leaders? We need a paradigm shift around this most basic and most important question.

Conventionally, and without must serious reflection, we easily and ordinarily hold onto a paradigm of leadership in our church that we see, participate in, and appreciate in many other areas of our society. We hold onto the idea of leadership as paid professionals. In almost every area of our society leadership is provided and leadership is models by paid professionals. Thus this paradigm has controlled our thinking, and defined our perception about leadership in the church.

We must have a different paradigm for leadership in the church. We need a paradigm shift away from our common, modern social practice with its strong emphasis on paid professionals. We need to understand and claim the biblical paradigm of calling and ordination. The paid professionals are not the leaders in the church. Leadership in the church is expressed by those who have been called and ordained.

It is the power and continuing presence of God’s calling which allows the church to exist and thrive in each new day, each new year and indeed for every generation. God will provide leadership in the church through a spiritual calling which is heard and responded to by faithful people throughout the generations. The Bible story is very clear: Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Mary, Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Peter and John, and the apostle Paul, Timothy and Barnabas. God calls. The Bible is also clear that these are not perfect people. Sarah responds to her call, “Wait a moment Lord, I am a little too old for this.” Moses responds to his call, “Lord, not me, I do not have the qualifications or experience for this job.” Jesus responds, “Take this cup from me.” It is not, in the first place, the qualities and characteristics of the people that is important. All that matters is that God calls. God calls. Down through ages God calls. And here in this holy place, in the midst of all the ambiguity and challenge of being the church in our modern, fast, sophisticated society, God still calls. The still small voice; the quiet spritual nudge; the warm encouragement of a friend which becomes in our heart a divine word; the witness of the community that reaches out beyond itself into our town and around the world; in those words of scripture that settle in our minds with comfort and challenge: God calls. This is the basis, the only basis, for leadership in the church.

In our tradition, with our emphasis on good organization, but also in most every other Christian expression, the call of God into the heart and soul of individual believers is affirmed and confirmed by the gathered community, by the church. God calls, and the church sets these ones apart for leadership. This is our service and celebration of ordination; the setting apart of leaders in the church. God calls and the church sets apart these ones for leadership in the church. This is the paradigm through which we must understand leadership in the church. God calls and the church ordains and these people are set apart for leadership. It is not about paid professionals; is all about the call of God and the affirmation of the church.

Elders and Deacons; stand in your calling. Because of God’s call, and the church’s confirmation of that call in your ordination and installation, you are the leaders of the church. Please be clear about that. Elders and Deacons: you are the leaders of the church.

Deacons, remember the story of the Book of Acts. The church was growing so quickly that God set apart special people for a ministry of compassion. It is this ministry to the least and the lost, the hurting, the alone, and the oppressed that has always been central to God’s desire for the church. In the ministry of our deacons, this calling to care, support, pray, encourage, and serve continues.

Elders: remember our name. This calling is particularly powerful and important in our expression of church. The very word “Presbyterian” is linguistically derived from the New Testament word which is translated into English as “elder.” All through the ages God has called and the church has set apart elders for leadership in the church. Our Presbyterian tradition has particularly emphasized the leadership of elders. Elders, you are called to lead.
In the modern church, we have also discerned a special calling to set some people apart as trustees. Trustees are not an ordained office; but have a vital expression of leadership in our modern churches. The best way to understand our Trustees is analogous to our Deacons. They take some of the load off of the Elders, so the Elders can focus on bringing the whole church into line with God’s call and God’s purpose for your life together.

The ordained leadership of the church is responsible for leading the church. Get out of this paid, profession staff versus volunteer paradigm. That is not the church. The church is about called and ordained leaders – Elders, Deacons and Ministers – together and equally leading the people of God into the purposes of God for this place at this time. And what does this leadership look like? Remember the ordination question: “Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” That is the leadership we need in the church today. We need leadership that is filled with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. May it be so in this place in the name and to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!