Monday, July 13, 2009

Report to the Presbytery June 23, 2009

Loyalty to Presbyterian World Mission

According to my dictionary, the word “loyal” means “giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution”. Is there any loyalty left in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)? What does it mean to be loyal to an institution? Is loyalty a value or a spiritual gift which we even seek today in our church? I want to ask for and encourage loyalty to the work of Presbyterian world mission.

If there is one great, abiding legacy of American Presbyterianism it is our heritage of world mission. We are a church tradition which participated in the invention of world mission. In the great age of world mission, from the end of the Civil War to the first World War we are the church which sent missionaries around the world, building hospitals, building schools, building agricultural and farm infrastructure, building churches. Our heritage of world mission is stellar and profound. I believe it may be the most important bequest of American Presbyterianism.

I believe with this heritage of mission work the Presbyterians, and our partner mainline Protestant denominations, planted very fruitful seeds in our own culture and society. These seeds have grown up in today’s younger generations as a deep commitment to mission work and community service. These spiritual seeds, which were planted generations ago in the great era of world wide mission work, have grown up into one of the most, remarkable expressions of church work we have today, mission trips. I believe that these seeds planted during the great era of world mission have sprouted into the remarkable plethora of para-church, mission organizations that are now spanning the globe: Group Work Camps, Reach Work Camps, World Vision, Compassion International, Save the Children, Habitat for Humanity. I mention these organizations specifically because I have personal experience with them all. In many ways these organizations, and many others like them, offer important and worthy mission opportunities. For example, through their popular program called the 40 hour famine, World Vision has moved many teenagers to think deep and pray about the abundance and material blessing we have in this country. What does it mean to be a first world Christian living in such an affluent society? After a group of teenagers spend a 40 hours famine together, deep spiritual reflection about consumerism and abundance flow very easy and very deep. For example, Group Work Camps have created an infrastructure and procedure for doing short term mission trips which is easily available for even our smallest congregations. For many churches, their first mission trip with teenagers is a Group work camp, and these experiences often change lives and transform churches. Our son Michael, now a senior in high school, still has a Group work camp ball cap hanging on his bedroom wall from his first mission trip when he was in sixth grade. For example, Habitat for Humanity, as we all know, has given countless people the remarkable opportunity of hands on mission involvement. When I went to a Habitat for Humanity Global Village training class several years ago, I was by far the oldest person among the more than 50 people in our class. Most of the students were college kids preparing to go around the world on short term Habitat mission trips. I believe that the great era of Protestant world mission, during which the Presbyterians were a driving force, is the historical and spiritual antecedent for these exciting, modern and popular para-church mission organizations today.

If you look around the churches of this Presbytery, almost every vital and healthy church in this presbytery does mission trips. I believe that mission trips are as vital today in the life of the church as Sunday school. For many young people and, indeed, for many adults, mission trips are transforming experiences in Christian faith formation. I believe mission trips are vital in the church today. I am leaving on a mission trip this Sunday. But I also believe that there is a huge difference between mission trips and Presbyterian world mission.

Presbyterian world mission is a very different thing than short term mission trips. For many, many complex reasons we have as a church lost our focus on Presbyterian world mission. One of the reasons is that we have shifted enormous energy and resources to doing mission trips. I am asking us to rekindle our commitment and our loyalty to Presbyterian world mission.
At its core, Presbyterian world mission is a commitment to full time, long term, professional missionaries serving at the invitation of our partner churches all around the world. The difference between mission trips and Presbyterian world mission is the difference between kindergarten and the university. Certainly we need excellent kindergartens; we need mission trips. But we also need universities, we need Presbyterian world mission.

I ask for loyalty and commitment. I ask that we proudly proclaim that we are the Presbyterians; we are the ones with a 200 year old heritage of world mission commitment. I ask that we support Presbyterian world mission.