From the Presbytery Leader
Part of my training for the New Beginnings Program, was performing an assessment with a congregation. The assessor reviews congregational statistics, examines financial reports, looks at church records, scrutinizes the building, counts spaces in the parking lot, looks at the online presence of the church, drives around the neighborhood, and tries to find out as much as possible about the church, its history, and its witness in the community. I find myself using these many of these assessment skills as I visit churches in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery.
While buildings are valuable tools for ministry, the members are most important for furthering the mission of Christ in the world. We are the bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ Attending the recent General Assembly, the breadth and depth of the mission of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. was apparent as we heard a variety of preachers and speakers and welcomed ecumenical guests. A new stated clerk, The Rev. Dr J. Herbert Nelson (whom some of you may remember came to Giddings-Lovejoy to help us gain perspective following the tragic death of Michael Brown) was elected the new Stated Clerk. Two women, The Rev. Denise Anderson & The Rev. Jan Edmiston, were elected co-moderators. More than at any assembly I have attended, the emphasis on racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in leadership was apparent.
At the 2016 General Assembly I sensed an honesty about our circumstance as a denomination–a recognition that the PCUSA must adapt to our current context, and keep adapting in order to reach people for Christ. How do we live out our mission as Christians, in particular, as Presbyterian Christians in a world that is becoming increasingly secular? How can our buildings, most of which are underutilized, be blessings to the communities around us? Are members sharing faith with neighbors?
“Decline is everywhere in the church, but many don’t see it,” writes Thom S. Rainer, in Autopsy of a Deceased Church. This brutally honest book describes the status of many of our congregations in Giddings-Lovejoy. How do we turn-around dying churches? By ourselves we cannot. With God’s grace and guidance we can, because we believe in the God of resurrection. Transformation occurs when we recognize and embrace Jesus’ call to give ourselves and what we have away, to be abounding in our generosity. God transforms us as we become fearless in sharing our faith with neighbors and friends, not by buttonholing people and asking them if they are saved, but by patient, gentle, inviting, compelling witness.
Getting to know who lives in your church’s neighborhood is a way to begin. The Presbytery has a subscription to MissionInsite, a resource that provides demographic information about your community. If you would like access to this resource, please contact me. The newly formed teams and commissions of the Presbytery are assisting our congregations in becoming vibrant witnesses to Jesus Christ. Each congregation will have a liaison who will assist church leaders in connecting with ideas and resources available through our Presbytery and the larger church. If pastors or congregations are interested in learning more about church transformation and reaching out to neighborhoods, contact me at the Presbytery Office.
“We can and must inspire the next generation to go where we have not. We can create the kinds of communities and organizations that encourage risk, humility, learning and experimentation…for the mission of God in a rapidly changing world.” (Canoeing the Mountains, The Rev. Dr. Todd Bolsinger)