For the last few weeks in the in The Gathering and a little at the traditional service, we have been spending some time with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Being a good reformed pastor, I have an affinity for Paul’s letters. When read chronologically, the reader really gets a sense of both the development of Paul’s theology as well as the growing struggles of the church.
By the time Paul writes Romans, we see that Paul is really struggling with the direction the churches are going and the influences that others are having on the simplicity and focus on Jesus Christ. We also see that people are continually struggling with the question of how they can be the church.
In the Presbyterian Church, we are really struggling with that very question right now. The significant drops in worship attendance across the denomination, as well as the exodus of many congregations, have left the church rethinking how we do church and what it means to be a community together. Personally, I think this is going to make my time as the delegate to the General Assembly of the PCUSA fun! However, as we struggle with that question, most congregations within our denomination are not having fun. Instead of embracing the reality we are in, most congregations are struggling and lamenting their past. Interestingly, many congregations are even perpetuating problems and issues that happened many, many years before.
Looking at our presbytery, there is a group of us that are starting to meet to begin to envision what the future look of our presbytery might be and how the presbytery can resource the churches. And in our congregation, our leaders are also beginning to ask how we can be both relevant to our community while being authentic to who we are as a church community.
This started at the leaders retreat a few weeks ago. The session, deacons, staff, and others from the congregation gathered to listen and discuss our congregation. There were two parts to the retreat. The first part we began to look at our past and the second part looked at our present, especially in terms what the community looks like around the church. For everyone who came, it seemed that we got something practical from each section.
As a pastor, though, for me there were two things that made it a really positive day. First was that there was not “heated conflict;” though there was plenty of disagreement in various places, some without resolution, we treated each other well and were willing to accept the opinions of others without forcing them to accept ours. The second thing that I found to be really important was a chart that we made that really hit on what things feel like when they are perceived to be going well vs. what things are perceived to be like when we struggle.
For the elders who came, many highlighted the work that was done in getting to know our community through the demographic work from Bruce, our coach for the Gathering. These highlighted some surprising information like young singles are by far the largest demographic group and Asians are the lowest! But we also started to ask how we might be able to better connect with those communities.
For me I do not want to leave things there. For the next two months, February and March, in my weekly letters I am going to look at topics and issues that came from the retreat. In February, I am going to focus on what we have learned through our history and explore the chart I wrote about earlier that broke out the things that make us happy and those that make us frustrated. In March, we are going to explore the demographics and what that means for what our church looks like and where we may focus our ministry.
I hope that you will take time to read these articles, reflect, and talk with me and other leaders.
As many of you know I grew up with a learning disability, a derivative of dyslexia. I do not shy away from talking about that; in fact, at times it is something I joke about, but I am often surprised at how often people judge me for it. I say this because by the time I finished my doctorate, I came to look upon this disorder as a gift. No, unlike most “gifts” it did not make my life easier, it was not fun, it did not garner me really anything. It did, however, give me an understanding within the world that we all see and approach things differently.
Because of my learning disability, I had to learn patience and I needed to listen, research and understand. I had to own the areas that I am weak in and I needed to find ways around them or make those weaknesses work for me. More than anything else it made me realize that I do not experience the world as others do. In ministry, this is important, because often what one person lives for in the church to bring them closer to God, is the exact thing that another person finds revolting.
The problem that we often face in society and in the church is that we forget the diversity of where everyone came from and own who we are. I think of a family I worked with once. Their child was suffering through school, hated going, and refused to do his homework.
The parents were at a loss and did not know where else to turn so they came to me. As we talked I came to a point where I asked them if they owned their child’s learning disability? They had not; in fact, they were doing everything they could to hide it! Interestingly, when I told them about mine, they began to open up, accept the difficulties their child was having and begin to work on ways to adjust to accommodate the different learning styles. Interestingly, once they did that, while the child never did get straight A’s, he was able to be comfortable enough with himself that he was quite successful and found many places to excel in school.
Owning oneself, being authentic in strengths and weaknesses, allows us to connect with others in a more profound and honest way. In the church we are always struggling with understanding who we are. We know the things that make us happy, and we know the things that don’t, but often times we get frustrated along the way. Often that frustration comes from not owning who we are and often talking past or bypassing the strengths that we may be mislabeling weaknesses.
This week we explore in worship the text from Micah 6:1-8. This is one of my favorite verses; it is even on the back of my business cards. “It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously-take God seriously.” The Message, Micah 6:8.
Through the whole passage, we get a taste that God requests that those who follow him relax and learn to accept others and accept themselves for who they are, NOT who they think they should be or why they aren't something else, but who God made them out to be. In a very real way, this takes a lot of strength and courage, because in order to accept yourself, you must accept fully who you are and who God calls you to be. Moreover, you have to accept your neighbor for who God made them to be and find the humility to accept that you’re not perfect and can never be perfect on your own.
I know I have an affinity with the text for that very reason. I know that when I am being me I find great success in my life, but when I try to be something I am not, I tend to fall and often find myself lost and disconnected from God.
As you prepare for worship this week, take time to pray and think on Micah 6:8 and what that means for you.
There is a holy tension that happens within the Christian tradition; depending on the denomination or the community, that tension is often stronger on one side than the other. This holy tension is the balance that we hold between the sacred (Godly, heavenly) and the profane (Worldly).
Some traditions fight the profane world, drawing back into holy traditions designed to separate themselves from the world and make their lives solely focused on God. We see this in some monastic traditions, but more evidently in American society through the Amish communities in the east and some of the “commune” traditions, even the Puritans at the founding of this country.
There is something to be said for living a “Godly” separate life. The focus and order can bring comfort as well as bring understanding and focus for a life. The problem that infects the ascetic life is that no matter how much we try and remove ourselves from the world we cannot avoid the world. Just think how the invention of the printing press affected the monastic life; no longer were they needed to copy the Bible, and over many years, well, you know.
Conversely, we know the problems that arise from the profane world.
I need not go into that, other than to point out that there are humanistic religions that promote how we live in the world. I would challenge you from thinking that those who live a purely profane life are any different then those who live a purely Godly life. I am not talking about egotistical folk, I’m talking about people who believe that all that ills of the world can be cured through humanistic means.
The problem that we find is that to live in one, devoid of the other, is to live unbalanced. I often say that one of the important markers of the protestant reformation and especially the reformed movement is the understanding that we have one foot in the sacred world and one foot in the profane, and we had to constantly shift our balance within the two.
This is often what makes things hard for us as a church, since we are forever trying to struggle and discern where God is calling us to be and where God needs us to go. In fact, it is also why some things that seem so easy for other traditions are so hard for us. In a profane tradition, the answers are somewhat easy we can arrive at them through seeing what “feels right” or using tools like moral relativism, otherwise known as letting people hear what they want. The same is true of the ascetic or Godly traditions that can give a quick answer based on tradition or rote understanding. Again, the problem is that in an ever-changing world, the rote answer does not always fit the question or even help people find a deeper faithfulness.
For us, planted in both the sacred and the profane worlds, we struggle to find what is right. Interestingly, often when we allow ourselves to struggle, we often find that the answers, though they may not fully respond to the initial question, are far more complete than we would find otherwise. For me, one of the greatest examples of this is Jack Rogers, who was asked by the pastor of the church where he was attending to lead a class teaching the con side of the homosexuality debate.
As a strong evangelical, the pastor thought he was in safe hands. So Jack and an elder put together a class (almost 15 years ago now) to discuss the issues around homosexuality and the church. Jack, who was “opposed” to homosexuality in the church in any way, came to listen and understand the issue from another side. This informed him as he listened to the openly gay elder and began to discern where God might be speaking in this issue. Let’s just say Jack lost a lot of friends when he changed his positions, but Jack realized mostly that he understood the issue from a position that did not take into account the world, the needs of God’s children, and mostly the understanding that the issues in the Bible surrounding sexuality are very different than what we have in the world today. You can read more in Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church by Jack Rogers.
You see, when we open ourselves up, we begin to see and understand things better. I know that I will never fully come to understandings on many issues, but I know that God still speaks, so we need to take the time to discern. I know that through discernment, God always shows us the hope we need to live balanced between faithfulness to God and communal life in this world.
Yours in Christ,
I remember the first sermon I ever preached at my parents’ church (well, the church that sponsored me in Seminary). I was preaching on this text from Corinthians, and I spoke to the various ways in which God calls us. One of the beloved, though at times cantankerous, members cornered me afterwards and said “I’m surprised, every other person who has preached this has preached that everyone should to become a minister.”
To which I jokingly replied, “I would not want that, then it would be harder to find a job.”
After a good laugh, I told him how I went through the discernment to follow my call. As I have written, it was over many years and was far more like an amalgamation of various aspect of my life that pointed me in this direction. As a clergy friend told me as I entered the very long process to be ordained, “If there is anything else you think you might want to do, DO IT!!!” This was good advice, but there is the call, I could not avoid that, but at the same time, ministry is not for everyone.
God gives each of us gifts according to his missional needs in this world. This is why this passage is so important. It is also why everyone has to really take the time to discern where and how God is calling them.
Now, as I said before, not everyone is called to ordained ministry, but everyone is called to something. I often find that when I do counseling and I find people that are unhappy in their lives, when we start talking about discernment of call, we often find that they are not in the right position or field. However, if they have the courage to follow their call, interesting things happen.
This is true of Mary, a woman I once knew. Mary was working for a tech company and, well, hating every day of if. Being in her mid-thirties and finally having paid off her student loans, Mary felt stuck, depressed, and lost. She spoke of her life as if it were a really boring book, often in the third person. One time I had her sit down and list out everything she liked on one side of the page, and everything that she considered to be important to living a whole life on the other side of the page. Well, you probably guessed it by now, nowhere on the page was there tech anything. In fact, her love of animals was plastered throughout the document. In talking, she spoke about how she loved to care for animals and had a heart for those who were abused or hurting.
It was a hard choice for her, but she ended up going back to school and becoming a veterinarian. As she discerned her call, she recognized the signs that were there her whole life, but ignored, and that the practicality and money of the 90’s tech industry had taken precedence over what she know would give her joy and would ultimately help her to minister to others. She had a vital ministry sharing compassion and strength for people. Mary also felt more complete, even though she went from being very financially comfortable to wondering at times where she would find the money to pay bills.
While the call may be various, as Mary understood in her role as a vet, as I understand as a pastor, and as others recognize, when we listen to the ways in which God calls us we begin to see ourselves as more complete, and we know the difference that we make in this world.
Parents want the best for their kids, so when I told my dad that I was planning on going into the ministry he showed concern. Going into the ministry, like much of the Christian Journey, is an act of faith. First, it takes a sense of call, but mostly it takes trust in God. Trust that God will provide. So when I made the choice to pursue this I really was not thinking much about the future, just really discerning where I was at that point in my life.
It was a hard discernment process. I was half way through a degree in elementary education with almost enough credits to declare a minor in science. But for some reason the church work kept calling me back. As some of you have heard, the “ah-ha” moment for me was in a class on Hinduism and Buddhism. But that was only part, as I found myself unable to be like most college student and forget about church. In fact, soon after starting college I began to volunteer at the Westminster Presbyterian Church on the corner of the campus. That position led me to my first ministry position as a youth pastor (I had been a missionary prior to college).
Looking back, I know that I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life early on, but it took the coalescing understanding of my spirituality and life assessment that happened in that class which made me unable to avoid my calling. The funniest part for me was the fact that I was not even supposed to be in the class. I thought I was picking the freshman World Religions survey class, and instead fell into this junior level seminar.
I always chalk that up to the mysterious ways in which God works. I laugh sometimes when I think how my life forever changed through the study of another religion! But that is the essence of call.
When Jesus came upon Peter and Andrew, they were out doing their jobs. As fisherman, their livelihood and identity were tied to their work. Most likely from a very young age they were taught the craft, and most likely they never seriously entertained doing something different, let alone dropping their tools and walking away from that life to follow Christ.
But they did. Now scholars, theologians and others speculate a lot about what happened there, but it is unmistakable that the two of them, and eventually the whole crew found their way to let go and follow, eventually directing them to lead, and for most to give up their human lives.
The choice that the disciples made was to follow, but they were human and at times their humanity took control. Look to Peter’s relationship with Christ, but in the end they would always come back and ask for God to help them make things right. Even Judas did that!
Like everything in life, the call is something that comes to you, but you have to make a choice whether or not to follow it. This week’s sermon is about call, but it might as well be about listening, trusting, and responding, because while the call is divine and sacred, what we do with it marks how the rest of our life flows.
I know this is not politically correct, but I am not a fan of Martin Luther King Jr. day. It has nothing to do with MLK or the holiday, but how we treat the day in our society. When I was a kid, it mostly signified another day off of school, which at the time I had not problem with, but as an adult understanding what it is supposed to be about I has become quite frustrating.
In a way it reminds of my one friend who found ways every few weeks to get suspended from school so he did not have to deal with school. MLK day seems to be a holiday that is set aside so that we can get away from the issues and have a party! I know, I know, that is not what a lot of people do, but look at the bookings at Ski Resorts and other destination spots and you will see what I am talking about.
The problem with making something like MLK day a “day off” is the simple fact that in time it has become just that with various platitudes symbolizing race relations and, well, a lot of really good political photos, especially in election year.
The problem with all of this comes down to something that is inherently flawed with the holiday in that the problem we have with race relations is something that goes to the core of our very being, our desire to assert power over other people.
Many years ago, in 1968 the day after MLK was shot, a teacher in Iowa wanted to teach her students about race relations so she manipulated them with a now famous exercise called the “Blue Eye/Brown Eye exercise.” (I think from Jr. high through Seminary I saw the documentary on it at least 10 times, if not more). In a very short synopsis (See the frontline special from 1984 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQAmdZvKf6M) One day the teacher told the class that the blue eyed kids were to get special privileges because they were smarter, better, etc.; later, she reversed the statement to have the brown-eyed kids with the more positive attributes. What the kids saw was how easy it was to treat each other poorly based on perceptions and social pressure.
The interesting thing that she proved within the exercise, which did impact the children well into their adulthood, was how easy it is to pick up on one thing or another to assert power and control over another human being. It also showed how easy it is for those who were treated poorly to accept their place and not assert themselves. Moreover, and even more interesting to me was how when those who were persecuted were brought into power, they began to do the same or even worse than what was done to them.
Now through the years this has been scientifically studied and proven to be a naturally occurring process that is part of the human existence. Just look to the Middle East: every group who has ever had control subjugated the group that was not, just as the American society did to those who were slaves and then to the African Americans, especially, but not limited to the south, until people like MLK stepped forward to witness to the injustice and name the discrimination, calling for a new era of justice.
The problem is that we got a holiday. To some it has become a celebration of an end to discrimination, and to many it is yet another day away from school or work. But neither of those are what this day should be about, nor should it be about MLK; he was a great leader, but he was not the cause! If anything, this day should cause us to look back at ourselves and ask ourselves how we are treating each other. How we use assumptions of superiority – whether it be racial, economic, social, age, etc. – to treat others disrespectfully or subjugate them.
In other words, I encourage you this weekend to listen, remember the battles of the civil rights movement, and think about how you can work to break down the walls of injustice and strengthen the community, which is all equal in Gods eyes.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
My mother was never hard to miss at a wrestling match. She sat up usually towards the top of the bleachers and took up the space that had the matches been well attended ten people would fill. She was a teacher, after all, and there is a lot of down time at a wrestling match, so there she was, sometimes embarrassingly unmistakable and mostly unmissable. My dad, on the other hand, I really did not know was there often. Since he worked, we were already away from the stands doing team stuff that he never caught my eye. While I always knew where my mother was, most of the time I did not even know my father was there until everything was said and done and he came down to congratulate or console me. Sometimes this would even surprise me!
For me, this became a symbol of my relationship with God. At times, God has been like my mother so visible that I could not miss, but often God has been more like my father: there, but hard to see. There are many reasons why God is hard to see at times. Regardless of the reason we do not see God, we can always be assured that God is there and has not abandoned us.
This is the essential point that Paul is writing to the troubled church in Corinth. As he begins the letter to this church, he starts hitting on one of the main problems that they seem to be having: they are losing their faith in God and seeking quick answers and spiritual comfort from, well, wherever they can find it.
Paul is interesting though, in the formula of his letters he writes in a fashion which is designed to lift up this community of followers. As Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation “Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! ” We forget that so often as a church and as individuals.
I remember working with a non-Presbyterian church once when they were getting ready to hire a new pastor. They were struggling and trying to think of whom they were going to call, going through their discernment of what qualities they wanted in their new pastor, and most importantly, what they could do to “save their church.” As I listened it became evident, as is true of most congregations today, that they were not looking for a pastoral relationship, they were looking for a Jesus to save them.
They did not like it when I told them that it was not going to happen. When they winced at that, I reminded them of their own theology and the fact that they had already been saved. To that they had to think a bit, realizing that instead of looking outside their church for a savior, they had to look within and find someone who would accentuate the gifts they already had. Interestingly, they did pretty well with the person they hired. And though in the tough times they were in they felt as if God abandoned them, through discernment and reflection they realized where God had been the whole time.
I remember times when I would get angry with my father for him not being there even though he was, and how silly I felt when I later found out the truth. Sometimes it is easier to believe a truth that you made up over the reality of what is really happening. But that is human, and part of who we are. Our struggle is to keep faith when it is hard to know where God is, to have the assurance that God has given us everything we need, and to trust that God will be there to congratulate us for a life well-lived, or give us compassion when we might have fallen.
 Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (1 Co 1:7–9). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
I am going to continue on the path that we seem to be on this year following rebirth, renewal, and this week, Revitalization. In other words, I want to ask the simple question of what gives you energy in your faith.
Early in my ministry I had the opportunity to work with a nun. In North Carolina the catholic churches in the rural countryside were pretty much all pastored by nuns with an itinerant priest who would come around to do communion every once-in-a-while. This nun was a special lady. About twenty years older than me she felt her calling in much the same way that I did. But being a woman, she never felt as if she would be in a congregation.
For years she did her various positions throughout her order, but on the verge of being burned out, she got the opportunity to work with this small congregation. She did not jump at the chance; in fact, leaving her order was more the direction that she was headed. For weeks she prayed about what to do, and on the eve of her renouncing her vows she had a vivid dream of her sitting with a group of Latino children telling them stories and laughing; she could not remember the last time she did that!
When she went into the office of her order to tell them about the decision, the head of the order asked if she would like to see a picture of the congregation. She did not really want to, she had made up her mind, but sure enough when she saw this picture, she saw the children that she was telling the story to, so she listened to God and took the job.
Now for me it was hard to believe that this woman was ever unhappy, in fact, when I was struggling and needed cheering up I sought her out. The interesting thing was that she realized that God had called her to this ministry, and though what she did before was important, it all prepared her for the greatest of joys which was doing what she did in that church. Through, God and listening to his Call, she was revitalized in her ministry and faith and in turn was able to impact a lot of lives.
As those who are faithful, often we find that our lives of faith get stale; we also find that over time we tend to go through the motions of faith rather than living it out. In doing so our faith and work become far more of a chore than a joyful expression to God. Sometimes this even makes us resentful. My nun friend was!
However, when we listen and let God guide us, we find that we can be revitalized and strengthened especially when we allow God to do his work. This week I want you to think about what might revitalize you in your ministry and faith life. Think about where you are stagnant and ask yourself if God has ever given you a vision? What did you do about it? Has God ever shown you a way to revitalize your faith and what did you do about that? We will talk about this and much more this Sunday at the Gathering.
A few years ago I was working in my office while another pastor stopped in. She was having a problem with a person whom she kept referring to as a “baby Christian.” This left me thoroughly confused, since the problems that she was talking about were definitely adult in nature. Finally I had to stop her so I could follow her better to ask “what do you mean ‘baby Christian’?” A smile came to her face: “oh, someone who just came to Christ, you know, like a baby; everything is wonder and awe, but they still have a lot of learning and growing to do.”
“What a unique way of looking at a newly baptized adult?” I thought.
In fact, I thought that gave some unique insight into what happens at baptism especially for adults who are baptized. So often when we think of adult baptism we do so as a culmination of things. Kind of a Baptism is the final show of faith, a pinnacle, you might say. But that is neither biblical nor theologically modeled anywhere outside some modern traditions.
Baptism, by its very nature, is a beginning. It marked the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and for us it marks the beginning of a life’s journey with Christ. Though some are well on their way in that journey when they are finally baptized, baptism is an important initial point within the faith journey and our life in Christ.
Like life, our faith goes through cycles and in fact is always growing and changing, just as we are. This means that whether we are baptized as an infant or as an adult, there is a significant change that happens with the commitment that is made to live for Christ. For me, though, being baptized as an infant, I sometimes got jealous of those who were baptized later in life. Especially at commissioning services or other baptisms when it is said: “remember your baptism” because, well, I can’t, at least through my own eyes.
I know my Grandfather baptized me, and the infamous Rev. Jack Peters (a strange story for another day) signed my certificate. I know from my grandmother that I was a perfectly beautiful and content child and that everything went perfectly. But beyond the stories, I just don’t know, and more importantly to me, I don’t know what it felt like. So when I hear the words, remember your baptism, I used to get a little jealous of those who were baptized later in life. Since they could remember, and feel, and understand.
However, I realized something too; it was a great gift from my parents to baptize me as an infant because as I grew in my life, I also grew in my faith, and as everything in the world changed around me, I had the constant of God through Jesus Christ before me and to ground me and for that, especially as times got tough, I had something more to rely on, and I knew that I belonged, at least somewhere in this world.
It was interesting, because that was at the root of the problem my fellow pastor was having with her newly baptized adult. He was having a difficult time connecting with the community because he never had a place where he truly felt like he belonged. Granted, he had been part of many things, but as they do with all of us they came and went. But now that he had a constant, he did not quite know how to fit in. Once we realized that, my colleague was able to help him and he became a integral member of their church.
On Sunday we will welcome the newly baptized at both services, but as we celebrate both of these baptisms, take for a moment and think about your baptism and what that means to you. Moreover, ask how you feel you have grown from a new Christian to and adult Christian, and more importantly, what you do to help “baby Christians” in their development.
It is January Second, the first “official” workday of the New Year. I got up and as usual went into my bathroom to shower. The scale I bought last year with the real goal of losing some weight lay in the same state as it did when I bought it, virtually unused. I said to myself, “this is going to be the year I get back on the diet and lose the weight!” Well, by the time I got in the office I realized that I had not weighed myself. That started well!!!
Every year with the turn of the calendar, people make their resolutions to change. One of the most popular ones is to take better care of themselves through diet, exercise, and so on. As those who do statistics note, those resolutions are far more likely to fail than to be kept. There are many reasons for this, but a trainer I once had seemed to put it the best when telling me to never join a gym in January or September. “The only way to change your state is if you want to, no outside forces will do it. But if you internally want to change you will. So when you make choices to change, make sure that you really want it.”
I think about that line a lot as a pastor because change is a difficult thing for churches. About the time I started to be in talks for coming to Westminster, I called up the Executive Presbyter, Joey Lee. At the time there were a few churches looking for pastors in the presbytery. I talked to him about what was going on in each, and one of the things he said was that the other church was in denial of the change that was needed, but Westminster, in his mind, was all too ready. I thought of that as a good sign.
Since my ordination we have seen a pattern in the Presbyterian Church where times are catching up to us and we are being forced to change, not just our church, but the whole denomination. As a denomination we were a silent power within both the political world and the society. In fact, all the way to the founding of the United States you can see a Presbyterian hand in in its formation; literally, the only pastor to sign the Declaration of Independence was John Witherspoon.
In the Eighties we were known to be one of the wealthiest protestant denominations, just behind the Episcopalians. We were also the most educated denomination with the average member having attended college and the highest percentage of college and advanced degrees. From many angles, by the end of the Eighties, just shy of ten years into the new denomination of the PCUSA, we were riding high. But soon we found our denomination having serious breaks, and by the mid-nineties the driving force of the denomination seemed to cease to be about a faithful witness, but to be about being right. This made us close our eyes and ears to the world around us.
Subsequently, it made our denomination begin to worry more about itself and its survival than about its purpose. The desire to stay alive began to spawn a series of bad decisions, and no cross-theological debate. This had the consequence of creating a generation in the church that no longer knew how to have conflicting discourse without one side taking it personally.
The result is that since the eighties our denomination is a fraction of the size it was, with very little political presence, still highly educated, but very little money, in fact only three of the Presbyterian Seminaries are financially secure. This has affected the congregations of the denomination, with the majority of the congregations now under 100 members.
It may seem bleak for the PCUSA, especially as more churches and members are leaving by the day; however, there are things that have changed that are signs of a glorious tomorrow. The most important thing is that on the denominational level we recognize that we have to change in order to be relevant in the future. We also have admitted that in the future we may not look the same as we do today, even to the point of eliminating one of the levels of our governance, among other substantive changes.
Interestingly, as I have listened to the conversation, it is no longer one of survival as it was when I first entered into the ministry; now, it really seems to be one about where and what God is calling us to do and be.
In a real way, I think about it like my desire to lose weight. When I try to lose weight because I feel obligated to, because the doctor tells me, or people mention that I look to have gained a little to much, I usually do not find the success in weight loss, but when I come too the place when I say I need to do this for me because it needs to be done, it somehow always seems to work out! As church and as a denomination, our future and health rely on our desire and willingness to make the changes needed to be a healthier body, putting the mission and goals of Christ before our wants and needs, and let God be our Guide, even if that means we will be markedly different than we once were.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen