I have been very involved in the life of my presbytery (the group of Presbyterian churches in an area, united for mission and ministry) the past number of years. We, like so many presbyteries, have struggled to adapt to declining membership and giving and rediscover our primary calling to making disciples of Jesus Christ through the local church.
I've written about this vision, our process of moving toward that vision, and some of our struggle to get there. We have come through much and have entered into a tangibly new and hopeful phase of life and ministry together. This new start was much evidenced at our most recent presbytery meeting on May 21 at Paw Creek. We had all those usual things to do like voting on amendments to our governing documents and dismissing churches to other fellowships, but it all was conducted with grace, truth, gentleness, and love - none of those easy or cheap, but hard-won and deep out of a shared journey of many years.I want to share one glimpse into that day, an indication (to me) of where our eyes and hearts are set, a profound insight into where God is already leading us.
We had a visit from the Rev. Dr. Tom Trinidad, Vice-Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He was invited to give (and gave) a "from where I sit" view of the denomination, including the interesting story of how he came to be a GA commissioner and then Vice-Moderator. And then he opened the floor for Q&A. Tom did a fine job communicating and responded to many of the questions asked (and comments offered), but his part is not my focus; what stood out to me were the nature of the questions asked. In any other year (and most any presbytery), I would have expected questions about church politics, numbers, debates, sides, etc... - people looking to score points or make points, or use the occasion for such things. But I simply want to list the questions asked to the Vice-Moderator, leaving out his responses and noting that those asking were from a wide range of theological viewpoint, church context, race, geography and more. In fact, those asking the questions represented pretty well the scope of the presbytery I described earlier in the links above. Listen to where God has led us to focus:
- How will GA (or presbytery) help my congregation grow disciples of Jesus Christ? I work at a struggling urban church on the verge of life and death and sense such a profound disconnect with what we talk about at presbytery and the General Assembly; I am called to serve a congregation that grows disciples of Jesus Christ... if we don't do it, no one will. I want to speak up for what I think matters most: local congregations.
- Does Jesus still save? Why are we losing members?
- What about the name of Jesus? College students are going to campus ministries that speak the name of Jesus; will we do that?
- What best practices have you seen for "new beginnings" like you've heard described here today?
- Do we still believe that Jesus is Savior AND Lord?
- Who do we save that Jesus is? Can we call for and commit to seeking spiritual renewal in our midst?
- How does the work of General Assembly (esp. resources) translate to the local congregation?
- What call options are there for new candidates for ministry? (many are struggling to find full-time calls)
- Are we hearing all the questions focusing on Christ and discipleship?
- Is Christ not alive among us? We are experiencing a Holy Spirit movement and react as though Christ is dead; we need to stop talking about doing and start doing!
It sounds to me like the Presbytery of Charlotte has a vision!