Can We Just Be a Healthy Dog?

At a recent meeting we held to discuss issues going on in our denomination, one of our pastors stated that we are part of a disintegrating denomination. One person said that we are part of a dysfunctional denomination. And one pastor said that he would like our presbytery to just be a healthy dog. It raised the question: regardless of what the other “dogs” are doing, can we just be a healthy dog?

My wife is a dog lover. I have friends who are dog lovers. We have a family member who works at an animal shelter, rescuing sick, injured, or unwanted dogs. We have another family member that adopted a Katrina dog – a dog that had been traumatized by Hurricane Katrina and is now experiencing the love and stability of a healthy home. If you want your dog to be healthy, what do you do?

You would be concerned about their physical health. You would feed them healthy food in healthy portions. You would take them to the vet to get their shots. You would bathe them and keep them clean. You would keep them away from dogs with lice, fleas, and tics. You would keep them away from vicious dogs that have been trained to attack. You would provide a healthy environment. You would create a home and a culture that is caring, loving, honest, and respectful. You would act consistently so that the dog would know what to expect. You would invite your friends to bring their healthy dogs over to your house. You would let them play together in your yard. You would put a fence around your yard, so your dogs wouldn’t run out into the street and get hit by a car, and to keep out the unhealthy animals that might infect your dogs. You would seek to minimize or eliminate unhealthy exposure. You would seek to both protect and strengthen your dog, knowing that they can move out into a challenging world if they have a healthy environment to come back home to.

As we have tried to cultivate a “healthy dog” presbytery, we have focused on being spiritual, missional, and relational. In 2003, we adopted the Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives as a statement of faith, carrying on the orthodox, Biblical, Reformed faith handed down to us by our forebears. We believe an emphasis on spiritual formation, spiritual practices, and spiritual disciplines is important for a healthy community. In 2008, we adopted a statement of our missional vision, saying that we were no longer primarily a governing body, that we are now primarily a relational community, and that we hope to someday become primarily a mission agency. God by nature is a sending God and we are His sent people. We are seeking to discover what God is up in our world and discern where Christ is inviting us to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that all effective ministry is relational. It is always about relationships. Without relationships, ministry does not happen. God, in His very nature, is a relational God. This is the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in relationship with one another, and invite us into a covenant relationship with God through His only Son Jesus Christ, and into a covenant relationship with a community of Jesus’ followers.

One of our goals as presbytery is to cultivate a safe, inspiring, encouraging, healthy culture where our members and churches can thrive. In Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor, he says that “in the Reformed view, the purpose of work is to create a culture that honors God and enables people to thrive.” That is what we would like to do as a presbytery. We would like to be a culture that honors God and enables people to thrive. We would like to be a healthy dog.

How can your congregation be a healthy dog, addressing your adaptive challenges, and moving boldly into the mission of God that the Holy Spirit is leading you in to? How can our presbytery be a healthy dog, coming alongside of you, to assist in your missional development? What relationships beyond our presbytery are keeping us from being a healthy dog? What relationships are holding us back in our missional development? What relationships can help us grow as a healthy dog? What is God’s will for us? How can we be both faithful and fruitful?

I think we have a pretty clear understanding of what our challenges are. We know what the questions are. But, we don’t know what the answers are yet. We want to take the next six months to do a lot of listening, have a lot of conversations, and do a lot of praying. We want to hear from you. In our world of rapid, discontinuous change, how can we be faithful to God’s call on our lives to be His missional people? When others might bring us down, and when systems might hold us back, how can we just be a healthy dog?

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