May 2015 Ministry Update

Executive Presbyter’s Report – May 19, 2015

1.At our last presbytery meeting in February, we shared with you that we had begun work on developing a new website. It is not finished yet, but hopefully it will be sometime this summer. But we do have a new logo which is up on the screen behind me here this afternoon. The logo consists of three waves which remind us of the water of the Pacific Ocean which are so much a part of our identity here in San Diego. The image also reminds us of the waters of our baptism as we are baptized into Christ. The three waves remind us of the Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three waves remind us of the identity of our presbytery which is to be a spiritual, missional, and relational community. The logo is designed to show movement – that we are a presbytery on the move. We are not static, we are dynamic. We are not stationary, we are moving in a definite direction. We continue to seek to be active participants in the mission of God in our world. As we move forward, you will continue to see more of our logo. We hope you like it.

2.Last month, our Board of Pensions held one of their Regional Benefits Conferences here in San Diego. They sent out a video team that wanted to talk to people who had been helped by our health insurance plan as well as filming some of our churches and ministries. One of the places they visited here in San Diego was our Grace Presbyterian Church in Vista. Their camera guy took some video of their community garden. It happened to be a Tuesday evening when they have a bi-lingual worship service and offer a meal for the homeless. They also saw their community resource center which offers tutoring and computer assistance. After this was over, and they were walking back to the church office, the videographer had tears in his eyes and he said – I am from Philadelphia. I have been to a lot of churches, but I have never seen anything like this before! The next day I was able to meet with Holly Baker who set everything up. Without any prompting, she said – San Diego is the best presbytery I have ever seen! She said – I am a liberal from the northeast, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But, if we had a bigger budget, I would come back so we could talk to more of your people! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

3.For years now, we have been talking about our need to be God’s missional people – the need to
Get out of our buildings, get off our campuses, and move back into our neighborhoods
We started giving away missional experiment grants
On one hand, this has been great. We have stirred up some new missional imagination
People are looking outward to join what God is doing in our communities in
New ways
On the other hand, we still have a long way to go
Some of us still don’t quite get what we are trying to do
Our Evangelism/Missions committee met last week and reviewed some new grant
Proposals. We could tell some people are still trying to figure out what being
missional is all about
Missional is not about putting down new carpet, putting a new coat of paint on a
Building, fixing up your buildings, building new portables or new buildings
These things are all good and all important, but they are not what we are talking
about
This is still the Field of Dreams model – if you build it, they will come
If all you do is build it, they won’t come. It’s not about buildings
It’s also not about paying a salary and hiring someone to go and be missional for us
It’s not something we can hire out
We can’t hire a talented 30 year old to go and be missional for us
We have to learn how to do this ourselves
We have to go into our communities and build relationships with people who
Don’t already come to our churches
It’s really hard work.
It takes time.
It takes energy
It requires that I change my schedule and re-arrange my priorities
It requires that I set aside what I want to do for others and talk to them and listen
To them and find out what they really need and want

When we give out Missional Experiment grants, we are not looking for a great idea from
a single individual
We are looking for a whole congregation that has buy-in to do something in their
Own local community. We are looking for something:
That the session has approved
Where numbers of members are involved
Where people are already putting time in to it and wanting to go to the next level
We are looking for people who are personally/actively involved in the mission of God
Some of the grant requests we received are just not ready to be funded yet
At this time, we are not saying no, we are saying not yet
We are saying, go back, do some more work, make some revisions, and return
The problem we have in the church is that when you ask people to think of new ideas,
A lot of people think of the same ideas that have always done before.
Or they try to copy what another church has done
You can’t copy anybody else and expect it will work in your neighborhood
You can’t simply cut and paste what some other church is doing
You have to discern what God is asking you to do where you are.
It’s hard work, but it is rewarding work

4. Continually Changing Context
All of this is important because our world continues to change dramatically around us
a.Last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) released the latest denominational statistics
Our membership in 2014 declined by another 92,433, dropping our total membership down to 1,667,767. The membership of our denomination has now declined every
Single year for 50 straight years. I have never known us to be a growing denomination.
The number of churches also declined by 209 down to 9,829. 101 of these were
Dismissed to another denomination and 108 went out of existence completely.
One church consultant that I read observed that over the last 10 years, we have lost 1/3 of our members, about 650,000 people. He described this as a Free Fall for sure. Clearly, we have work to do.

b.These statistics come alongside the latest Pew Research Report on the Church in America which showed that the number of people who call themselves Christians continues to decline and the number of “Nones” continues to rise.
• Since 2007, the number of Americans who identify themselves as Christians has declined from 78% of the population to 70%, although my opinion is that the number of Christians in America is actually a lot lower than 70%.
• The biggest declines have been among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Protestants are down from 18% to 14.5% and Catholics, who are down from 24% to 21%. However, evangelical Christians are only down 1% from 26% to 25%. Evangelicals are now the largest subgroup of Christians in America.
• Those with no religious affiliation have increased from 16% to almost 23% of the population.

I have two sons who are in the mid to late 20s. They are millennials. They are both single. They are both in church practically every Sunday, playing in the praise band and leading a young adults group. I was talking with my older son about this report and he said that his young adults group feels like churches treat them like they are adults sitting at the KIDS TABLE. They feel like they are still waiting in line for respect, and the church won’t pay attention to them until they get married and have kids. Wow. Do we even realize we are communicating that?
He said the church is good at “using” kids to reach their parents but don’t know what to do with 18-30 year olds.
He said the whole culture has become less loyal and more unaffiliated, so why are we surprised that that is happening in the church, as well?

My son’s opinion, as a 28 year old, is that the future of the church is to become more MISSIONAL and more MYSTICAL. He said his young adult group loves to do community service projects. They want something hands on that they can do where they feel like they are making a difference in the world. And this has to take place outside of the church building. His said his generation are pragmatists and they absolutely loved helping out at their local food pantry.

He said the future also has to be more mystical – that his generation are emerging spiritualists. As a reaction to their fragmented technological world where everyone is checking their phones every 10 seconds, he said people in record numbers are signing up for meditation and yoga classes. They are longing for some kind of deeper spiritual connection. They are not always finding that in the church. But, they really want to know Jesus, Who He really is, what He really taught, and what does that mean for their lives.

It is for these reasons and others, that I keep talking over and over about our need to be SPIRITUAL, MISSIONAL, AND RELATIONAL.
Spiritually – introduce people to Jesus Christ and provide deep experiences to actually know Him, to meditate on the Word, engage in spiritual practices, and lead people in their spiritual formation
Missionally – making a concrete difference in the world as we join the mission of God in our communities. It’s not about being selfish and trying to increase church membership. It’s about being unselfish – giving ourselves away For the Life Of the World
Relationally – families and relationships are breaking and broken at high levels. People are hungry for healthy relationships. Many people don’t even know how to build a healthy relationship. If they can’t develop good relationships in the church, they will leave or not come back. If they can, they will stick like glue. Ministry has always inherently been about relationships. If we don’t have relationships, we don’t have ministry.

I will continue to do whatever I can, to help us continue to grow spiritually, missionally, and relationally. This is not an easy time to be the church in America, but it is a time that is ripe with opportunity. God is on the move. There are so many possibilities around us. I want us to focus our time and energy on leading, not leaving. And we will leave the rest to God. It makes me proud that a visitor from the northeast, who was only a San Diego for a couple of days, could say – this is the best presbytery I have ever visited. I couldn’t have said it any better myself! Thank you!

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