Archive for the ‘PC(USA)’ Category

May 2015 Ministry Update

May 25, 2015

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
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!


A Double Crisis

May 3, 2015

Near the beginning of Mark Labberton’s book Called, he writes, “The church has lost its way in the world. What’s more, it doesn’t know it. This is a double crisis for a community that Jesus said is to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). It is a crisis brought on by failure to be and to do what is most central to the church’s identity and purpose: follow Jesus.”

It’s a double crisis. The church is lost in a world that is lost, and the church doesn’t realize it is lost. This is similar to the world in which Jesus was born. Israel was lost in the world that was lost and they didn’t know it either. In Matthew 10:6, Jesus says, “Go to the lost sheep of Israel.” In Matthew 15:24 He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” In Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. And in Luke 19:10, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Many in the church have thought of people outside the church as being lost. But, the church itself is now lost, having lost itself in a world of rapid, discontinuous change, and confused about what to be and to do in a foreign land.

In his book, Mark Labberton gives examples of different kinds of churches that are lost. There is the
• Self-absorbed church – it is a small, inwardly fixated club, sometimes bland, but mostly focused on itself
• Invisible church – it has become so much like the culture it is hard to distinguish any difference
• Siloed church – segregated by class, ethnicity, economics, race, or culture
• Bad-news church – always talking about what is wrong with the world but not really engaging it with any kind of hope
• No-news church – it doesn’t seem to have anything to say to the lost world

What would it take to become a good-news church? For the church to claim it knows the Way, it needs to demonstrate convincingly that it has good news deserving of that name. In a world of violence, of fear, of poverty, of injustice, it has to show up in relationships and actions of life-giving power. In other words, the church has to show a different view and practice of power than the world around us displays. It has to show it knows the Way in a time of explosive global change and confusion.

As one who has been in ministry for over 30 years now, I believe that the local church can still be one of the best contexts in which people are formed as disciples of Jesus Christ. Some churches greatly encourage me at the same time some churches greatly discourage me. I have visited some churches where I walked away thinking – why did they do that? Nothing there touched my heart. They didn’t address any of my questions. Are they trying to answer questions anybody is asking? What planet are they living on? They didn’t talk about anything that is happening in my world. Sigh.

But the good news is that there are some churches that do seem to “get it”. Some churches are working hard to listen to people and to listen to their communities. Some churches are following the Biblical command to be humble and to speak into their local context from a position of weakness. They don’t act like they know it all, but they have a strong confidence in God and how God walks with us through all of the uncertainties, anxieties, and confusions of life. They talk clearly about Who Jesus is and the good news that He brings. They remind us that God does not hate our world, but God so loves our world that He sent His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life. These churches are trying hard to walk their talk. They know that words and beliefs are important, but that faith without works is dead. They know that our post-modern, post-Christian world will have trouble believing unless they can see tangible expressions of Jesus’ good news, what that good news is, why that good news matters, and how that good news can make a difference in their lives and in their communities. They understand that our culture has become skeptical of the church. But at the same time, they also understand that our culture is looking for something to believe in. Our culture doesn’t know where to look or even what it is looking for. But, if they meet a redemptive, missional community that seeks to bless, to heal, and to serve, they will stop and notice. If we will truly love them unconditionally, we can capture their interest.

I don’t like the double crisis. I don’t want the church to be unaware that it is lost in a world that is lost. I want the church to recover what it has lost by learning to follow Jesus again. When Jesus invited His disciples to come and follow Him, He never told them where they were going. But, they were willing to follow Him anyway. They wanted to see what He would do, what He would say, and where He would go. Jesus continues to invite us to follow Him today. We don’t know where it is going to lead us. We are called to walk by faith and not by sight. But, we follow anyway.

I believe Jesus is calling us, like our ancestors before us, to move back into our neighborhoods, to think and to act like missionaries, and to live out our calling as sons and daughters of God. In a world that sometimes feels like it is falling apart, we are called to share the good news, to love one another unconditionally, and to put our confidence in God. If we follow Jesus, He will eventually lead us through our crisis, until we come out on the other side. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.