[Photo by i_yudai]
At a recent gathering, yet again, someone posed the basic question to be, “What do you think about people leaving the denomination?”
Fully understanding that I may be inviting trouble and the safer – and maybe wiser – option would be to leave it to the ecclesiastical pundits and polity wonks to hash out, I figure what the heck, might as well weigh in on one of the big unspoken questions.
Before I start, let me be very clear in that I am not in any way encouraging folks to leave, stay, return, etc. but trying to provide a space to share what I have heard and to invite respectful discourse. As I have posted before, while I have many reasons to leave the PC(USA) I have at least 10 reasons to remain part of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I am not in any way “loyal to the end” to the PC(USA) nor do I find my worth from the denomination, but in the end the PC(USA) is where I feel God is calling me to most effectively and passionately express my Christian calling to serve.
I know there are many facets and layers to people’s relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA). I have had friends who have left our church because we are either to conservative and closed-minded or because we are too liberal and culture-accommodating. I also have friends who seem to always be just this side of making the leap be it to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ or to independent church-planting; all trying to figure out if the next big decision will finally push them to a commitment one way or another. I grieve for the loss and/or potential loss of denominational colleagues, but I also rejoice when those decisions are made in response to a deep faithfulness to answer God’s calling into something new.
To be blunt, and this may seem odd coming from someone in my denominational position, but I actually do not care all that much about where one lands in their denominational affiliation as long as he or she is being fed, nurtured and challenged in their relationship with the risen Christ. As a church planter I long ago gave up the notion that the church I serve is the best church for everyone who walks through our doors on Sunday night.
In fact, one of the first things offer to visitors to MBCC is to acknowledge that we won’t be for everyone and that I care more that one lands in a place where they grow spiritually so much so that if they want to have coffee sometime, I would be more that willing to to help them put together their “church shopping list.” If MBCC is the place for them, great, but if not I can help them find the right fit. I am very clear that I believe that we offer a unique and compelling Christian experience, but I also acknowledge that God calls each of us in different ways and even to different places.
Shouldn’t we want the same thing for one another regardless of theological perspectives; for the other to grow in their relationship with Christ that goes beyond denominational obligation and loyalty? I think that for some of us, somewhere in our experience, we see our salvation being directly tied to our denominational identity. Folks should not be part of our particular denominational tribe because we have some kind of exclusive possession of the truth, but because we offer a unique and compelling reason to live out their faith through the life of our uniquely connectional denomination.
In the end, the institutional location where one chooses to live out one’s Christian journey shouldn’t be a place where one is always happy, comfortable and gets what one wants or is otherwise fooled into thinking that there will be an absence of struggle or conflict. Instead, it must be a place where one feels called to express their gratitude to God for the blessings in their life so much so that the struggles and conflicts can be seen as opportunities through which one’s faith grows. If those struggles cause one to compromise one’s theological or ideological values and integrity, that is not the place to be NOR should anyone allow themselves to be bullied or forces into such a reality.
Again, I am not trying to encourage any particular group to engage in any particular action, but merely weighing in on what I think is an important conversation that is being held in our church. For if we are to move forward with any semblance on health and solidarity, then we must do so trusting God enough to be honest about where we stand on some of the crucial issues is vital.
So . . . I laid out what I think, what say you?