Okay, the “or die” might be a little dramatic.
Rest assured that I am not about “saving” uninspired institutions or preserving oppressive systems of hierarchy, but when it comes to my beloved denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), I am deeply committed to a future of our little slice of the Christian world continuing to be present in a way that speaks and lives a positive and transformative expression of what it means to be Christian in the world today.
At the same time, we are in trouble. I have written much on the state of the PC(USA) over the years (here, here, here and here) it seems that in our yearning to find out what is in store for us, we are beginning to wander down a dangerous path, that of thinking we can do this on our own.
I have attended and tracked more and more events that seem to have the underlying purpose of deciphering the secret code for who the Presbyterian church should be and become in the future. As I followed these conversations, I have become more and more convinced that these events cannot simultaneously acts as both revival and renovation. When we try to build up and rally our denominational family while also deconstructing and renovating our ecclesiology and structures, because each task requires peering through different lenses, to attempt to do both at the same time renders each ineffective at best and vacuous at worse.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a huge upside and valid reason for groups of Presbyterians to gather together as family and geek-out about polity, personalities and processes. When we gather as Presbyterians we can challenge one another in ways that only families can do, we can find strength in our common history and we are able to translate and nuance new expressions of church so that they remain faithful to the unique nature of being Presbyterian. But what we are unable to do, if we continue to think we already posses the capacity and insight within our current community, is to truly see the fullness of what God might be setting out before us. This is not to say that we do not have creative thinkers and innovative risk-takers who happen to be Presbyterian, we do, but too often we fall into the trap of lulling ourselves into thinking that we have discovered something wildly new and refreshing when in reality, when placed side by side with other manifestations of church, we are only creative . . . for Presbyterians.
If the Presbyterian church is truly going to think about ourselves in new ways, we must humbly give up the idea that we already posses the models, approaches and perspectives that will free us to do so . . . and sit down some folks who wear a different nametag of faith: that of “Lutheran,” “Emergent,” “Pentecostal” . . .
I can think of no better way to break out of our Presbyterian echo-chambers, than to gather with folks outside of our own denominational family to see what the possibilities truly are and to embrace the power that can be found in new ecumenical expressions. Ecumenical relationships have traditionally been about finding common theological perspectives or engaging in partnerships of action, but what we have not taken full advantage of is coming together to seek God’s possibility for the future of our collective individual expressions of being church: Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, etc. Again, we all have creative, insightful and passionate folks, but I have discovered that by sharing what we are doing – the joys and the struggles – we can each re-discover the essential aspects of our own traditions and possibly breath new life and new growth into our bodies that are fading into the sunset.
Most importantly, I have found that, by being involved with organizations and events that are not Presbyterian, my personal understanding of what it means or does not mean for me to be Presbyterian has been sharpened and my willingness to see diverse ways to express being Presbyterian has been broadened. If more of us do this, the possibilities for what we might expose one another to when we do then gather as Presbyterians, could be pretty exciting.
So . . . I hope to see you at The Big Tent, General Assembly or any other number of Presbyterian family gatherings, but I also hope to see you at an event, gathering or group like Wild Goose Festival, Red Letter Christians or Church Planters Academy, etc. where we may see even more glimpses into who God is calling the Presbyterian church to be in the future.