Waiting on . . . Whom?

September 6, 2011

Those known affectionately as the Seven Dwarfs[1] saw the initial purpose of their Letter to the PCUSA (dated February 2, 2011) as getting a national conversation going. They certainly accomplished that! Reactions to their initiative have ranged from “Who do they think they are?” to “Oh, good, somebody will provide the ultimate solution to our problem!” My blogs last week attempted to address those two extreme reactions: resistance to self-appointed leadership and idol-worship.

This week, I would like to unpack four changes of attitude I think are necessary for the evangelical wing of the Presbyterian Church to get its act together for the transitions ahead. Those shifts are movements from

1) waiting on the leadership to come up with a plan to waiting on God

2) passivity to activity

3) skepticism to openness

4) reluctant straggler to pace-setter

I shall take each one of these attitude changes in turn, today tackling “Waiting on . . . Whom?”

Waiting in patience is a virtue, a fruit of the Spirit, and a necessary attitude when working with the saints comprising the Church of Jesus Christ. This we know from practice: the machines of Presbyterian decision-making grind very slowly, and months or years can pass before any real progress is visible. Patience is a virtue when the one waiting really does not have the power or authority to move ahead until something out of one’s control happens first. It requires patience to wait contentedly for my plane to come to the gate—on the airline’s timetable, not mine. It requires patience to wait in line for a ticket and to step to the counter when beckoned. But it is not patience at all to fall asleep at the gate; one must remain alert for its arrival.

Waiting on God, in my experience, is a tingling anticipation that God is on the move, that God desires my alignment with his purposes, that the only way I can travel with God is by staying awake and closeby, and that by cultivating faith and trust in the Savior, I can “go” or “do” when he says to. Waiting on God is another way of saying we are awaiting orders. Sometimes we even have to wait until we get on the plane to find out exactly where we’re going; by then, we’re committed to the flight no matter what the destination.

Following the Israelites’ spectacular exodus from Egypt through the Red Sea, another colorful biblical example of this dynamic is found in Joshua 6:2-16. At the time of the conquest of Jericho, the people were instructed to wait on the Lord by circling the city in the company of the ark of the covenant for six days—enough to build up some anticipation. This act committed them to God’s process rather than a humanly devised one. On the seventh day, they were commanded to shout after the trumpets were blown; the city miraculously fell into their possession.

In anticipation of this event, the Israelites demonstrated that they were waiting on God by following his guidance step by step. They were organized by tribe, instructed in God’s will (e.g. Ten Commandments), prepared by desert training (forty years in the wilderness), and built up in faith. On their virtuous days, they were not idly standing by hoping Moses would “do something” (although the Book of Numbers has several instances of their grumbling about his alleged ineffectual leadership). This would have been “waiting on Moses.” No, they (including Moses) were to wait on God, and when the time was right, God would give them their inheritance.

For Presbyterians, a lot of our waiting—past and present—is because we are not sure exactly which way God is preparing for us.  There is a very real sense in which we are all, leaders and followers alike, waiting on God to show us a way forward in (or out of) the PCUSA. If we want to be ready to move when God says, “Move!” our “waiting on God” will be preparatory: Organizing ourselves by “tribe,” preaching and practicing God’s Word, practicing spiritual navigation skills, and cultivating a deep and abiding trust in God that will nourish and sustain us.

Tomorrow: How waiting on God translates into proactivity.

[1] The “Seven Dwarfs” at the time the original letter was written were

John Crosby, Christ Presbyterian, Edina, MN

Rich Kannwischer, St. Andrews, Newport Beach, CA

Vic Pentz, Peachtree Presbyterian, Atlanta, GA

David Peterson, Memorial Drive Presbyterian, Houston, TX

Jim Singleton, First Presbyterian, Colorado Springs, CO

David Swanson, First Presbyterian, Orlando, FL

Mark Toone, Chapel Hill Presbyterian, Gig Harbor, WA. In late May Mark changed lanes into the EPC and removed himself from this group. Two others have been added to the list:

Mark Brewer, Bel Air Presbyterian, Los Angeles, CA

Tae-Hyung Ko, Good Shepherd Presbyterian, Rowland Heights, CA

The original seven have been part of a larger fellowship of “tall-steeple pastors,” leaders of Presbyterian churches larger than 2000 members, who have met annually for a few years. So the ideas they put forth in a Letter to the PCUSA were the result of conversations that have been carried on for some time. They reached a point of saying, “Somebody’s got to do something here.”

All the documents generated since February can be found on the Fellowship of Presbyterians website.


3 Responses to “Waiting on . . . Whom?”

  1. I note that “organizing by tribe” doesn’t mean dissing the other tribes. That bunch has a part of the wall to shout down, just like your tribe does.

    • revmary Says:

      Indeed! I think we are at the point where we can acknowledge that each tribe, wholly dedicated to serving almighty God, has its particular role to play.

  2. Having sat under your preaching in days past, it is a joy to read your blog, knowing I am recieving right doctrine. Keep on keeping on and know that many of your words will be repeated tomorrow as the Presbytery of the Inland NW gathers those who went to Minneapolis to bring to many the results that we saw and heard there. Keep us in your prayers as we attempt to be entirely true to God’s will in what we recall. Dave Roser

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