From Passivity to Proactivity

September 7, 2011

The second shift that evangelicals must make in order to manage the PCUSA transition is a movement from passivity to proactivity. Yesterday, the idea of “waiting on God” was presented as the alternative to waiting on (other) people to do something. But, to elaborate today, waiting on God is an active and alert attendance to the things God would have us do right now. An excellent waiter in a four-star restaurant is alert to the customer’s raised eyebrows, glances around the table, or the empty cup long before service is even beckoned. The waiter is actively attentive to the surroundings and the dynamics of each table, and is ready to help. Meanwhile, that waiter is not standing around day-dreaming; that person is preparing to fill whatever need might come up next: cleaning silverware, stacking plates, memorizing the menu, and tasting dishes to advise customers, whatever.

In God’s economy and the movement underway in the PCUSA, waiting on God necessarily means activating the processes and undergoing the preparations needed to spring into action at the right time. The movement will enable evangelical Presbyterians to differentiate themselves from the PCUSA (or their presbytery) enough to experience relief of conscience, disassociate from unbiblical actions taken by higher governing bodies, and gain freedom to serve Christ missionally without fear of “friendly fire.” Whether this differentiation entails leaving the PCUSA or merely organizing new “tribes” within is yet to be determined. And yet, each congregation troubled in conscience now has its own set of circumstances to take into account in order to act.

Some efforts are beyond the immediate reach of the local congregation, for now.  Others can only be accomplished by collaboration, as soon as it is clear how each congregation can participate. But there are some significant ways that a congregation, right now, can become proactive.

“Politically,” a congregation, in anticipation of a vote somewhere down the line, would do well to assess the overall unity of purpose and will of the members. One outcome of this inquiry that might surprise a leadership team is a gap in understanding and sense of urgency between the session and the “people in the pew.” The people in the pew may be clueless as to what is actually going on in the denomination or what their pastors and elders might be thinking is a remedy. But it is extremely important for these very people to be brought into the process without delay! These are the people who will be voting (first) on whether the church will stay or leave, divide or stick together. Church leaders must give their people time, attention, pastoral care, information, and respect, to equip those saints for the big decision that will face them.

Financially, a congregation, in anticipation of the later necessity to withhold per capita, can structure its payments to the presbytery as monthly rather than annual disbursements. Its mission committee can evaluate every line item of benevolence giving and align its giving with its convictions, whether the mission projects are PCUSA ministries or not. Its session and finance committees should take steps to detach the church from any financial dependence on the denomination. One work-around is developing partnerships with like-minded congregations who are committed to mutual support (yes, even financially). How important is the church’s property to this congregation? Does its desire to leave (or disassociate) overshadow its desire to keep its property?

Organizationally, the congregation should assess its context by asking key questions:

Regarding Our Presbytery: What kind of presbytery are we a part of? Divided? One-sided? Contested? Is communication healthy or fractured? Do we have people from our church involved in presbytery committees? Have we been givers of help or recipients of assistance in our presbytery? What is the level of trust with presbytery staff? Does the presbytery have a dismissal policy in place? If so, what are the terms? How likely is this presbytery to approve our dismissal or differentiation? Do we have people in our congregation willing and able to do the work to differentiate the congregation from its presbytery?

Regarding Our Congregation: What percentage of the congregation attends worship? annual congregational meetings? town hall meetings? Sunday school, adult classes, or small groups? To what degree are they engaged in discussion about the controversies in the PCUSA? What percentage of your members considers their Presbyterian identity to be defining for them?  On the theological spectrum (from conservative to liberal), where is the center of gravity among your members?  What seems to be the most important value(s) held by this congregation? What other considerations affect the possible actions this congregation might take?

This reality check, led compassionately by pastor and elders, will enable a congregation to come to grips with the choices before it.  None of this is easy, but the proactivity described in these steps is essential and timely. Done well, these tasks can help a congregation set itself up to be ready to take God’s orders when they are issued!

Tomorrow: A movement from skepticism to openness.

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One Response to “From Passivity to Proactivity”

  1. Mary Fields Says:

    Well written. Keep it up, mary.

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