From Straggler to Pace-Setter

September 9, 2011

I had no idea bicycle racing was a team sport until the Tour de France captured the America’s imagination in 1999. The U.S. Postal Service team enabled Lance Armstrong to win the race six times under its sponsorship. The team has two sections: the support team and the cycling team. The support team includes people responsible for the equipment, cyclists’ medical care, coaching, local arrangements, and marketing. The cycling team includes the captain and specialists in climbing, sprinting, time trials, and defensive strategy.

The general idea is for all the team members to unite their efforts to support the captain’s victory in the race. The captain is probably overall the strongest, but not necessarily in every specialty. The captain’s teammates take turns going to the front of the team pack, behind which the other cyclists “draft,” or position themselves in the leader’s wake. They are charged with doing everything they can, working in concert, to create a favorable environment for the captain.

Every single member of the team is indispensible, and each must be prepared to lead. When a cyclist is out front, the job is to set and maintain the winning pace until another team member takes over. All of this to usher the team leader safely (and first) to the finish line. Those who lose sight of the finish line, or are injured, or forget to drink their energy tonics become stragglers. Stragglers lose their place in the pack and fall behind, no longer able to contribute to the group effort or to benefit from it. They’re on their own.

A team strategy engaging the evangelical wing of the PCUSA is required for a New Reformed Body to “finish the race” intact and together. It would be an unrealistic expectation to think one individual can run the race set before us, to create a sustainable New Reformed Body without gifted presbyters and congregations serving as pace-setters. Between now and January, when the NRB is chartered, church leaders and congregations around the country are called not just to keep up with what is happening but to set the pace. This entails doing the hard work within their presbyteries to identify like-minded congregations, network and share information, draft documents describing the church they would like to be, raising up leaders to represent them in wider conversations, and otherwise pour their heart, mind, soul, and strength into developing as a new Reformed body.

Three things must coalesce rather quickly: 1) the writing of a theological statement that captures the essentials of our Reformed faith and answers the confusing theological drifts now finding expression in the PCUSA; 2) defining a way forward in church polity, both to differentiate from the PCUSA and to align with a new Reformed entity; and 3) developing leadership (top-down and bottom-up) that will establish a unified relational and accountable network. 

The current leaders of the Fellowship of Presbyterians have not announced how these tasks will be organized. But time is short—only four months. The gathering of the Fellowship has built some momentum. Now, congregations and evangelical caucuses in every presbytery should take their place in the racing rotation, ready to lead the pack or draft behind others who are just ahead of them.

To become a pace-setter, I recommend the following activities be initiated in every presbytery where there is a critical mass of evangelicals ready to differentiate themselves:

1) Discuss within your caucus what you believe are “the essentials of Reformed faith.” You may find this exercise extremely difficult, but in that difficulty you will come to appreciate how daunting the defining task is and at least identify the topics you believe must be addressed in such a document; 2) research the options for differentiation, including dismissal to another Reformed denomination, creating an overlay presbytery, transferring to another presbytery, or affiliating with the New Reformed Body; 3) pray for and nominate those you believe have the gifts and calling to give leadership within your presbytery (in the form of a steering committee) and beyond (contributing to the national dialogue on these matters). Set the pace! Keep pedaling! Stay together! Keep your eye on a good finish!

And a word to the national leadership of The Fellowship of Presbyterians: a team is forming around you, specialists are offering their unique gifts and abilities to the project, congregations and presbyteries are setting the pace. Show them a finish line worthy of their efforts and solicit their help in devising a strategy for getting there. Do not quench the Spirit or stifle the gifts or close yourselves off from those who want to help you get the job done. I am one of them. I know others. And I am sure there are countless more I don’t know who would jump at the chance to participate if asked.

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3 Responses to “From Straggler to Pace-Setter”

  1. Mary Fields Says:

    Coach Mary. You have a plan for us!

  2. Ron Says:

    The most assuring aspect of this is that it needs to be done in 4 months. Not that one should rush to judgment, but that since this issue has been around for ages…..one would expect that delaying would be just a continuation of the past lack of firm decision making. As for what we believe, one could do no better than going back to the original confessions of faith…..or read John Gresham Machen.

    Of course given that that would generate lots of disagreement in itself from people who would want to take different tracks, our only hope is to pray that God would bless us with the ability to quickly see and see clearly what to do.

    We could do no worse than: 1 Chron 12:32 Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do,……

    …”the writing of a theological statement that captures the essentials of our Reformed faith and answers the confusing theological drifts now finding expression in the PCUSA”

  3. Rick Hume Says:

    Mary, You have the makings of a good leadership book here!

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