Economic Realities and the Evangelical Cause

December 7, 2011

The third reason why individual Presbyterians must be equipped for stand-alone discipleship has to do with the strained resources of our renewal groups. For decades, organizations like the Presbyterian Coalition, Presbyterians For Renewal, and the Presbyterian Lay Committee have been publishing discipleship resources, sponsoring retreats and conferences, and providing staff to help guide and coordinate evangelical efforts throughout the country. Together with many other specific-interest groups, they have created a Presbyterian Renewal Network to resource commissioners to General Assembly, cultivate leadership for nomination to PCUSA offices, and keep tabs on trends and changes in Presbyterian life.

As churches have felt the strain of the nation’s economic downturn, so have renewal groups seen a significant reduction in contributions due to donor misfortunes. As if that were not enough, evangelical organizations in particular have suffered the loss of supporting congregations who have been dismissed from the PCUSA. The very hand that feeds non-profits is withdrawing and taking its money elsewhere.

So money is tight, and the services provided in the past by these very fine organizations have downsized. What that means for ordinary Presbyterians in the pew is less help, fewer props, fewer publications, fewer phone calls for encouragement, fewer . . . everything.  In the next decade, it will be those Presbyterians who can stand on their own two feet spiritually who will be able to sustain a vibrant life and witness in the rough and tumble world of Presbyterian debates and debacles.

Some day I will address more directly the issues facing evangelical/orthodox groups in orbit around the PCUSA; but today I want to focus on presbyters and what will enable them to withstand the stresses and strains of their service for Christ and this church. The good news is that many resources are archived on the websites of these groups. Take some time and explore them. PFR, for instance, published reFORM, a theological journal for elders and pastors (I edited several of those issues). Theology Matters puts out a stellar newsletter periodically, to address in some depth a particular theolgoical issue before the church. Polity resources abound at the Presbyterian Coalition website; and the Layman has news and commentary on events as they unfold in the church.

What there is not enough of, in my humble opinion, is the opportunity for presbyters to get together specifically to be equipped for service in the church. The type of equipping I have in mind ranges from theological reflection to ministry skill development, from mastery of Robert’s Rules to pastoral care methods. Some topics that elders crave include these: How to Follow What’s Going On in a Meeting; How to Prepare a Two-Minute Speech for Debate; How to Write an Overture; How to Inform Your Congregation of Denominational Issues; What Does It Mean When the Church Says ________?, and the list goes on and on. Many of these topics are addressed in written form on the aforementioned websites, but somehow we must personalize the equipping effort while expanding its reach to everyone who wants to learn. Our renewal organizations have done this in the past, but right around the corner is the time when it will depend on individual presbyters to do their research and offer workshops at the local level.

In San Francisco Presbytery, our basic method has entailed forming an Evangelical Caucus.  Though the word “caucus” sounds political, we are really a fellowship of like-minded individuals who offer encouragement and foster empowerment for the tough meetings we have as a presbytery. We meet some time before the Presbytery meeting (which is bi-monthly) to prepare strategy, talk through the theological issues under discussion, and otherwise learn by doing.  We also pray for each other, divide into sub-groups according to interest, and pool our resources when needed. If all our conservative think-tanks and renewal organizations folded tomorrow, I think we could hold our own here in the Bay Area, and would continue to stand while relying completely on God’s strength, the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the love and prayers of our Savior Jesus Christ. I pray that the same can be said of you in your presbytery, but if not, that you would be inspired to start working together to stand firmly, humbly, and steadfastly for Christ in your presbytery.

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2 Responses to “Economic Realities and the Evangelical Cause”

  1. Jake Horner Says:

    This is surely a place where the Fellowship of Presbyterians can step up in support of congregations and pastors who are called to remain in the PCUSA. We as fellowship members are going to have to embrace KOINWNIA in a new and radical way, sharing our lives with each other in common. What is SFP’s business becomes everyone’s concern. When Evangelical churches in Mission Presby. need assistance all evangelical churches pitch in.

    This is also a great place to use social media for the kingdom.

  2. L. Lee Says:

    This blog is all about Christians who are already in the PC(USA) who are evangelical and are willing to stay and be in a position of Spiritual Warfare. – It is about equiping them for service while being in a position of
    “stand-alone discipleship”.
    The number one way we need to be equiped is to “draw near to God”. Draw closer and abide in Christ for the power to be,do, say, and stand
    in God’s will. You so encourage us in this – thanks!
    My question has been about those outside the
    church circle who I need to invite in through evangelism and then discipleship. How can I, in good conscience, invite those who come to Christ into such a denomination as the PC(USA).
    At some point Jesus walked away from the existing order of Pharisees and entrusted the plan of God’s will for the New Testament church to new leaders.
    Is there such a time when the effort to “reform” and be the spiritual warrior (standing alone or not) should be set aside for a place where we can in good conscience evangilize and have a place to disciple new converts? Can The Fellowship provide such a place? My local church may be a place, but I stop short of encouraging church membership.
    That is the question I am prayerfully considering for the greater good……..Linda

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