This evening is the conclusion of a stimulating new church development training conference I have been attending for the past few days. I must say that I’m pretty exhausted yet filled up with ideas, questions, inspiration, and energy.
I have my fingers in a variety of different Presbyterian pots these days, each of which challenge, stretch, and inspire me in different ways. I serve one of the denomination’s largest churches, which has just begun a major building project and is moving closer and closer to a significant pastoral transition when our pastor retires in less than a year. My job at this growing and transitioning church is to develop and nurture a sustainable youth ministry. I am very involved in a presbytery that has been struggling to address some tremendous financial challenges and a lumbering bureaucracy. I have served on the oversight committee of our presbytery’s camp, which has been on the brink of being sold for the past several years and now I’m on a committee that will envision what camping ministry in this presbytery will look like if we do in fact sell the camp. I was a commissioner to the most recent General Assembly and now I serve on the Middle Governing Bodies Commission. I have been involved in both Presbymergent and NEXT Church conversations.
Being involved in Presbyterianism in these various ways means my mind is often swirling with thoughts about our church. I have a mind that naturally draws connections between things, so it is often the case that being in one context generates a variety of thoughts about other contexts and situations. This has been true for me at this NCD conference.
Just over a month ago I wrote about a book I read on the state of the American church and the critical need for church planting. After this NCD conference, I’m more convinced than ever that church planting needs to be a priority for the PC(USA) if we want to survive as a denomination in the 21st century.
I am also convinced that the very process of thinking about new church development is a crucial one for the church at every level of our organization because the ideas and concepts that arise impact many different aspects of our life and mission together.
Two days ago I wrote about the first principles church planting teams are asked to think about. Open and honest discussion of these fundamental questions should move to the top of the agenda for every congregation, presbytery, synod, General Assembly office, and the General Assembly itself.
The entire process of visioning and planning for new church development can be just as valuable for any congregation trying to redevelop, revitalize, or recast its vision and mission. For example, yesterday we made site visits to various communities in the local area that are potential locations for new church developments to practice what it is like to go out into communities with eyes attuned to community needs and church possibilities. In addition to asking the fundamental questions of first principles, can you imagine if all of our congregations hit the pause button and took these kinds of site visits in their own communities?
Middle Governing Bodies
Thinking through the process of new church development raises all sorts of questions about the role of middle governing bodies, both in terms of ideals and realities. How many of our presbyteries are actually healthy and functional enough to engage in new church development? Should new church development come from congregations, presbyteries, or both?
Tentmaking and Bi-Vocational Ministry
How many seminary trained pastors do you know that can’t find a call? All of the talk about tentmaking gets pretty real once you start thinking about new church development. Is this the future of ministry in our post-Christendom culture?
Training Pastors and Missionaries
For over 300 years the Presbyterian Church in America has been biased toward highly educated and professionalized religious leadership. Again, will we need to change this bias in the 21st century? To do that, how will we need to change our attitudes about things like commissioned lay pastors? How will our institutions—seminaries and governing bodies chief among them—need to adapt to this new reality? How should we be training church leaders for this new frontier?
These are just some of the issues that this new church development training has raised for me, not to mention church planting itself. I think it would be a creative and beneficial catalyst for the church—at all levels of organization—to start thinking both broadly and quite specifically about new church development.