In the past, I’ve written about my fascination with the practice—common with comic books and movies—of rebooting an entertainment franchise in order to update it for new audiences. The idea is too preserve the core of the story, but make it more relevant and compelling for contemporary audiences. Or, if a comic book series or movie isn’t working, a reboot is an opportunity to try again with a fresh start. (Though I don’t agree with common assessments, think of the way Marvel dumped Ang Lee’s version of the Hulk and moved in a totally different direction.)
While I think there are many opportunities for applying this kind of thinking to the church’s theology, I want to suggest that we might also consider rebooting our institutional structures.
After the work of the Mid Councils Commission went down in flames at the 220th General Assembly, one of my first thoughts was that the Presbyterian Church (USA) needs a fresh start. We need a reboot. Centuries of taking a church polity designed to work on an island and stretching it across a continent has resulted in the calcification of particular denominational structures and ways of being. We are especially stuck in organizational models and mission strategies developed in the middle of the 20th century. These worked in their own time, but now is a new time and we need new models. I experienced firsthand how difficult it is to change those existing structures, even when the necessity of such change is clearly recognized.
But what if, instead of tweaking existing structures—or rearranging the furniture on the Titanic—we started from scratch? What if we looked into our local, national, and global mission fields and asked ourselves how we would build a Reformed church to meet those needs? It would be a true reboot in the sense that we would maintain the distinctive elements of our theology, polity, and ethos that we hold dear. But we would also be set free from the constraints of existing mental models, free to create bold new ways of being Presbyterian.
What would that PC(USA) look like? I’d love to gather Presbyterians from across the theological spectrum to dream about such a church together.
In hindsight, perhaps the 2012 report of the Mid Councils Commission wasn’t the best approach. But I still maintain that our desire to encourage and nurture a season of experimentation in our denomination was spot on. (I also still think that synods need to be significantly reworked or discontinued and that we need to restructure our presbytery sizes and boundaries across the map.)
Maybe doing such a thing at the national level is too much to hope for. Perhaps instead the place to focus is our local presbyteries. In fact, our new Form of Government has set the stage for just that kind of local rebooting to take place.
What might that look like in your presbytery? Tomorrow, I’ll offer some thoughts on what I think this could look like in my presbytery.