December 27, 2012
On Sunday evening, December 16th, the Wood Fellowship Hall was filled with energy and conversation. Approximately 250 people circled around tables to share a meal and think about our future as a congregation.
This was the first (but not the last) gathering of a group I dubbed “The College of Deacons and Elders.” The intent of the night was to connect leaders in the church – past and present – together in order that we might build consensus around where God is calling us as the body of Christ. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in the experience of our past officers. Those whom God has called to serve as leaders in the church have something to offer even after their term on the session or diaconate has ended. Sunday night was a chance to harvest this collective wisdom.
After supper, I shared with the group some of my vision for our church – a vision that has been shaped as I have spent time these past few months listening to various members and groups within our congregation. Our conversation centered on four areas around which I solicited feedback from the “College.” Those areas were:
Priorities for Ministry
I suggested that our primary task as a church was to worship God. From that worship grow three “spheres” of ministry that are equally important and valued. I believe our focus (and our staffing) should be organized under these three spheres:
- Mission – Defined by where we meet Christ in the world rather than where we take Christ to the world.
- Community Life and Care – Focused on building networks of care and opportunities to grow in fellowship.
- Christian Formation – Claiming the purpose of Christian Education, which is to shape members into disciples of Jesus Christ.
My observation is that we are generally a very healthy church in terms of stewardship. However, we need to pay attention to some new trends on the horizon. Notably, that more and more people give out of a sense of passion rather than a sense of duty. This has implications for the way the church communicates its mission to the congregation.
It is no secret that we are increasingly busy people. This is true within and outside of the church. Paying attention to this, I see great value in forging partnerships among the variety of ministries that take place under the banner of First Presbyterian Church. Doing ministry in partnership (instead of every group or committee carrying out their own program) will better use our time and resources, as well as create a larger impact and exposure for our programs.
Releasing Passion and Increasing Participation
As a large church filled with talented and faithful people, we need to find ways to connect more members with our mission and ministry. We also need to make sure that we retain our identity as a church and not “run off in a thousand different directions.”
To that end, I proposed that we spend the next year discerning and articulating five to six “distinctives” or “pillars” that will ground us in our identity as Christ’s body. What is our particular calling as an uptown church? Where does God need our witness? How can our gifts and history and abilities best connect with our city and world? These are the kind of questions that will drive us in discovering our “disctinctives.”
Once we are comfortable claiming who we are I believe we will be in a position to create “a culture of permission” – where someone who has an idea or a passion can pursue it without having to navigate a lot of “red tape” from the committee structures of the church.
It is my hope that the next time we gather the College of Deacons and Elders (in January of 2014) we will be in a position to share these five or six disctinctives and make sure that they reflect who we all understand God calling us to be.
This first experience of being with such a dynamic group of leaders was, for me, a confirmation of both my call to serve First Presbyterian Church and of our calling as a congregation to be bold in the ways we embrace Christ’s call for us in the future.