Conversation on “Change”

After our time with Rick Ufford-Chase, Molly Dykstra texted me saying she’d like a chance to talk about what Rick said. Here is our conversation (although edited for ease of reading) – two colleagues caring about ministry together sharing their thoughts.

How would you add to this “conversation?” What thoughts do you have? What responses do you have? Join in! We need one another. 

Molly – I heard Rick saying, “change is here.” I think it’s pretty hard to avoid any more!

I’m wondering how we embrace change and, instead of being reactive to it, get out ahead of it. I get that right now a lot of us are in a keep-calm-change-is-here-5.pngshock stage of grief and loss at these changes; but I think with conversation and support—as in any other grief—we will move through this season together and emerge with a fresh and deeper understanding of our call as Christ’s church and, I hope, an even more faithful discipleship.

What I want to do as well is affirm for one another that being the church together is not the question. Sometimes when the “how” we knew goes away, we’re afraid the “what” will disappear too. After Rick’s talk I feel we need to affirm that what we’re up to isn’t hopeless or pointless. We’re not going anywhere!  We’ll figure out how—we’re good at reforming!—and we are still going to be church together.

So I guess I’m looking for the second half of the conversation. Rick clearly got us in touch with holding up that mirror to ourselves, getting real about “it’s not the 1950s or 60s anymore.” I’d like to start talking about what God has in store for us next. And affirm we’re still going to be traveling this road as a presbytery together. ‘Cause being a presbytery is crazy good stuff!

Beth– When I think about what is next for us, I think about our public witness. I think less about what we do in our buildings together but what we do as a result of our time together in our buildings. In other words, I think worship is essential but worship needs to fuel our work. And not programs – real work in the world around us. I want to hear us talking about the hurting places in our communities and how we can heal those hurting places.

Molly— I just read a great article about this today. The Presbytery’s Urban Working Group has been talking a lot about this. Maybe we’re asking in new ways who we are as an agent of life—in its fullest sense—both in the church and as the church in our society? The author’s making reference to the role that we as faith communities can play in our society through something called “faith-rooted organizing.” He reaffirms that we really do have a role, we truly do have a part to play in helping bring the gospel kingdom of justice and peace to all of cregolden-circle.jpgation! And we have an important history of partnership in mission in our denomination—we know we don’t do this work alone.

Beth: It sounds a little bit like Simon Synek “Start with Why.” Here’s his TED talk. Our Why is our purpose, cause or belief that inspires us to work. Essentially he says we spend a lot of time with the “what” that we do and some of us know the “how” of what we do, but dig deeper to know why. So for church, we could structure the question like this – We gather on Sundays. What do we do? We sing, pray, listen, reflect, learn. How do we do it? With musicians and pastors and lots of volunteers who care for our littlest ones and who put the coffee pot on. But why? Why do we gather on Sundays? The why is what gets us out of bed and into church. And more importantly, we all probably answer our own “why” a little differently.

Molly: I’ve been thinking maybe it’s a case of the what and how having become disconnected from the deepest why, which is one of those things that doesn’t change.

Beth: Sure. We’ve got the Great Ends to fall back on in terms of our “why.” But every time I walk through them with a new members class, I mostly get responses about how impossible those tasks are. They seem like too big of a list – so big it’s hard to start. So maybe it’s not that the “why” has changed but we in our congregations and ministries need to discern and implement the specific role God wants us to play in our world.

Molly: Our public worship and our public gatherings are a super important step in living out our public witness. I just read about a congregation doing this in some exciting ways. The love and justice has to happen there too. Our worship, our witness, our service must come from the same place—“we love because God first loved us” (John 4:19).  I know I was drawn to the gospel as a teenager who didn’t know anything about the gospel or Jesus or the Bible when I saw people from all walks of lifstewardship-word-cloud-300x143.jpge together in a church authentically caring for one another and welcoming me into that community. Are our people feeling, knowing that kind of community? Are we as pastoral leaders? Our being real with each other is going to push us to those hurting places you mention.

Beth: And the thing is – the younger generation wants for us to do mission. They want to enact love in such a way that the world is changed. That’s what they want to do with our resources. It’s a big change for us – moving from maintaining or sustaining an institution to creating and mobilizing a movement of Jesus followers.

Molly: Right. We’re finding ourselves caught in that necessary cycle of having built something—even something useful and good—and at a certain point we feel like I do about my home sometimes: it owns us rather than we own it. Since our numbers are smaller now, as Rick said was true about his home congregation, we can get real and talk about smart resizing, and with it freeing up and refocusing our time, energy and resources on what really matters. We’ll still have to do some institutional maintenance work—how we live our life together matters, and we do have people gifted for this work, and it is a ministry—but we’re turning our eyes and hearts in a new way back to why we do it in the first place.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. peter7368 says:

    Modern social and economic theory holds that the organizations most ripe for creative destruction are those most entrenched in outmoded or outdated systems and presuppositions. Think of what Uber has done to the world of Cabs. Or Elon Musk to space or transportation, or what Amazon did the corner grocery or book store. If there is any organization ripe for creative destruction it is older mainline Protestant religious denominations, with theological education close behind. I think as applies to the PCUSA, we are in the age of post-obligatory or regulatory Presbyterianism. People pretty much now bring to the table their own concepts and ideas of connectionalism and relationships in the organization. The ground is shifting under the feet of Presbyteries and churches as to the nature of their contacts, relationships and to what extent they define cooperation and coordination across polity structure. Or buy in what the Presbytery or PCUSA seeks to sell. You see that in the changing nature of what it means to be on the “roles’ of formal membership, per capita, property and a host of other matters in play currently.

    In this hyper polarized and political age we live in many assume the chasm of separation in the denomination are along theological, ideological, or deep red or blue lines, they are not. It is about the dynamics of power and authority, who speaks for whom, who controls what and for what purpose, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of goods, services, missions. If the PCUSA can adapt to a post denominational, post-power centered religious organization world, it will endure. If not, expect it be become the next Sears or K Mart. A once powerful force in the global market, but done in by its own ossification, pride and arrogance that the world stops just for them.


  2. Molly Dykstra says:

    Peter, tell us more: how do the dynamics of power and authority need to change in our presbytery? What concrete steps might we take to make or begin to make the necessary shifts?


  3. peter gregory says:

    Molly: I think the “Milwaukee” model has much for localized interpretation and application, but is step in the right directions. And I further think the occasional Saturday gathings again, breaks sort of the ossified work-day weekday 6-10PM structure that I think has run its course. I would take it though a step further and open the concept of Presbytery meetings to mornings with a breakfast, or afternoons with a lunch, and choose a centralized location for a year, say PTS, they have lots of meeting space and a full service dinning hall, rather than having the office send out notices sort of begging churches to host with a list of required things the hosting church needs to do. Lambertville has not hosted Presbytery since 2001 and I doubt that will be changing anytime soon. I would only hold 4 mandatory business meetings a year at a central location. I would vest the relational, educational, continuing ed portion of what we do in sub-regional gatherings or groups, such as what Pittsburgh and Philadelphia does, that meet at different times and places. We have most of our real associations and interactions with clergy and churches closer in geographic location, not further. Seems common sense to me.

    As far as the power and dynamics matter. My own thoughts, and understand they are not shared by and large. And would require some major reworking of the PCUSA polity, beyond Presbyteries power to control, but I think the current system is failing and collapsing as we speak, so anything may be possible.

    -Presbytery needs to move away from a per capita based model of resourcing itself. Much like pew rental or subscriptions of the 18th century, its a business model of the mid 20th century. The current system places the local church and the Presbytery and higher bodies chasing the same dollar in the offering plate. As people and churches leave, close, as the presbytery gets smaller these stresses will only exacerbate into a more adversarial relationships, presbytery to the churches, smaller churches to the larger churches, who usually take up the slack. Presbytery needs to conduct its business operations like a local church, go out and make its missions and good works known, sell its benefits and solicit support in terms of missonal or program specific needs vice obligatory forms of conscription of resourcing. Grants and grant solicitation needs to take a bigger role going forward. I know this touches the 3rd rail of a paid staff, full or part time, but its 2017, not 1967. Wishing for a different time and place does not change things.

    -Presbytery needs to embrace, support and empower the work and labors of tent-making, by-vocational, part-time, CLP and other modes of clergy career patterns more so than now. That is the way of the future. Give them a place at the table.

    -All churches matter and all forms of TEs matter. We’re a small church presbytery,

    -Why does Presbytery have ‘minimum’ compensation guidelines and not maximum. And why is church X allowed to pay 125K a year for their TE services when that same amount supports 4 TEs in other settings. If one argues open market, supply-demand, church freedom and autonomy matters, I have other church freedom and autonomy I would like to address as well. I think I will leave it


    1. Molly Dykstra says:

      Hi Peter, you wrote a lot of interesting things here. Let me ask you about per capita, to start. I agree–we need a regroup and update on this. Our presbytery is a spiritual (and legal) entity which consists of congregations together with teaching elders in validated ministries working and serving with a commitment to one another and our corporate witness. As such we need to discuss and come to terms with what we mean by being so related to one another. What does it mean to be part of a presbytery? What do we need to maintain and enhance those ties, that our corporate witness might be strengthened, to God’s glory? Do we need funds to assist us in that witness, and if so, how do we go about raising them? I’m wondering what you see as our obligations to one another. Do those incur any expenses? How should they be paid for, fairly? You speak about fundraising for particular common needs. How would you imagine we determine what funds are needed and for what purposes? Who would then do the fundraising? Would that person be paid? How? Looking forward to reading your thoughts.


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