Now he’s trying to apply that lesson on a larger scale — as the new executive director of the Presbyterian Global Fellowship.
“Part of the reason, as a pastor, I was drawn to PGF was that I got the sense that they were saying ‘Rather than continually fighting about ordination, we realize that there are also other important issues that churches and presbyteries really need to be wrestling with,” he said.
“As a younger evangelical, that breathed hope into me. While I appreciated the vital work of those working on structures and standards, I loved PGF’s passion for transforming congregations.”
It was during his prior call, as a solo pastor at a small church near Chicago, that he learned a key aspect of transforming congregations is to begin to see.
When he arrived there six years ago, the church, like many, was aging and slowly losing members. There were just two children in worship.
The main reason membership and hope were in decline at the church “was not because of our stance on ordination, though that is, of course, an important issue,” Deck said. The larger reason, as he saw it, was surrounding cultural factors.
“The church was started in the ‘70s, with the thought to simply plant a church in an area that was growing, open your doors, and people would come in,” he said. But the world had shifted —people were busier and the community became more diverse, both culturally and religiously.
“We kept continuing to hope that if we opened up the doors of our church, people would come in,” he said.
So the members kept looking at the front door, waiting for it to swing open and new faces to appear. Meanwhile, the church’s back door faced an apartment complex that was full of children. The church’s parking lot, during the week, was full of those same children, Monday through Saturday. But on Sundays it was a ghost town.
“We began to realize that we needed to refocus on what it means to be church — that we are called to be sent out and not called to sit and wait,” said Deck. Only then was the church able to look out and actually see that apartment complex.
“If we had waited for our denomination to change — to become more conservative or more liberal — nothing would have changed,” he said. “The reality was, what we needed was to change the way we saw the church and the world.”
So as a small-church pastor dealing with this shift in seeing, when Deck began to hear that PGF was talking about these same issues, it resonated with him.
“For me this change in seeing is something that the whole church desperately needs,” Deck said.
Clearly, many evangelicals “are living in fear and anger because of 10-A,” said Deck, referring to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s recently adopted policy change that makes it possible for persons living in same-gender relationships to be candidates for ordination.
“But what I am trying to say to the wider church, especially to evangelicals, is that the real hope of the denomination is going to lie in whether or not we can recover the sense that we have to change who we are and how we see,” he said.
More important than “coming up with the next new program,” he said, is asking people, “especially local congregations, where God is working in your neighborhood.”
To illustrate, Deck recalled the apartment complex out the back door of the suburban Chicago church. “The thing is, the apartments had actually been there longer than the church had—what began to change was the way that we saw them,” Deck said.
Deck’s hope is that PGF can be a place, and offer a space, that fosters this change in seeing and talking about the things seen.
ERIN DUNIGAN is a freelance writer, photographer and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico, when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.