I have been to two General Assemblies, once as an alternate and once as a commissioner. Each time I have listened to different candidates explore whether they are called to serve the church by standing for moderator. Those running for moderator give up much time, energy and sleep before the election, and they are willing to sacrifice a huge portion of the next two years of their lives in service to the church. I believe that each person who stands for moderator does have true hope for our denomination. And for those candidates, moderators and vice moderators, I am grateful.
As you are probably aware, candidates for moderator come before the Assembly to make opening statements and then are asked questions. Even those who have never attended a GA will not be surprised at one of the recurring questions: “How will you be able to minister and speak for the whole PC(USA) – and not just the progressive or evangelical side of it?”
So, as presbyteries nominate candidates to stand for moderator in the coming year, I would humbly like to offer up a suggestion: nominate someone who has an agenda. By agenda, I do not mean something that is liberal or conservative; rather, I mean a missional agenda that casts a unifying, concrete goal that furthers the Gospel.
Something that is tangible.
Something that we could sink our teeth into.
Something that we could all celebrate.
Even amidst all the division, there are many things we can all agree on. For example, both liberals and conservatives are against human trafficking; I don’t know anyone who isn’t. What if someone stood for moderator and made a statement that went something like this: “My presbytery has unanimously nominated me to stand for moderator for the General Assembly. If this GA calls me to serve in this capacity, I will propose the following missional goal: Presbyterians will create 12 new aftercare safe houses to those who have been rescued from human trafficking.” And then, briefly articulate a way to achieve it: “We will accomplish this by partnering with local agencies …” Perhaps each congregation in the nominee’s presbytery would pledge support through finances and prayer. The nominee could attract additional support by having other pastors be part of their network who are willing to commit to the goal.
Naturally, this framework of a unifying, missional goal could be many, many different things; whatever the candidate and nominating presbytery felt called towards. As another hypothetical example, it could be working toward the 1,001 new worshipping communities already under way. It is true that in a two-year time frame one person could not plant 1,000 churches, yet…
A moderator could relentlessly keep this one goal in front of the church, and in so doing encourage us to do something positive.
A moderator could raise a significant amount of money that ensures the possibility for new church plants to try.
A moderator does have a unique voice in our denomination and a special pulpit for communication to further the goal.
And pursuing an agenda like this would always provide a fresh story that everyone could rejoice together in. Each time the moderator travels somewhere, she or he could say, “Let me tell you for a moment about next month’s new church plant …” Or, “We have just raised enough funds to start another plant …” Or so on. Wouldn’t that be exciting?!
One theme I frequently hear is that people want to be a part of something that is growing and vibrant and alive. I am simply suggesting a kernel of an idea that could have many different variations, and take many different forms – an embryonic thought to spur us forward. I am in no way critiquing past or current candidates or moderators; I am simply wondering. I am wondering what it would look like if in Detroit each candidate for moderator lifted up a joyful, tangible, missional goal. Wouldn’t that be uplifting? We all know there are plenty of destructive conflicts in the church. Here’s hoping the next moderator has an agenda – an agenda for creating a good challenge by way of a missional goal.
Darryl Evans is Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Kannapolis, NC. He loves tomato gardening, surf fishing, Montreat, and Lessons & Carols.