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What Will the New Denomination Look Like?

If we as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are to become what God wants us to be, then we will have to alter radically our way of thinking about ourselves as a denomination and the way we conduct our business.

First, we will focus on our own particular congregation, and pour tremendous energy into its mission and, even more important, the mission of each member in the world.

Given the human and financial resources in the hands of Presbyterians, imagine the collective impact of 2.5 million men, women, young people and children, mobilized to be intentional witnesses to Jesus Christ in every arena of life? Staggering would be the consequences; the world would be turned upside down.

Second, the congregation and its ordained leadership will be knowledgeable and open to a wide range of denominational, ecumenical, extra-denominational, even non-denominational avenues for mission that lead from its doorstep to the ends of the Earth. The denominational opportunities should be given serious consideration, and basic support of the denomination through per capita assesments is a moral obligation if a church is to go by the name of PC(USA), but the denomination will have to offer useful avenues for mission, and goods and services in support of a congregation’s mission. That is, the denomination will have to compete for the allegiance of the congregation, its leaders and its members.

The other side of that new reality is that denominational officials and organizations who do their work well and provide good “customer service” can rebuild networks of mission and funding that have been allowed to atrophy. But it will take time, and it will take very bright and dedicated elected and staff people to make the most of this opportunity.

The situation will not be that different than for colleges for the past 35 years, or even seminaries in today’s environment: Presbyterian congregations are the base, but they cannot be taken for granted; the Presbyterian connection can be strong, but it will never be what it once was.

The premium in this sort of system will be on leaders who have vision, and the ability to articulate the classic Reformed faith and vision in new ways to new generations, but who also have knowledge of and respect for other Christian networks that serve the needs of congregations. They can be honest brokers as congregations seek to be faithful to their own understanding of Christ’s mission in their time and place.

The competitive aspect will be healthy for the church; but it will involve giving up a good deal of control. Those who need to be in control, either in denominational bureaucratic structures, or those seeking to take over control of such structures, are bound to be disappointed.

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