Click here for General Assembly coverage

2011- Big Tent: ‘Come and See’: Today’s ministry involves innovative models

Indianapolis (PNS) Many of the models of how we organize the church are dying, said the Rev. Susan Andrews, former General Assembly moderator and executive presbyter for Hudson River Presbytery, introducing a panel of innovative church leaders July 1 at the Healthy Ministry Conference opening luncheon here at the Big Tent.

When she steps out on her office balcony to see the beauty of the Hudson River, she also sees the grim reality of Sing Sing Prison, she said. Climbing the “ecclesiastical balcony” shows a ministry context of both beauty and brokenness, she said.

“In a world hungry for God, our pews hold fewer and fewer seekers every year,” Andrews said. “We get caught propping up the rituals of 20th century Presbyterians. From the balcony, the brokenness of the institutional church supersedes its beauty. The institution is dying. And I don’t have a clue what is coming next.”

Such a time calls for new skills, Andrews said. First, we must learn the biblical skills of waiting. John’s Gospel, in particular, teaches the skills of how to be clueless and curious together. In a key passage, the disciples ask Jesus where he’s staying. Jesus responds, “Come and see.”

“When we hang out with Jesus, we will learn what it means to offer ministry in the chaotic, conflicted, crumpling reality of the 21st century church,” Andrews insisted.

When we take Jesus at his invitation to follow, courageous leaders see new visions of a new church, she added.

Take Ted Hickman, a commissioned lay pastor, who serves in New York City Presbytery. Hickman was a member of a thriving church in Brooklyn. He heard God’s call to prepare for ministry as a lay pastor, in a presbytery where two-thirds of the churches have one hundred members or less, and many of those congregations are without pastoral leadership.

“The Holy Spirit said to me, ‘You’ve got to be connected. You’ve got to be committed. You’ve got to be courageous.’” In living this out one step at a time, Hickman is serving a congregation committed to going outside to the neighborhood. God is in the Resurrection Business, he insisted.

The Rev. Sue Pizor-Yoder is pastor of a church plant called The Barn: A Community that Welcomes Heaven to Touch Earth. “We looked around, and realized that we were getting people who were disgruntled with other churches. But nobody was going out into the ocean for the more than two-thirds of people who don’t belong to any faith community.”

She began by asking people why they don’t have a church family, hearing many stories of pain. She asked, “What would a church community look like for you?” People who aren’t affiliated have a negative perception of denominations and churches,” she said.

They grew the church by deconstructing “church-ese,” and building a rich, diverse community of all generations. “Nobody gets everything they want,” Pizor-Yoder said. “but everyone gets something they need.”

Conversation is the center around which The Barn community is built. In fact, the church doesn’t have committees. It has communities that come together for relationships first, and then gets tasks done.

Worship is a dialogue, where everyone has the chance to ask questions that matter. The arts shape how we worship with great diversity of music styles. The church connects in service across the world and in its town.

The Rev. Ed Hilton is a tentmaker pastor, who serves a full-time job as a teacher, and also serves as a pastor in a Lutheran-Presbyterian congregation in a rural California resort town. “Day in and day out, I’m involved in ministry in the school, embodied in my teaching responsibilities,” he said.

“Just as the people in my church exercise their ministry out in their vocations, whether they are ski lift operators or work in one of the casinos,” he said, “the people of the church and the pastor share the same vocation. I don’t live separate from the workplace issues they experience.”

Tentmaking ministry has provided such a genuine, authentic connection between the church’s life, the lives of parishioners and the life of the community that the congregation is thinking about adding a second tentmaking pastor.

“This would let us double the skills, double the gifts, double the opportunities to be out in the community. We think that might be more exciting than having one full-time pastor,” said Hickman.

Andrews wrapped up the panel, reminding the group that “call is not a job, but a baptismal vocation that saturates every moment of your living. Come and See.”

Erin Cox-Holmes is executive presbyter for Donegal Presbytery. She is covering the Healthy Ministries Conference at Big Tent for PNS.