2011- BIG TENT: Embrace danger, Parsons tells elders

Indianapolis (PNS) God expects just one thing of the PC(USA)’s 100,000 elders: to change the world.

“It’s that simple,” the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly, told the National Elders Conference on July 1. After all, he said, “Christ already gave the church all that’s necessary, and one of those gifts is you.”

During the first elders conference in 2007, Parsons challenged his audience to become “dangerous elders.” This year he’s upped the stakes, to “How dangerous do you want to be?”

By “dangerous” Parsons means becoming agents of change, not “the kind that causes problems.”

To effect change, elders must realize that Presbyterians are in all places along the spiritual path: some “still wet with baptism, others just one deed away from being a saint.”

Rather than practicing “Marcel Marceau” evangelism, referring to the acclaimed French mime, Parsons wants elders to feel comfortable sharing their faith and to take an active role in worship.

According to a Pew poll, quality of worship is the top reason people are drawn to churches, he said, and people in the pews are looking to elders to lead at worship and at session meetings.

He offered three ways for elders to rev up their spiritual lives: by upgrading their prayer life, by wearing their Bible out and by committing themselves to other disciples, which he termed “the spiritual buddy system.”

Session meetings can be enhanced by “the 50/50 system” – spending half the meeting on business and half on prayer and Bible study.

With about 90 elders in the audience, Parsons predicted that if just 5 percent of the nation’s 100,000 PC(USA) elders “get fired up” and take seriously the call to the change the world, “we can change the whole nature of the church.”

Mike Ferguson, a member of United Presbyterian Church in Lone Tree, Iowa, and a reporter for the Muscatine Journal, is covering the National Elders Conference at Big Tent for PNS.