what the pc(usa) means to me

Presbyterian_Church_%28U.S.A.%29[1]So in case you hadn’t heard, I’m starting the process to work towards seminary.  I decided now would be the time.  I’ve wrapped up my application to Austin Presbyterian Theological, and thought “hey, I’ve got some good essays that are a good reflection on what I believe”, so I thought I’d share them here.

The first is about the PC(USA) and my thoughts as I would become ordained in the denomination.  Enjoy!

I believe that the PC(USA) has an opportunity to speak anew to people who desire to hear the Good News, and to provide council to the systems that move the world forward – it just needs to get out of its own way.

Since joining the denomination in 2008, I have found real comfort in the Presbyterian style of governance, and how it affects decisions by the church. Growing up in a congregational church, I found myself concerned about the ability for a pastor to focus more on his or her style, less on substance, and how a church can then become a cult of personality – one simply has to look at the collapse of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll to see the consequences of an unchecked leader.

By having the session and other bodies of leadership all the way through the General Assembly, the PC(USA) takes a critical and Spirit-immersed look at present issues that affect its members together. While this may mean that change may be slower, it is grounded in serious and diverse thought from across the nation. Even reviewing the last General Assembly’s decisions from divestment to same sex marriage, it is clear that the denomination is grounded in nuance and a deep desire to interpret what God is speaking to us today.

This kind of integrity speaks deeply to people – and I believe my generation more than most. The Millennial generation has come of age in a time of deep partisan divide, fear of terrorism, and general sense of dishonesty for selfish gain. Social media has at the same time increased vitriol in public debate while also anonymizing individuals, decreasing the ability to have reasoned, thoughtful conversations. By not being reactionary, the PC(USA) can make firm decisions that stand in contrast to the milieu that constitutes current public discourse.

However, I believe that at times the PC(USA) hides the best part of itself away, and allows the consequences of actions speak louder that the actions themselves. As a mainline church, I realize it stands at a disadvantage in a culture that lacks faith in institutions. However, by allowing messages to focus on how churches and congregants are leaving, including the well thought out decision of same sex marriage (including the process by which the decision will be ratified throughout the church) be marred in half-truths, the church allows itself to be battered by the same culture it could save.

Contemporary society thrives on sound bites – 144 characters, one tweet at a time – but it desperately seeks paragraphs that weave their way into a comprehensive and life-encompassing story. The PC(USA) speaks in paragraphs, built upon the sentences of the church, Presbytery, Synods, and General Assembly all living out the stewardship of God’s Kingdom every day. Instead of conforming and defending our decisions on terms that will never capture the deeper meaning of why we do what we do, we need to work to invite people into a deeper and more thoughtful dialogue, starting with our own congregations. This is the ministry I cultivate now, and plan to continue as a pastor. God and the church do not need one more Twitter feed and Facebook page – one more hip yet pithy and self-righteous answer to what a broken world claims is needed – they need people with depth, grace and understanding who strive for more than just the loudest voice in the fray. Our governance thrives on those people, and I believe those individuals are a balm for the hurt caused by a fractured, deeply broken world, especially young adults who are still desperately seeking their own identity.

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