Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pastoral Letter: The Need for Discernment

Recently our congregation has begun a process of discernment. We are asking some tough questions about the direction of our congregration. More importantly we are listening to God to give us direction. Here is a pastoral letter to my congregation about the discernment process.

Dear Friends,
Q. How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
A. What? Change?

Whether warranted or not, Presbyterians have a bad reputation about adapting to change. Let me be the first to say that this is not necessarily a bad thing. In the past few generations, we have seen the world change at a dizzying pace. We should be thankful for many of those changes, but we also should recognize that not every change is good. The church’s role is not to change for change’s sake, but rather we are called to respond in new ways to new situations with the same Jesus Christ. Reaching out to the world with the gospel means translating it into the language and culture of our place and time. At the same time, we use the gospel to critique, to criticize, and to expose the idols of our age.

Our congregation faces a much different world than the one faced by Vernon Presbyterians in 1888 or even in 1988. After years of cultural primacy, Christianity is no longer the dominate force in Western society. As our society becomes more cosmopolitan, it becomes the locus for clashes between various religious traditions and even no religious tradition. For many, truth has become relative, completely dependent on particular context. At the same time, religion has become privatized, a hobby. Even the increasingly large Christian subculture in America looks and acts often like their non-Christian neighbors. For example, high divorce rates, sexual immorality, materialism and biblical illiteracy plague the Church as well as society as a whole. In our modern world, many feel more isolated, more hurried, and less grounded. After years on foreign shores, many missionaries have returned home and acknowledge that the United States is now a mission field.

In the past, the Church has acted like a chaplain to the greater culture. The Church accepted the roles and limits assigned to it. She merely addressed the religious needs of the community. As the culture has changed, the Church must now act as a missionary. Rather than a dispenser of religious goods, she must herald the kingdom of God, proclaiming the good news of God’s reign to a skeptical world.

Our temptation in this time of transition is great. There are plenty who peddle solutions for what ails the Church. Fads and gimmicks abound. Instead of adopting a few quick-fixes, we need to listen intentionally to God. Our congregation has begun a season of discernment. We want to hear God’s call, and we want to respond in faith. In the coming months, we ask for your prayers and participation. We hope that this season will be a time of renewal and revival for our congregation and for you.

Grace & Peace,

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