Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Renewing One Congregation at a Time

Jim Berkley is a reporter for the Institute on Religion and Democracy which has spent the past several years seeking a change in the social and political witness of mainline denominations. As a Presbyterian, Berkley primarily concerns himself with issues facing the PCUSA. He attended the recent Presbyterian Coalition and the Presbyterian Global Fellowship meetings in Atlanta.

Berkley suggests that the Presbyterian Global Fellowship is following a specific playbook.
The Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) attitude seemed to be that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is largely irrelevant. Thus, the PGF folks will just go ahead and build strong churches that have an outward, missional focus. They're not going to spend much energy anymore thinking about polity machinations or Louisville decrees; they're just going to pursue excellence with a band of missional companions, despite the denomination.

Whether this attitude is an accurate appraisal of PGF remains to be seen. Berkley himself admits as much. No matter how accurate, however, the thought represents the view of many evangelical pastors and elders within the denomination. Whether weary of the battle or happier in hands-on ministry, evangelicals often concern themselves with their local congregation, ignoring the happenings in the greater church.

If Berkley is correct, I do not see this attitude as much of a change from the status quo. Vibrant, healthy churches have always existed in the PCUSA. Unfortunately, as individual congregations have improved, that improvement has not translated to the greater denomination.

Can this strategy bring about renewal in the denomination? Only if congregations become less insular. Healthier congregations should partner with weaker ones. Coalitions of congregations should develop and promote resources for renewal. If possible, these should be accomplished through presbyteries. If not, congregations should do these things on their own. Many small, struggling churches are begging for assistance. Evangelicals should make a concerted effort to help these congregations. Through local churches, the denomination can be renewed one congregation at a time.

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