Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Once and Future Church?

I am currently serving as a member of the Special Committee to Study the Nature of the Church in the 21st Century. Quite a mouthful, isn't it? It's an even bigger task. Our committee was formed by an action of the 219th General Assembly in 2010, and our task is to present our findings and recommendations to the 220th General Assembly, in Pittsburgh in 2012. We first met in January of 2011 and determined that we needed to listen to many voices, throughout the church, as a central part of our task. Over email and various technologies we came up with a list of 5 questions to help focus our work, and over the past 6 months we have been circulating these questions far and wide, asking for input from church leaders and individuals at every level of the church.

In May we met again in Louisville, where we had two and a half very full days of listening to individuals at the denominational headquarters. In July we had a presence at the Big Tent in Indianapolis, where we talked to visitors to our table in the exhibit hall, and also had a special session for conversation during lunch one day. We are grateful to everyone who has responded!

Now, it is our turn. Next week we meet again in Chicago, where we will speak to some more church leaders, but also have more time to begin to collect our work and start the writing process. Each of us is also responsible for answering the five questions ourselves, so my next few blog posts will be answers to those five questions.

To be honest, after all of the listening, reading, thinking, and reflecting, sitting down to write answers has proven to be more difficult now than it would have been before this process. I don't think there is any single right answer to any of the questions, and my responses are just part of the discussion. They certainly aren't "answers," and more than a lot of what I write, they are a work in progress - part of my ongoing reflection on questions even as we live into the reality of what they address. I warn you in advance that I can be wordy, but I do invite your comments and discussion as I post!

 The questions are:

  1. What is your vision for the church in the 21st century?
  2. What characteristics will draw the great diversity (racial ethnic, age, gender, etc.) of our country into our community of faith in the 21st century?
  3. What do you think are the highest priorities and challenges for the church in the 21st century?
  4. What unique voice do we, as Presbyterians in the Reformed tradition, bring regarding vital ministry in churches and in society?
  5. How do we move the church past division in theology, evangelism and mission to work toward unity in Christ?

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