A summary of last night’s presbytery meeting:
The money’s nearly gone.
The Executive is gone.
Two churches are gone and three more are trying to get gone.
Two pastors are gone, one to a disciplinary action and the other to resignation forced by illness.
Gone, baby, gone.
The gathering diminished throughout the evening, an apparent microcosm of our life as a presbytery. Indeed, of Presbyterianism itself.
The best thing that’s ever happened at a NEXT Church gathering was Stacy Johnson’s address in Dallas (embedded below–and made into a clever NEXT promo video here). “There are two ways of living that we know of as Christians,” Johnson said, drawing on 1 Corinthians 1:18. “We can live as those who are perishing or as those who are being saved.”
As those who are perishing . . .
Signs of our perishing are everywhere, perhaps no more evident than at a presbytery meeting like last night’s. Those signs are intrusive and disruptive. They provoke an anxious response, perhaps even a hopeless one.
Yet the message of the gospel is that what looks like perishing can be God’s salvation in disguise. The challenge we face, Johnson said in Dallas, is not first and foremost a cultural or demographic or organizational challenge. As versed as church leaders have become in the language of “adaptive challenges,” the real challenge is the gospel. The real adaptive change we face comes from the good news of life and salvation emerging from death.
So we live as though we are being saved. We invest heavily in a partnership with Presbyterians in Peru. We build networks for collaborative youth ministry. We validate a church’s work with refugees and share it’s costs. All while every outward sign condemns those efforts as futile.
And we gather. Our being saved is evident in our gathering, though these days not as evident as our perishing. Clearly not.
This is how it’s supposed to be, though. Following Jesus is not a strategy for vitality and success. Look at the cross. The hope we have is that our salvation will never be as present as when all signs are pointing to perishing.