Last week, the Office of the General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church (USA), released its 2013 statistics on church attendance and the number of congregations in our denomination.
Since the report’s release, Presbyterians have engaged in the usual ritual of nail-biting and finger-pointing over the current state of the church. Various pundits have offered their opinions online and in print, analyzing and interpreting these statistics.
I’m not going to do that.
What I’d like to offer now are some of my thoughts on why I came and why I stay in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
I’m a young pastor in the Midwest who falls somewhere on the line between GenX and Millennial. I’m young and married with kids… exactly the kind of demographic that most of our churches are trying to court.
Yet, we’re not just attending church, my wife and I have given our lives to it as pastors. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe this denomination capable of carrying the Christ-light into the future. So, here’s a little advice from your target demographic…
We are so DONE with whining about mainline decline and finger-pointing over whose theology is to blame. When Boomers and members of the WW2 generation give voice to that spirit of despair, they belittle the commitment we’ve made. What’s even worse is that their belly-aching ignores what it is that makes us the Church:
I was born in 1980, so I never saw the “glory days” of the 1950s. I never saw the packed pews or overflowing parking lots that others remember so fondly. I’ve only known a Presbyterian Church in numerical and fiscal decline, but that hasn’t stopped me from coming or staying.
I didn’t grow up Presbyterian. In fact, I didn’t even attend a service at a PC(USA) congregation until I was in my twenties. I grew up in an evangelical mega-church with contemporary worship, dynamic preaching, and no bureaucratic ties to a denomination that might hold the congregation back from following the Spirit’s lead. It was a pretty good place and I’m thankful for the gifts I received there.
But when the time came for me to follow God’s call on my life, I came here.
Did you get that? I’ll say it again:
I. Chose. You.
There is depth here. This is a place where I can connect with something greater than myself. This is a place where I am forced to encounter the presence of Christ in the face of those who disagree with me. This is a place where I can be rooted in tradition, yet inspired to branch out in new directions. I’m rarely comfortable here. In fact, I feel like a fish out of water most of the time, but I stick around because YOU have convinced me, in your preaching and praying, in your singing and voting, and most of all in the Scriptures and Sacraments, that personal discomfort is the surest sign that Christ is at work in me, continually calling me toward new life and growth in faith.
If that’s not worth sticking around for, I don’t know what is.
When it comes to reading statistical reports and fretting over what our future will look like, I want to re-direct our attention back to what matters most: to the Christ who comes to us, walking on the water, calling us to step out of the boat in faith, daring us to do the impossible. Let’s not tremble in fear at the wind and waves that threaten to overwhelm us, but fix our eyes instead upon the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One who began this good work in us and will see it through to completion in God’s time.
I know this little rant of mine won’t solve any of our immediate problems. We still have a General Assembly to convene, budgets to balance, buildings to maintain, pastors to pay, and missions to support. The cause for concern is real. My purpose in sharing this is to give you hope by offering a testimony of faith from a young voice who has come to and stayed in this denomination, not because you have big buildings or budgets, not because you have slick worship or good preaching, not because your theology is evangelical or progressive, but because Jesus Christ loves and challenges me through you.
That is the gift you bring. That is what makes us the Church.
As you read the above statistical report and gather for General Assembly in Detroit, keep that in mind.
Remember how our elder brother, St. Paul, said it:
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”