Tuesday, May 11, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 9

I am changing my approach in this post. The statement itself is straightforward, so I will eliminate the Summary. In addition I will make my comments in the body of the work, putting the comments in brackets, since there are many specifics of this section that need to be addressed.

Internal Challenges

The magnitude of the external challenges listed above should make it apparent that the temporal powers of our church are not the ultimate answers to our world’s problems. While the church cannot simultaneously ignore the world’s current problems and minister in Christ’s name, her energies will be consumed in futility if she perceives her primary mandate to be re-creating Eden with earthly resources. Jesus said that his Kingdom was not of this world, that we would always have the poor with us, and that his people would face suffering until his return. The ultimate mandate of the church is not to fix a fallen world, but to give God’s people rest and rescue from its corruptions. This is done by honoring, proclaiming and demonstrating the truths of God’s eternal love. God’s people give these truths credibility by the way we worship Him according to his Word and serve as salt and light in the world.

With God’s blessing our efforts can truly be culturally transformative, and the cultural mandate of Scripture obligates God’s people to bring the light of the Gospel and the demands of Christ’s Lordship into every inch of the world over which they have influence. Yet, the priority of the Gospel remains spiritual transformation through which cultural transformation may come but by which eternal security assuredly comes. This spiritual priority by no means lessens the concern or obligation of the church to seek peace and justice in the world. Rather this spiritual priority reflects the Biblical understanding that, through its transformed people, the church of Jesus Christ is the most powerful change agent in any society – whether religious, secular or pluralistic. When a community of believers lives faithful to the Gospel – loving one another, forgiving one another, helping the helpless, loving enemies, sacrificing for the undeserving, honoring Christ, sharing his claims for this world, and living with confidence in the blessings of the next – then, Christ’s Spirit becomes evident and moves across society as he intends.

Our obligation is not to demand that the Spirit move according to our design or timing, but to be vessels for his wisdom and work. As jars of clay, we should expect that our efforts will sometimes be flawed. Still, we are a branch of the visible church through which the Spirit brings his transformation and should expect that God will use us as we seek to serve him in humility and repentance. True humility will require understanding that we are not the only branch of his church through which God will work, and also acknowledgement of the many challenges for which our wisdom alone is insufficient. True repentance will require confession of weakness and sin that are evident in many of our internal challenges. These internal challenges are now listed not to discourage or blame, but to enable us to address what we must in order to be a worthy vessel for God’s transforming work of souls and society:

1. Slowed Growth with Lack of “Rallying” Strategic Plan (key influencers also “burned” by previous 2000-2006 Strategic Plan Process) [Is the slowed growth due to the lack of a strategic plan? The writers have not demonstrated that the slowed growth is any more than normal after the adding of a whole denomination and the Korean churches. Also, who are the “key influencers”? In what way were they burned by the 2000-2006 Strategic Plan Process? Does the former process indicate anything significant for the current process? In other words, have we learned anything from previous experience? There’s no indication here that we have.]

2. Predominantly Small Churches Struggling to Survive (49% of churches have less than 120 members; 20% have less than 50 members; only 8% have more than 500 members) [What do these statistics mean? Is the goal to have all churches >500 members? Are those the only churches that are healthy? What about the churches with membership between 50 and 120? Are these by nature unhealthy? What about the churches under 50 members? Are they necessarily unhealthy? Is it possible for a church >500 members to be unhealthy? Has the denomination (or presbyteries) looked into possible solutions for the small churches (such as multi-point charges, wehere one minister serves more than one church)? In other words, these are bare facts that need some constext in order to be understood. If they are not properly understood, we cannot possibly respond to them correctly.

3. Anti-denominational Historical Context and Post-denominational Present Context [This is probably an accurate summary of where American Evangelicalism is, but it would be nice to have a couple of studies cited, rather than bare assertion.]

4. Loss of Denominational Heritage, Knowledge and Identity with Passing of Denominational “Fathers” [If this is true, whose fault is it? Is it the fault of the seminaries? Is it the fault of the “denominaitonal father”? Is it the fault of the denomination at large?]

5. Culture of Suspicion and Caricature Perpetuated by Past Narratives (e.g., encroaching liberalism, insensitive bureaucracies, racist agendas, big steeple power) and Present Divisions (see below):

a. Have and Have-not Divisions (size, salaries, recognition, influence)

b. Generational Divides: Builders/Boomers=Institutional priorities; Gen-X=Relational priorities (See earlier discussion of Evangelical generational divide)

c. Regional Divides (Southern identity; Northeastern; and Western autonomy)

d. Perspectival Divides (Creating false and destructive dichotomies)

-Aggressive TRs (eradicating unReformed) vs. Cynical Progressives (abandoning Reformed)

-Doctrinalists (theological-erosion policemen) vs. Missionalists (reaching-the-lost pragmatists)

-Southern Presbyterian Theology vs. Continental Reformed Theology vs. Broadly Evangelical

-Traditionalists (prioritize traditional churches) vs. Emergents (prioritize relational churches)

-Fundamentalists (piety removed from culture) vs. Tranformationists (piety traded for culture)

-Planters (entrepreneurs and innovators) vs. Providers (structure maintainers and shepherds)

-Younger pastors (desiring mentors and shared leadership with peers, not RE’s) vs. Older Pastors (desiring authority and shared leadership with RE’s)

[All of these are probably common perceptions in the PCA. But common perceptions, and conventional wisdom are often wrong. Furthermore, they have the appearance of false dichotomies. Can these divides be documented? Or is this another case of bare assertion and simplistic analysis?]

6. Pervasive Disregard for Eph. 4:15 and Matthew 18 in Discussions of Differences

Our organizational cohesion has not primarily been achieved by shared mission goals, ministry practice, organizational support, worship style, ethnicity, political perspectives or economic status – but by doctrinal agreement. The downside of so valuing doctrine is that we have little tolerance within or without the church for theological variance. Our tendency is not simply to consider those who differ with us wrong – but to consider them bad (because they are obviously “compromisers” or “unbiblical”). It is easy for us to give moral status to our theological perspective – even on secondary issues, and thus rationalize uncharitable characterizations of those who differ (esp. on blogs) [Doesn’t this paragraph display a certain diregard for Eph 4:18 and Mt 18? The way the paragraph is worded strikes directly and intolerantly at those who hold doctrine important, painting them with a broad brush as an intolerant bunch of theological purists with evil motives.]

7. Decline of Confidence in Presbyteries for Pastoral Support or Cooperative Ministry [Is there a documented decline, or has the support always been low. We need data here, which is surely available, not more assertion.]

8. Rise of Networks for Fellowship/Perspective Affiliation

9. Disinterest in (and suspicion of) General Assembly Structures, Positions and Participants (dissatisfaction among young Progressives resulting in a few departures and many discussions, as with TR’s in previous decade) [Once again, may we please have some documentation?]

10. Committee/Agency Non-Support

-Competition re: resources/recognition

-Doubts re: effectiveness and leadership

-Concerns re: relational harmony/cooperation

11. Maintaining Biblical Worship with Cultural Diversity

12. Ethnic Homogeneity both in General Membership and Denominational Leadership (with vestiges of racism despite strong Korean presence)

13. Most Members and Leaders with Little Exposure to Other Cultures or the Global church

14. Significant Consternation Regarding How to Do Theological Reflection in Confessional Church [What does this mean? I think at the very least, consternation is not the word they really wanted here.}

15. Maintaining Biblical Standards While Encouraging Women to Minister in the Church (and how to discuss this without being caricatured chauvinist or liberal; and how to relate to Evangelicals who differ with PCA standards)

16. Generational Divide among Women re: Responsibilities in Church, Workplace and Home (these are not typically issues related to ordination but to contribution and significance)

17. Loss of Youth (secular culture and denominational disinterest causing many of our children to leave the PCA – and the visible church)

18. Lack of Desire among Young Leaders to Assume Positions with PCA’s Most Significant Pulpits and Organizations (perception that they are moribund and dangerous for families) [Again, may we please have some documentation?]

In sum, this section is particularly troubling, since it is filled with the kind of unsupported assertions that the document itself has already called unhelpful. Further, even in cases where documentation is certainly available, the writers of this analysis have not made use of it. The end result is entirely unhelpful.

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