Dear Mr. Moderator

Bruce Reyes-Chow the current moderator for the PC(USA) denomination has graciously offered to be interviewed by just pretty much anyone with a blog or podcast, and I thought I’d take him up on that offer.

Some interview context. I am a member of the first cohort of the MDiv via Distance Learning program at UDTS. I happen to be one of the Student Council reps for the three cohorts that are now in process, so I wanted to ask some questions that come out of my adventures with these lovely people…
1. Many of us are 2nd or 3rd career seminarians, which means that we’ll be entering the pastoral world a little older and with diverse resumes. How do you think this will help or hinder a search for a call, given the realities of the “job market” within the PC(USA)?
Bruce:
As you may know the “job market” right now in the church is hard on everyone. I think that unless you are willing to be open to serve in places that are not traditionally flooded with PIF’s – rural, small, yoked – folks should be prepared for the possibility that alternative structures of ministry and personal vocation must be looked at. Looking at bi-vocational or tentmaking possibilities would be wise to explore as well. In terms of second-career types, I think that life experience can do nothing but help and not sure if there are any broad strokes to the help or hindrance of such a situation.
2. You have spoken a great deal about the need to move forward and embrace new ways of being church, including (but not limited to) utilizing technology and social media. Given that our seminary experience is 70% via technological/media delivery, we may just be a good bridge between the traditional and the new. What are 3 key things you have learned during your tenure as moderator about leading/pastoring with these new tools?

Hmmmm . . . just three? Okay, I’ll take a shot at it.

1) Don’t force it – Like most things, if any new technology, program, etc is lead exclusively by the pastor, it will probably fail sooner rather than later. Technology will best be embraced if it is used to the capabilities and willingness of the congregation.

2) Don’t dismiss it – So many people are simply dismissing Social Media because it is impersonal, narcissistic and and fleeting. And while any new technology can hold these attributes, I firmly believe is our leaderships role to find ways to have technology integrated into ministry is positive ways. Yes, folks will abuse the technology and yes, it can cause problems, but so can choirs who have lost focus, trustees who hold onto power too tightly and/or pastors who believe all authority comes from them. Basically, I believe we must embrace technology and Social Media and find helpful and healthy ways to implement their usage in the life of the church.

3) Be real and consistent – A hallmark of social networking is TRANSPARENCY AND AUTHENTICITY so no matter what one does, he/she must understand the comfort level with which engagement will take place. This stuff is not for everyone, but if folks do dive in, he/she should be as real and honest as one would be in any conversation.

3. Like every generation before us, my classmates and I are attending seminary because we have discerned a call to ordained ministry. Even as I invest heart, soul, mind and money into this process, I read about fewer calls, lack of funding, the rise of the CLP, and the demise of the denominational church. Calgon, take me away! In light of all that… How do you think seminarians can best prepare themselves for what seems like an uncertain future of the denomination? What should we be pushing our instructors, CPMs and/or seminaries to provide us?

Another great question. I think in terms of the future of the denomination, we must understand that all aspects of the church structure are in flux and that we must all understand why we are part of a denomination beyond the pensions and job funnel. We cannot be so naive to think that the denomination – like many institutions in the world – can “take care of us” as in decades past. We must allow ourselves the freedom to help the church be who the church is is going to be without focusing so much on the institutional/structural realities that often seem overwhelming. This does not mean that we check out, on the contrary, we find ways to most effective helps us all to become the denomination that we will become. In terms of what should be being taught in school, I firmly believe that seminaries must engage in training pastors to engage in the world in passionate ways. For instance, this means helping folks understand theory behind so many of the cultural shifts that are taking place AND giving the lenses and the practicum to have those theories ground one’s praxis in ministry.
Thanks, Mr. Moderator!

Definitely some things to chew on. I have to say that as one who hasn’t had many opportunities to experience the breadth of the PC(USA) in all its traditional connectional glory, I find the social networking that you and Byron have done as the Mod Squad to be a huge help. I am now virtually connected to people I might never have met, in several presbyteries across the country.

When we met up in Nashville earlier this year, my son found it amazing that I already “knew” the moderator. And that you were as self-effacing and humble and witty as your posts online. Which is what that authenticity is all about. Very important as we venture into an age where folks want reality from everyone, including leaders, but very seldom get it. Jesus sure set the example there.

I am looking forward to seeing you again, this time in Dubuque – Good Lord willing and the snow don’t fly.

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