Carol Howard Merritt posted this tweet earlier today – likely thinking about her work for the General Assembly on the 21st Century Church:
Thinking about change in the #PCUSA. What are some ways that we could nurture an innovative culture?
It’s a great question, and one that I get pretty excited about just by my very nature. After all, I am the kind of person who is energized by the sound of brainstorming and the smell of dry erase markers. But this morning, I was tired. Long story short- I’m still catching up from a school-project-induced sleep deficit. Thus my initial response:
My snarky answer? Tasers. Zap the naysayers and move forward!
Apparently I wasn’t the only one feeling it this morning, someone else suggested funerals.
My next thought went to the nemesis of every candidate and NCD person I know. Paperwork. Most of us are mature enough to understand that paperwork is the best way to assure some sense of order and continuity in an organization as dispersed and diverse as a denomination. But at the same time, these forms haven’t changed to reflect the realities of today’s culture, much less leave space for the future.
I’m not talking about digitizing them. I’m talking about the sorts of questions they ask and the measurements they require. They are geared toward the most traditional forms of pastoral ministry. And the most traditional pattern of church development. The expectation is that fellowships are going to grow into congregations who are going to buy property where they will build and grow some more and have services and Sunday School. Which is true, sometimes.
But not always, and we need to find ways to let people dream, try, fail, learn and try again. Not every crazy idea is a good one. But not every crazy idea is a bad one, either. And you sure can’t tell them apart when the person with the call has to deconstruct, translate and mutilate the vision to try to get the funding they need to see if it can be fruitful.
But the thought that came next- the third one- is probably closer to the heart of the problem.
Innovation will not happen in an institution that is has unhealthy levels of fear and distrust. It just won’t. We absolutely must address the lack of trust that exists within the body or the fear will never recede to its normal levels. And that trust must be built from the bottom up even as it is earned from the top down. Congregations need to do the hard work of becoming healthy communities that then learn to love and trust their nearest neighbors (the presbytery). They need to learn to trust people who are doing that same work in other parts of the country as well.
And this is where I may really piss some people off, but I think the only way that happens is if we get serious about making sure we’re all looking at the same play book. That means some folks are going to leave from the conservative side. But it ought also mean we lose some progressive outliers.
There is a reason we are at 48-52% so often. We are a bell curve. The vast majority of our denomination is not lining up at the PRO or CON microphone. They are sitting in the middle, wishing for a microphone that said, “I am really struggling with this and my heart is torn as I try to find a way to faithfully serve in the midst of it all”. It’s not an easy place to be in these days of us vs them.
I can’t help but think of those bank commercials that show a kid being excluded from ice cream because he wasn’t a “new enough” friend or some other capricious reason. The tag line is, “Even a kid knows that you don’t…”
I am NOT a fan of subscription to specific confessional documents. And the whole examination to one person’s or group’s agenda goes against my nature and against my understanding of the nature of Presbyterianism. But I am a fan of common sense. If there are preachers and other ordained folks who cross lines that we would correct among our children as we teach them the Apostle’s Creed, how is that ok?