For those of you who are not Presby-geeks, I apologize for the series of posts that are about to follow… the short story is that Beau Weston wrote a paper for the denomination, which stated that we needed to Rebuild the Presbyterian Establishment.
I’m part of a group who responded to the paper. I joined the esteemed voices of Jose Luis Casal, J. Herbert Nelson II, and Cynthia Holder Rich, who are from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and positions in the church.
I’m white, and I’m a pastor. So as I thought about what I brought to the conversation, I figured that the one thing that I had going for me was that I was young (okay… so I’m 38… which means I’m really stretching this “young” label). I write about ministering to men and women in their 20s and 30s, so my responses center around that viewpoint.
Weston discusses my paper on his blog:
Merritt takes it for granted that the niche of the entire Presbyterian Church is to draw people like her – “writing as a woman who grew up a conservative Baptist and converted to Presbyterianism.” Her strategy for contextual evangelism is “in this particular time we can especially minister to those who are leaving politically conservative evangelical megachurches.”
Welcoming people who are leaving the Evangelical movement is not the core of my outreach strategy, it’s just one sentence from the paper, tacked on to a pleading hope that we “broaden our focus, from not only welcoming those who ‘know what it means to be Presbyterian,’ but also to inviting and accepting men and women from a variety of backgrounds.” So it seems a bit unfair to boil my position down to me wanting a church chock-full of people who look like me.
But, that’s okay. Pastors in growing churches often draw people with similar struggles and hopes. And, I suppose the same could be said for a certain latte-sipping academic white guy, who wants to make sure that the establishment is rebuilt with tall-steeple church pastors and executives. I mean, the last time I checked, most of those types are… well… white guys.
All snarky jabs aside though… reaching out to recovering fundamentalists isn’t a bad strategy. The fact that a new generation of Evangelicals is leaving their congregations goes far beyond my ministering from my small context and experience.
The Emerging Church movement is full of people who grew up Evangelical, and now they’re questioning what they had been taught. Sometimes EC gatherings feel like a Fundamentalists Anonymous group. UnChristian documents the negative attitudes of a new generation toward Evangelicalism. Christine Wicker reports a study that suggests that roughly over 1,000 people leave the Evangelical Church every day.
I’m not happy about this trend. It makes my heart ache, because most of those men and women are leaving Christianity, and leaving for good. So please don’t read this as some sort of sheep-stealing vitriol. (And, yes, I realize that there are PCUSA types who are Evangelical…)
It is just that my experience of the Presbyterian Church was different from the conservative Baptist Church in which I was formed. The leaders of my denomination showed me grace when I had been told that women could not be ordained. The church was there, giving me encouragement, education, and mentors to guide me. They taught me how to be a leader, even as a 22-year-old woman.
Not only that, but so many men and women surrounded me, as I wrestled with my faith, telling me it was okay to doubt, because my eternal salvation did not rely on my personal conviction from one moment to the next. I was held in a community of grace, and God could handle any question that I might spew at God.
It was such good news to me… and I have seen that it’s good news to so many others.
We have a strong and vibrant history of social justice and spiritual traditions. We have a connection with God and the world for which so many people long. And if I’m looking at the future of my beloved denomination, I’m not betting that efforts to rebuild its establishment is going to do much good. The world has shifted too much from the 1950s. We need a new strategy.
And focusing our efforts to reach out to a new generation–a generation who is ethnically diverse and longs to make a difference in the world–that is what gives me hope for vital ministry.