August 24, 2016

When You Think Church Renewal Efforts Aren’t Helping…

Sometimes you just can’t keep a good story to yourself. And this story happens to be a true story about discovering Church renewal efforts are making a difference in unexpected places.

On Sunday I invited a young minister of the local Presbyterian Church (USA) and his wife over for supper at Eric’s and my house. The minister’s sweet wife and I developed a little friendship while attending the nearby gym. After a few coffee conversations, I knew they pastored a PC(USA) congregation in our small town. I knew the wife was faithful on the topic of marriage and sanctity of life. But I also knew her husband was a 27 year-old PC(USA) minister who graduated from a liberal Presbyterian seminary not long ago. I couldn’t help but speculate about his theology.

Before the couple arrived, I told my husband that perhaps, just this once, we should avoid the topics of politics and religion at the table. Between PC(USA) and Southern Baptists and Trump and Clinton, who knew where the conversation might lead? Besides, my purpose for hosting the dinner was to show hospitality to my newfound friend and her husband, not to grill the PC(USA) minister on his theology.

Of course religion came up and I’m glad it did.

The “what do you do” question popped up while we sipped our tea. So I carefully explained the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) seeks to strengthen Christians’ witness in the Public Square, advocate for the Persecuted church abroad, and further renewal efforts in the dwindling oldline Protestant denominations. (No, there isn’t a delicate way to put it.)

The young minister nodded his head and then expressed concerns over the continued decline of PC(USA) membership and unorthodox leadership decisions. As the IRD reported, the PC(USA) lost 50 congregations since the denomination redefined marriage at General Assembly 2014, as well as 209 congregations total between 2013-2014. IRD President Mark Tooley noted the PC(USA) lost 89,296 members in 2013 and 102,791 members in 2012.

“Do you know Carmen Fowler Laberge?” the young Presbyterian pastor asked me. Yes, I told him. Fowler Laberge is a friend and colleague within the renewal movement. She not only serves as President of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, but hosts The Reconnect, a podcast show tackling culture from a Biblical worldview. For the young pastor, Carmen’s voice is an encouragement to hear as he struggles with the frustrating decision of his denomination’s leadership. Her voice reminds him he is not the lone orthodox Presbyterian within the PC(USA). Her efforts encourage him to carry on and he asked me to thank her and offered to his gratitude to me and the IRD.

Personally, working in the renewal movement can be tough. It’s emotionally draining and rarely do we see tangible fruits of our labor. We know people out there somewhere read our reports, commentary, and warnings. But rarely do we meet them in person or have a chance to hear exactly how our renewal efforts aid them in their local ministry. But as I learned, renewal efforts are influening the work of a 27-year-old PC(USA) pastor in a small Virginia town. This is good news worth sharing.

Every faithful Christian needs little reminders that our Church renewal efforts make important impacts in places we wouldn’t expect.

2 Responses to When You Think Church Renewal Efforts Aren’t Helping…

  1. Creed Pogue says:

    I have been blessed with people coming up to me to praise me for my actions often telling me that I am doing what they would want to do but didn’t feel they had the gifts and graces. I try to encourage them to speak up and act out themselves because we are stronger together.

  2. nationaljester says:

    Christians adhering to historical interpretations of Scripture need to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves”. Case in Point: I was waiting to pick my son up from Kindergarten and struck up a conversation with a woman waiting for her son. Turned out our sons had been friends in the same preschool. In sharing our stories, we learned that their family was very liberal, environmentalists, didn’t attend Church, and she was a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. I was a conservative, Christian, and bought Roundup and other herbicides in 150 gallon containers.

    She was a little saddened and said, “well, I guess we can’t be friends.” It could only have been the Holy Spirit…certainly not my intellect, that caused me to say, “Oh, I don’t know why we can’t be friends.” The result was a years long friendship where we could exchange our views in a safe environment. They allowed their son to attend our Youth Group activities with our son, and he was eventually Baptized.

    If we are going to reach people outside the Church we are going to need to be gentle, open, slow to judge and quick to admit where the Church makes mistakes. Out here in California, at least, we find ourselves in a post-Christian society. We need new ways of spreading the Gospel because the old methods aren’t working. I suggest we concentrate on a message of radical love and forgiveness, beyond anything humans can comprehend or accomplish on their own. People get sin, and even if they deny it exists with their mouth, they know it exists in their heart. They need hope. Lets give it to them.

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