The boat is gone

Wade says this is ‘not your mother and father’s church anymore’

April 23, 2010

DEERWOOD, Minn.

The Rev. Byron Wade, vice moderator of the 218th (2008) General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), looked out on his audience at the Clearwater 2010 conference here, and asked for a show of hands from the “boomers.”

He told them, “You are the last generation that goes to church on a regular basis.”

In an April 17 address on change in church, Wade spoke about a church in a foreign land. The conference had the theme, “Finding Our Way in the Wilderness.”

“We’re going through something in the church,” Wade said. “Our current church is in a foreign culture. ... You can’t put the same old thing in a new culture and expect it to survive.”

Wade used the example of the cruise-ship captain who advises travelers to take their cameras with them when they leave the ship in port. Why? So they can look at the pictures and remember what it was like if they miss the boat when it leaves.

“This is not your mother and father’s church anymore. The boat is gone,” Wade said.

A minister’s Sunday sermon is now only one of many ways, enhanced by modern technology, that a pastor interacts with his or her congregation, Wade said. The library is being replaced by Google. He asked his audience to remember their years in college, a time of receiving letters in the mail and paying someone to type class papers.

“Those days are gone forever,” he said.

He contrasted the “modern era” characterized by single truth, central authority and standardized worship with the “post-modern era” of shifting world views, changing power bases and more expressive forms of worship.

“We’re going from control of chaos to people living with ambiguity,” Wade said. We are becoming a community that is “contextually responsive.”

Though the world continues to change, Wade — pastor of Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C. — used three biblical texts to inform his view of church transformation. He cited Romans 12:2, which calls on the church to be transformed; 1 Corinthians 12:27, pointing to the diversity within the body of Christ; and Matthew 28:16-20, where Christ commissions the church to make disciples.

“The wilderness is not a bad thing,” Wade said, pointing out that the church can transform “only through the help of God the Spirit.”

With that guidance, Wade said, church transformation requires vision, leadership and change.

Vision comes through discerning God’s calling for the church. It is developed around the question, Wade said, of “what is God calling us to do?” The vision is vital, he said, because “if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t get there.”

Leadership, he said, is “the essence of how things run.” Leaders must encourage broad participation in the vision and change process because without participation there is dissension.

“You hear people say, ‘I would be more willing to change if you would include me in the change,’” Wade said.

Another important element in bringing about change is the recognition of loss — loss of culture, history and tradition. “The reason we cannot change is that we haven’t recognized that someone else is going to lose something,” Wade said.

The recognition of loss must take place and those who will suffer loss need to be included in the change process, Wade said.

“We live in a totally different world,” Wade said. “We are now in a foreign place,” and vision, leadership and change, led by God the Spirit, are required for survival.

“We don’t change for change’s sake,” Wade said. “Change is hard.”

The biennial conference at Presbyterian Clearwater Forest, a camp on the shore of the lake that bears the Clearwater name, is sponsored by the presbyteries of Minnesota Valleys, Northern Waters and Twin Cities Area, and the Synod of Lakes and Prairies.

In addition to Wade, other conference leaders were the Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Lost Generation; J. Andrew Dearman, longtime professor of the Old Testament at Austin (Texas) Presbyterian Theological Seminary and now director of Fuller Theological Seminary’s regional campus in Houston, Texas; and Diana Stephen, former associate for network support for rural and small church ministries of the PC(USA).

Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, Strawberry Point, Iowa, led conference worship.

Duane Sweep is associate for communications for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies. He is a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.

Leave a comment