Presumably, moderators of mid councils took their positions to make a difference. But many might find themselves in tense meetings filled with angry words, said the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness.

“Your modern-day prophetic lament is, ‘How long, Lord, before my term ends?’” he said, preaching the opening sermon of the 2012 Moderators’ Conference here Nov. 9.

Preaching on Habakkuk 2:1-7, Nelson said that many in the PC(USA) can identify with the threat of losing a comfortable community.

“Some of you feel like outsiders in a tense and turbulent time in our denomination,” he said, adding that labels such as liberal and conservative intensify our opposition and draw lines of separation.

As a child, Nelson had a science teacher who filled a balloon with water and asked the students to try to pop it. They were unsuccessful and learned the power of elasticity. The church must also learn this lesson and stretch so as to not be overwhelmed by life’s pressures.

“The church must develop this same elasticity of spirit” and provide leadership in spite of the pressure it faces,” Nelson said. “We don’t do what we do in our name. We do it in the name of one far stronger than us.”

We must remember that we don’t serve the church — we serve the kingdom, Nelson said. This kind of “kingdom thinking” helps us develop elasticity. The PC(USA) has fallen to the temptations of outside pressure and needs to answer the call to engage in kingdom thinking.  

“We have taken the labels of political assignment in Washington and given them a place in our church and in our lives,” Nelson said. “We’re more than politics.”

The challenge is to find our way back to a scriptural understanding of our call, not build the church on power schemes, pension plans and property rights, he said.

“The church doesn’t belong to us,” Nelson said. It’s a witness to Jesus Christ.

He spoke about a recent conversation he had with a presbytery executive about churches that have left the PC(USA). That pastor looked at the possibilities that that situation brings and told Nelson how the empty church buildings are now being used to distribute school supplies to children in need.

“They had a vision for restoring the integrity of God’s work on behalf of the PC(USA),” he said.

What might happen if other empty church buildings were used for tutoring centers, medical clinics or social service agencies?

“We have possibilities beyond measure,” Nelson said. “God has already made it possible.”