Building a robust theological framework for new worshiping communities

Academic theologians, new church practitioners and leaders gather for consultation

December 17, 2015

Members of the ‘Pittsburgh consultation’ work on a theological framework for new worshiping communities to more deeply connect them to Presbyterian roots.

Members of the ‘Pittsburgh consultation’ work on a theological framework for new worshiping communities to more deeply connect them to Presbyterian roots. —Jin Kim

LOUISVILLE

The Presbyterian Mission Agency recently held a consultation at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to begin the process of building a robust theological framework for its 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement. To date, more than 300 fellowships have been established through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) evangelism effort.

“As church planting in the PC(USA) became organizationally heavy and capital dependent, most churches and congregations stopped establishing new churches,” says the Rev. Charles Wiley, coordinator of the churches office of Theology and Worship. “Part of the genius of the movement is that we didn’t try to figure everything out before we started—it began with a vision and encouragement—to act.”

Coordinator for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, Vera White joined Wiley in shaping the theological consultation. In her work with new worshiping communities, she sees the 1001 movement reflecting “change” in how “church” is defined in the PC(USA).

“As we shift to a more populous, grassroots, non-institutional, sometimes lay-led movement, we need our theologians more, not less,” says White. “It is important to have confidence that we are relying on solid theological and biblical principles.”

A small gathering of academic theologians, new worshiping community practitioners and leaders from within Presbyterian councils discussed in greater detail the brief definition of new worshiping communities developed when the 1001 initiative started in 2012. They also considered how to move into a new and unknown future, by connecting to Presbyterian roots.

“Our Reformed tradition and history have much to teach us,” says White, “about evangelism and church planting.”

Those engaged in the “Pittsburgh consultation” believe this will be the beginning of a much broader, church-wide, theological conversation about the 1001 movement. They expect to produce a book-length publication that will become the central theological resource for 1001 new worshiping communities.

Wiley and White hope to continue and expand the conversation by offering articles written for the consultation to the public as part of an edited blog. Additional consultations of similar nature are planned for the years ahead.

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Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, which joined the 1001 NWC and Theology offices of PMA to host the consultation, offers a church planting emphases in its M.Div. track and continuing education classes in church planting for pastors and lay leaders.

Consultation participants:

  • Christopher Brown, Organizing Co-Pastor of The Upper Room; Church Planting Emphasis Coordinator, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
  • Darrell Guder, Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Scott Hagley, Assistant Professor of Missiology, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
  • Sara Hayden, 1001 Associate Southeastern Region, Presbyterian Mission Agency
  • Libby Tedder Hugus, Lead Pastor, The Table, Casper, Wyoming
  • Christopher James, Instructor in Evangelism and Missional Christianity at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary
  • Jin Kim, Founding Pastor, Church of All Nations, Minneapolis, Founder Underground Seminary
  • Cynthia Rigby, W.C. Brown Professor of Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary  
  • Edwin van Driel, Directors Bicentennial Associate Professor of Theology, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
  • Vera White, Coordinator, 1001 New Worshiping Communities, Presbyterian Mission Agency
  • Charles Wiley, Coordinator, Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Mission Agency
  • Steve Yamaguchi, Dean of Students, Fuller Theological Seminary

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article identified Cynthia Rigby as Associate Professor of Church History and Christian Spirituality at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

  1. Great article on what seems like a superb consultation. Vera White continues to serve as a Kingdom builder. Her vision and excellent communication skills combine with enthusiasm and spiritual grounding in Reformed theology. She is right on target when she says: “Our Reformed tradition and history have much to teach us,”about evangelism and church planting.” She hit the nail on the head in stating: “As we shift to a more populous, grassroots, non-institutional, sometimes lay-led movement, we need our theologians more, not less." She expressed the importance of having confidence that we are relying on solid theological and biblical principles. Thanks to all who participated and I encourage each consultant to take time to share one idea they developed from the meeting and share it with/in at least three forums - a blog, a personal letter to Sessions of congregations needing a challenge or a Presbytery leader development event. Vera White spoke to the Presbytery of South Alabama with forceful conviction on calling Presbyterians to focus missionally on new forms of congregational life. I pray she can stay on the road with that determined fervor and vision.

    by Thomas Fultz, Ruling Elder

    January 4, 2016

  2. William, Thanks for your thoughtful comments. 1001 has been a wonderful way for us to reach people with the Good News of the Gospel. Many existing churches are giving birth to our new worshiping communities. One of the ways in which we are seeking to help existing churches join God in God’s work in the community is through the Engage resource and curriculum. Engage helps people see again that each of us has a faith story and it encourages us to share these stories in our own authentic ways. Engage (pcusa.org/engage) also helps churches engage practices that take us deeper in our relationships with God and others and send us on mission in the community. New Beginnings (pcusa.org/newbeginnings) is another ministry that helps churches assess their ministry and discover new ways of being the church, so that new ministries are started and new people are reached. Grace, Ray G. Jones

    by Ray Jones

    January 4, 2016

  3. This is great! There is much room for new forms within the theological structure of the Reformed Church. While traditional churches are trying to become more "hip" and relevant, the key is more likely establishing new or satellite congregations under the umbrella and aligned with the theoligical understanding of the Presbyterian Church.

    by Laura Monteros

    December 23, 2015

  4. What is the PC(USA) doing to encourage existing churches to create an urgency among their members to go into the local community and share and invite people to worship? People hurt emotionally and, sometimes for the reason, spiritually. God wants to live in all creation but we Presbyterians are reluctant to tell others. Why? We need help! We are rotting away at the dock in our complacency.

    by William Vogel

    December 18, 2015