“A lot of people, sad to say, think as a church we’re at a dead end.”
That was the warning of Brian McLaren, noted author, speaker, activist and public theologian, to the capacity crowd for the GA Breakfast on Monday (July 2) at the 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Then he went on to say that God turns dead ends into new beginnings, tombs into portals, if we just dare to believe.
McLaren encouraged Assembly-goers to revel in the importance of being Presbyterian.
“I want to say thank you,” he said. He told how he first met Presbyterians in college, when he was edging out of any Christian tradition. “You gave me thinking I could fit into. If it wasn’t for you, I would never have met a woman minister.”
McLaren congratulated the PC(USA) for being further along in seizing the resources of change than many believe. All true change involves a descent where things fall apart. It seems all hope is lost. And then comes the climb to new life.
“It turns out the landscape of change is like a forest, where new growth is dependent upon fire,” he said. After a fire, the landscape looks beyond recovery. But a few days later, diverse new life starts to spring up. “Crisis brings the release of new seeds and nutrients,” he said. “The change you are enduring is already bringing new seeds and new nutrients to the soil.”
So how are we to be Presbyterians on the move?
We are in a new era of authority sharing. Traditional structures hoard authority, but Jesus disseminated his power among the 12, and then told them to share it around the world. “The authority that matters is a poured-out kind of authority: servanthood, sacrifice, suffering and solidarity,” McLaren said.
We need to be stewards of a new identity. Our previous Protestant identity has been focused on protest, what we’re against. “What’s emerging is a pro-testifying identity. What are we for? What do we love and value? How do we network to everyone? How do we live fidelity in relationships? What difference do we make?” McLaren asked.
“There’s a new identity brewing, and you are part of discovering what it is,” he said.
Suggesting that the word missional is over-used, McLaren said, “Let’s go back to the idea of missio Dei instead. God is a missionary God. God is at work in the world. God is calling, reigning. God’s primary work is not an evacuation plan to get people off. God is involved in collaborative mission in the world.”
“The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”