I had posted this during the last day of the Presbymergent CG meeting and have received very positive feedback thus far. I am opening it up for hopefully further conversation and exploration in order to gain a sense of common purpose in common language as PODS hopefully begin to gather and coordinate activities. This is its edited form. The original can be seen here, but with very little difference.
I have been involved in a discussion surrounding Presbymergent for over a year now. The term is a combination of ”Presbyterian” (as in Presbyterian USA) and ”emergent” as in emergent Christianity. As most nascent organizations of like-minded people, it has begun as something with a lot of energy, a lot of ideas, and ideas of structure, but no real structure until recently. But in a pragmatic way of looking at the world, structure is something that tends to follow clear ideas rather than come prior to it. So my own Presbyterianism, a denomination named after its political structure rather than a founder (Lutheran) or a theology (Baptist) or ecclesiology (Catholic), causes a continual problem. Organizational structure comes prior to clarity of good ideas and that structure assumes that it has already been formed by good ideas; or, it has been formed with good enough ideas to persist.
So what happens if we still have the same political structure, but the ideas that formed it create problems with the culture that now exists? What happens is that new ideas have to fit within the confines of the political structure which is assumed to be at the very least satisfying to those who persist in the denomination. The evaluative question I ask is rather simple: what is working? But this is always rooted in clear ideas. And away the wheel spins once more.
Presbymergent is a group of more or less like-minded Presbyterians who recently gathered in the form of a co-ordinating group asking this essential question: what is working? I did not go to the meeting due to many other concerns with work that kept me home. Nonetheless I continued to listen and read what others were processing during the meeting. My question always came back to another one related to ”what is working?” and that was, ”why this and why now?”
So I pushed people a bit, critiqued a bit (and from someone from the outside looking in this is always problematic and seems a little intrusive), and engaged people who were there with this fundamental question. Thus, in a wonderfully open-source kind of spontaneous dialogue this afternoon with Landon, Chad, and Fritz, I reached a point of clarity not based on my thoughts, but on the thoughts of others. I had posted a twitter post yesterday that read ”finish this sentence: presbymergent is…” After a good hour or so of pretty intense Socratic dialogue, minds met and broke through some pretty palpable cognitive dissonance with this little statement I cooked up to synthesize the discussion:
Presbymergent are followers of Christ who seek continual reform of existing church structures through dynamic, open, and intentionally critical systems.
Let me unpack some of this since the terms are loaded with a lot.
1) ”are followers of Christ” indicates the source and reason for why people would engage in anything to do with the church. When we cease to be faithful to the revelation of Christs redemption, and when we cease to practice due diligence in following his witness through our words and deeds, we simply lose that which makes us distinctly Christian in the world. I am intentional with the word ””are”” as well. This is not a concept or an ideology. This is a group of people who make choices and act on them.
2) ”who seek continual reform of existing church structures” means that there is simply nothing in this world that human beings conceive that is complete and there is nothing that humans say or do that does not change. Change is not a political slogan and never should have been. It is a fundamental and irreducible construct of human being and human sociation. When we resist change, we are not only losing faith in the calling to which Christ demands of us, we are resisting the very core of what it means to be human. The structures which are constitutive and regulative of the Body of Christ are fallible and so, they are mutable. This is inclusive of not only political structures by which law, order, and social norms are established and reinforced, but of class, gender, sexual orientation, race, culture, ability, and linguistic structures that create assumed boundaries for social and theological construction. These norms are always in flux. Thus it can only be demanded that such frail creatures sustained by an undeserved grace from God, who seek to become more like God through the work of the Spirit that calls the people to God together and which founds the church itself, should understand that all human systems of organization are equally frail, incomplete, and change relative to the working of the living Spirit of God.
3) ”through dynamic, open, and intentionally critical systems” is a call for basic principles of organization that are regulated in and through change. While it is simply a necessity that structures of organization exist that are clear and conducive to getting work done, creating immutable systems is restrictive of the principles of the first clauses in this statement. By ”systems” I mean those of communication, team work, collaborative exercises, task forces, activism, etc. These are important organizational principles that should be open and collaborative in order to ensure that the idolatry of faith in an immutable politics is mitigated if not ideally expunged from the process.
I am employing a grounded theory approach to visioning. In itself it is imperfect and requires testing and development, but it is a clear starting point. What I think is important is that Presbymergent have a consensus vision upon which its members fundamentally agree. Once the vision is identified, then specific problems may be addressed that such a vision can pragmatically correct within any social, political, or geographic boundaries identified by willing and able actors. Reporting the outcomes of these ideas through the various means as noted in #3 above are precisely how those items that need to change in #2 above can be identified and influenced.
I welcome continued conversation around these ideas in order to move toward some kind of a consensus vision to which each of our local areas of influence may soon reap the benefit of our sustained flow of energy to follow Christ in this unique calling.