On May 30 and 31, more than 50 leaders from eight churches in Pittsburgh Presbytery, together with Ayana Teter (Associate Pastor of Pittsburgh Presbytery), Philip Lotspeich (Coordinator for Church Growth, Presbyterian Mission Agency), Jim Kitchens and Deborah Wright (Adaptive Change Consultants, Pneumatrix) as well as eight Adaptive Change apprentices (Sarah Robbins, Tom Moore, Jake Clawson, Brenda Barnes, Larry Ruby, Linda Ruby, Ayana Teter, Susan Rothenberg) gathered to launch the "Unglued Church" pilot project. Funded by a grant from the PCUSA, this two-year project will not only seek to help churches redefine their mission as they face the tsunami of change in our culture, but also train a cohort of teaching elders in our presbytery to work with churches into the future and help them use adaptive change and positive deviance to effectively live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their communities.
Rev. Wright and Rev. Kitchens of Pneumatrix
The first phase of the project was for each church to participate in a "New Beginnings" assessment http://whatisourfuturestory.com/beta/the-process/. The New Beginnings assessors visited with each church in April and created a comprehensive report detailing each church's assets, challenges and ministry opportunities. This weekend, Rev. Lotspeich instructed the church leadership and apprentices how to read the reports, and outlined the next steps in the New Beginnings process.
Each church -- including Emsworth U.P. -- will now hold a series of "house meetings" -- and that's where the fun really begins! We are praying that the Spirit will bubble up in these holy conversations over the next few months as churches begin to dream and talk and listen to one another as they seek to become what God would desire them to be.We pray that their conversations will be fueled by their love for Jesus Christ and not fear of the unknown. We pray that each church will discover new things about the communities around them and the people they serve. We pray that each church will open themselves up to a new beginning and a new future, whatever that may look like for each of their congregations.
My colleague, Rev. Sarah Robbins and I were privileged to lead worship this weekend, and we drew our inspiration from a sermon preached by Walter Brueggemann at The Festival of Homiletics last week. In the sermon, he reminded us that our churches are fragile clay jars, and that we are privileged to carry the treasure of the Gospel within us. The treasure cannot be destroyed. The clay jar, however, needs to be smashed from time to time. The good news is that the Potter can put us back together, but we will not be the same clay pot we once were. We will be reworked into another vessel, as seems good to God.
Please pray for this effort -- for the churches, the apprentices, and all of us who dare to imagine that God has not stopped dreaming of a new thing for a bunch of old clay jars.
Here is the liturgy we used in our opening worship on Friday night:
To borrow a brilliant phrase from Walter Bruggemann, -- it is time for us to get smashed for Jesus. And tonight and tomorrow marks the beginning of our becoming unglued for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, remembering Paul’s words: