Monday, June 9, 2014

The 2014 Presbyterian Church in American General Assembly to Houston: Do we have a problem?

The PCA to Houston: Proclaiming Christ…I hope?
On Monday, June 23, the visible impact of over 1100 PCA teaching and ruling elders will be reduced to a few recently emptied hotel rooms in need of cleaning and perhaps the last few bags of trash at the Americas Center. But what will be the lasting impact of our presence?

The Harvest is Plentiful. The Laborers are Few.
Consider: Houston has over 8,700 homeless people, including 3,824 people living completely unsheltered.  Another 3,500 live in sheltered facilities, and another 1,400 are in the Harris County jail. There are an additional 7,200 people in Houston jails. An estimated one million people are living as illegal immigrants throughout the state, many in Houston. Throughout the region, there are innumerable opportunities to volunteer with the homeless, help build and rebuild with Habitat for Humanity, encourage and train legal refugees and volunteer with the many hospice centers. There are as well a host of service opportunities with the police department, and helping adults and second-language speakers how to read English. As recently as 2011, Texas had over 1,500,000 veterans (or 8.6% of the population over 18), but in the area of care rated one of the lowest.

And if these aren’t in our area of competency, Houston Volunteer has dozens of other opportunities to engage our compassion while living out our mission. Not sure when to squeeze it in? Skip a seminar (skip my seminar), grab some theological rivals, go, serve. What better way to grow as leaders than through peer learning?

**UPDATE: There is the opportunity for commissioners to serve breakfast or lunch at a homeless shelter near the assembly location, and then visit and pray with those who come in. In conjunction with Christ the King. Email me for more info.

Five Days: A Year and a Half Later
As we prepare for our time in Houston, I want us to remember the human expense of this endeavor. Last year, 1,100 commissioners spent roughly 3 hours debating intinction. We committed 3,300 man-hours to the topic. It takes a pastor 66 weeks working 50 hours a week to equal that.

This year Assembly stands to spend that amount of time debating BCO revisions, views of creation (previously discussed and debated in 1990, 1995, and 2000), finding another way to move judicial cases back to the floor of the assembly, and a denominational logo.

The Essentials?
The Apostle Paul wrote I and II Timothy, passages that have been and will continue to be used in defense of overtures. But I’m drawn to Paul’s description of his interaction with the Apostolic powers. After fourteen years teaching and preaching, he seeks confirmation of the integrity of his message. Peter, James and John listen, support, and bless Paul with this single admonition: remember the poor. (Galatians 2:10). Nobody living knows what Paul presented to the Apostles, but I wonder how few of our own denominational overtures, movements, and debates could reasonably be considered in such an exchange.

James affirms the posture of faithfulness in the midst of trial (1:1-4), humility (1:5-11), a peaceable and dependent spirit (1:12-21), and self-examination; culminating in the call to control of our mouths, purity from the world, and care for orphans and widows.

Survey for the Self-Reflective

I believe MY time at GA is marked by humility and “quick to hear, slow to speak”?
I believe MY time at GA is marked by “care for orphans and widows”?
I believe the OVERALL tenor of GA is marked by humility and “quick to hear, slow to speak”?
I believe the OVERALL tenor at GA is marked by “care for orphans and widows”?

Results, Reactions, and Alternatives
As long as the PCA General Assembly functions like a small church of 150 people—where everybody can speak to every issue that he is remotely concerned about or interested in—the assembly will continue to wrestle with purpose, mission, direction, and movement. Robert’s Rules of Order aren’t functionally scalable to our current size. Simply put: we’re stuck. My point: Have a logo, or don’t have a logo, but God forbid we spend the equivalent of half a year’s time debating it.

If you answered Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes: Change nothing. The PCA and GA are working exactly as they should. For those who answered No at least once, consider the following:

1.      Seek Self-Reflection: Ask for a mandatory 2 minutes of compete, silent reflection after each four speakers on a particular topic of debate or discussion. As a very wise man said: Prayer is self-reflective. Silence is self-reflective. Leadership is self-reflective. Early-Industrial leadership is none of these. (I believe we’ve adopted a form of early-industrial leadership.)

2.       Invoke Prayer: Use your time at the microphone specifically for prayer. Pray for both sides of a debate or discussion. Pray for the parties of each by name, by presbytery. Pray for truth in love, wisdom, and quickness to hear, slowness to speak. Pray for hotel and convention workers who will hear our debates and wonder what the heck we’re talking about.

3.       Request Engaged Participation: A Teaching Elder recently remarked that at one of his first GAs, “we condemned a video even though not a single elder had seen [it].” Request that speakers engage fully with discussion and debate by preparing ahead of time, including a thorough reading of essential materials.

4.       Seek Dialogical Balance: Finding airtime for the observations of bystanders and the self-critical evaluation of followers can create shorter debates with more effective outcomes.

5.       Move the Chairs: Something changes when you sit down and find yourself facing a group of men. We move toward the relational away from the transactional.

6.       Do Something Else: Leave. The sense that one must stay engaged in a debate in order to assure its outcome is inaccurate. There are plenty of others opportunities (see paragraph 2).

a.       Talk to Homeless People: listen to how they got there, learn why they live on the streets, and hear what the Gospel has to say to them.

b.      Listen to the Stories of Homosexuals: at the same time that we’re voting to affirm the biblical view of marriage and sexuality, what could we learn by sitting across from and asking learning-focused questions of declared homosexuals living the lifestyle.

c.       Pray: Take a walk with someone else and pray. Prayer is self-reflective. It reveals our desires, intents, hopes, disappointments, frustrations. Prayer is also formative: it reorients us to God.

What Will We Leave Behind?
How will Houston remember the PCA? Unless something changes, there is the real possibility our presence will evoke little more than confusion with the pro-homosexual, anti-Semitism of another Presbyterian denomination. What if our presence in Houston left such a deep mark on the city, that our light shines, “they see our good deeds and glorify our Father in Heaven” ? (Matt. 5:16).


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