Last Chance For New Courage?

Author: James Statham.
Contents current as of May 20, 2013.
Editor's Note: This article was received at the Renewal Fellowship early in 2012. With the upcoming General Assembly likely to spend considerable time invested in considering the many facets of renewal, it is felt appropriate to share this with our readers at this time.

Gordon Haynes, who was retiring as Associate Secretary in June 2012, sent the following invitation to the Presbytery of Kamloops:

    I want to invite members of your presbytery to a roundtable discussion we will be holding at Gordon Presbyterian Church, Presbytery of Westminster, on Wednesday, January 11th. I will be present to be part of the discussions so that the issues facing the church in 10 years – and facing each presbytery – might be openly shared.

This event was one of a number held across the country in preparation for his final report before retiring. Approximately 25 people attended, including three who braved the snowy roads through the mountain passes from Kamloops Presbytery.

What impacted me the most was the introductory comment by Gordon indicating that there are already on file precisely 16 similar reports to the national church dating from 1964 on, indicating that change needs to happen in the Presbyterian Church in Canada to reverse our declining membership!

The participants rotated through five tables, each one having a question to be answered. Our comments were written on the newsprint that covered each table. The five questions focussed us in the area of where God might be calling the Presbyterian Church In Canada today and what our barriers are to following Jesus Christ and to growth.

The event was personally significant for me as it was at Gordon Church, my home church, where it all started for me. It was there that I felt and initially resisted God's call to the ministry. In the fall of 1958, our family left Kelowna, where I was attending grade six, to move to Burnaby. Then as a married student, we left Gordon Church in 1970 to attend Knox College in Toronto, Ontario. Now I was living in the Okanagan again and went as a newly-retired minister to speak on what I had learned and observed about my Lord and my church over almost 39 years of pastoral ministry. The recently-heard words of Tony Campolo resonated with me deeply. Speaking of the church in general, Tony said, "My mother is a whore, and I love her very much." Yes, and so I write these words with a prayer for the Presbyterian Church In Canada to find faithfulness.

At the end of the event, I spoke of how impressed I was with the passion of the attendees to seek ways to bring our beloved church to faithfulness. But with 16 reports already on file, what was the point of adding another? Ought we not to be arranging hospice care? Our problem is not with analysis but with a lack of courage to pay the cost of change, I commented.

Gordon Haynes will have collected hundreds of comments from the various Presbyteries. But to demonstrate accountability and for the information of Kamloops Presbytery, I raised the following needs apparent to me:

1. More significant roles for the laity in ministry through less emphasis on the narrow stream of "Ministry of Word and Sacrament".

2. The need for more practical training at the seminary level for our clergy and laity, particularly in the areas of evangelism (and I don't mean pancake breakfasts but rather how to effectively talk with people about coming to faith in Jesus Christ); and as well, we need training in how to lead effectively in a culture that is suspicious of authority and where everybody is an "expert".

If we are willing to pay the cost of significant spiritual revitalization, we will not need renewal (sewing a new patch on an old garment) but instead experience "renaissance". We will need to be willing to think of, and do, ministry in altogether new ways. For that to happen, I must be certain that I am first personally committed to Christ and only then to the church. The church is no substitute for Christ. In baseball terms, the church may be first base, but it's not home plate.

The reason I resisted God's call to ministry in the Presbyterian Church In Canada in my early years at Gordon Church was that to me, church was about church, and I wanted no part of it. It wasn't until I was converted during my Simon Fraser University years that I came to discover that which has been reinforced to me many times over in pastoral ministry: church has never been about church. It's about Jesus, and it's about whether or not I will seek to know Him and love Him.

Will The Presbyterian Church In Canada pay the cost of renaissance? We are all familiar with the seven last words of the church, "We've never done it that way before." I would like to propose the six first words of a new church. They will also be familiar to you: "Untie him and let him go." (John 11:44)

By Rev. James H.W. Statham <jhwstatham@shaw.ca>
(Jim has recently retired from service at Lakeside Presbyterian Church, Summerland, British Columbia)

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