Dear Presbytery colleagues:
About a year ago I jumped into a certificate program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I know, I know – I need another certificate like a need a hole in the head – but even as I edge toward retirement age I just couldn’t shake this one off: The Church Planting and Revitalization Initiative. As the Transitional Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Seattle (and a pastor in a denomination that has lost 3 million members in my lifetime - down from 4.3 to 1.3 million today) I knew something hasn’t been working. But I didn’t have any tricks up my sleeve besides doing the same old things, and just trying harder.
I’d be lying to you if I told you a little part of me wasn’t hoping to discover some silver bullet, some secret sauce that would magically heal all our ecclesiological ills and set us on the path to growth (=numbers!). What I have gotten is some great professors, some great books to read, meaningful discussions, spiritual renewal, insight, nudges, and a few crazy ideas. And some courage.
Maybe you’re like me: I realize that much of the time my driving question in the church has been something along the lines of (a somewhat panicky): “Holy cow, the church is struggling, or dying - what are we going to do? How are we going to get more members?” Lately however, I’ve been learning to ask a better question, like: “What is God up to? Where is the Holy Spirit at work, right here in the neighborhood? How can we participate in the mission of God?”
Big generalization: many congregations tend to value leadership that doesn’t really rock the boat, but rather preserves congregational identity, keeping things the same, only bigger. Maybe.
But the way forward into a new (that would be God’s) future requires leaders who can be more risk-taking, willing to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit (yep, this is spiritual work), and and guiding the congregation to a place it did not intend to go!
Yikes! How do we really get at this stuff? How do we stop dragging our feet? How do we develop an imagination for what we do not even know, and have not yet experienced?! Where do we start?
Seattle Presbytery received a grant from the Presbyterian Foundation to grapple with these questions, and on behalf of First Pres. Seattle, I’ll be helping with the research in the coming months – which will benefit all of SeaPres.
In addition, I mentioned I’ve had a lot of great professors, and have been reading a lot of great books – and if there’s one book in particular that I could pass along that has helped me grasp some of the big ideas of church planting and revitalization, it’s The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age, by Dwight Zscheile. The book has some great background and theory but also some very practical stuff in it, and it’s not too thick (only 158 pages).
Seattle Presbytery will be sending some copies of the book to all our churches in the coming weeks. Think of it as a SeaPres Summer Read. We encourage pastors and leaders to read it, and join us at the July 16 Presbytery meeting on Vashon for deeper conversation together. Also, if you find it fruitful or generative, you might consider buying copies for your Session to inspire their imagination for being church in the 21st century.
Looking forward to sharing with you in July!
Grace and peace,
Rev. Dr. Heidi Husted Armstrong
Seattle Presbytery Moderator
Transitional Pastor, Seattle First PC