For too long I have held my mouth shut, afraid to offend or draw negative attention to myself. That was my fault, as I did not speak as what I perceived as offenses came to my door and now into my house. The integrity of people that I respect has come into question as well as the movement that I believe is essential to spread of the Gospel. The last seven months since I was a Commissioner at General Assembly, I have proclaimed the need for continued connectedness of our denomination. That we are stronger together than apart, despite our deep divides. As many talk about the richness of our denomination, our denominational leadership shows that value quite the contrary.
Tonight I glimpsed the new advertising for the Special Offerings and it makes me feel that we have begun to cross the line. In some nice play on words and pictures of minorities that the Special Offerings support, we have projected a message quite the contrary. Why are we mocking or stereotyping minorities using phrases that express that they are using drugs or alcohol? Aren’t these the same minorities that the largest growing part of our denomination and we choose to degrade them? This is an outrage. As a minority Teaching Elder who has children that reflect the images the pictures, I am offended. The first images that my children can relate to, in a largely Anglo church, are hinting that Asian and Hispanic children are high and drunk? Shame on the PCUSA for believing that these pictures and taglines were acceptable for the denomination that values multiculturalism. I for one will advise my church and others to not use the promotional materials that are distributed due to the offensive nature of the advertising.
While I believe something must be done. It is time for the people of the church to have their voices heard. I do not support withholding from Special Offerings, simply because this offering supports the very people that are being exploited. I advocate for pulling this campaign and reevaluate how we value our diversity.
I became part of this denomination because of the richness, theological conviction, and being a part of something greater than I. Those ideals are becoming broken apart as attempt to do ministry TOGETHER. We are fighting against each other rather than enabling and encouraging the diversity of God’s Kingdom.
The Rev. Sean M. Chow
St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church
Laurel Springs, NJ
At the last General Assembly in Pittsburgh, I was elected as an Alternate Commissioner. That was perfectly fine for me as I got to walk around the Assembly, attend the committees that interested me, and got to sleep in when I felt like it. As our Presbytery was accepting nominations for this year’s Assembly, I had made the decision to simply watch from afar. There was plenty for me to do in my own church and Presbytery, that I felt that I was a bit overwhelmed. The appropriate answer was “no”.
That was when a couple of my pastor friends started to engage me in conversation about applying to be the Commissioner this year. I began to ask myself a number of different questions. Why me? What do I have to offer? Isn’t there other people to serve besides me? To be honest, I didn’t want to be commissioner. The more I sat and wrestled with applying, the more it became apparent. I needed to do it, if the Nominations Committee chose someone else, that was fine.
It bothers me that our denomination is in flux, that many conservative churches are moving out. I can identify with many of the issues that concern them. While I would not consider myself a denominational loyalist, God is not done in the PCUSA. There are many areas that excite me about what we are doing. The connectional nature of our church causes me to shout with joy at what some churches/ groups are doing regardless if they are progressive or conservative church. Simply they are sharing and doing the work of God, and that is exciting.
What truly draws me to be a commissioner is that I believe that I should be a voice of a younger (even though I am not that young anymore) generation of Pastors. We have a different perspective and outlook. I even have a different perspective than my other peers. Sometimes we tend to be vocal on social media or at events but we are not actively engaged as much as we should on other levels.
As this journey toward being a commissioner from my Presbytery has just started, it is overwhelming. Recently, I attended the Commissioner Training event held in our area. Something has stuck from all the information that put out there. We were told we are not to vote as our Presbytery would want us to vote, but as the Spirit of God moves within us. It is easy to turn this whole thing into a church political event. Simply, we are a group of Presbyterians discerning together for God’s will for our denomination. Now we just have to listen.
Often we find ourselves in over our heads. Sometimes it by choice and others it is the willingness to let our life be guided by God. As I sit here staring out my window, I am amazed what has happened in these past few months. The excitement of the possibilities are incredible but so is the apprehension. These awesome opportunities are ones in which I wanted to continue to reflect on and share with some others. Don’t worry/ get excited, I am not moving anywhere but something is brewing. But I felt the need to start writing about some of my experiences.
Tomorrow starts a new day in ministry but it also brings back memories of the past. A few years ago I was part of a fledgling fellowship group who spent time worshipping and studying out of my home. The community and the study was great. We had no real aspirations of being anything more. Maybe with time we could become more. Simply we were happy and content where we were and the small steps we were taking to push ourselves to something more. Then a consultant suggested to us that we had a enormous potential and we were not fulfilling what God was calling us to be. Within a month we were preparing to launch/ preview something more. Our team was excited… the possibilities that were floating around was endless. I remember standing on the stage/ pulpit area with my assembled “congregation” and shaking. In the matter of weeks we had gone from a handful of us to a borrowed Sanctuary of 45. I was shaking because people actually showed up. Did those people know that it was me that was leading this? After-all, it was me in all my insecurities and failures leading this. Ultimately, this group became part of something great and most of my core team has matured in faith as we walked those shaky paths together.
As I write this right now, those same feelings are washing over me. For the past four months I have been making a concerted effort to reach out and develop relationships in the community. This is one of the first major steps in creating a new worshipping community. Tomorrow is our first “large” gathering, where we bring these people together for the purpose of developing a deeper sense of community and faith. The tone of this “new thing” really starts tomorrow, and my knees are shaking. Will anyone show up? Will it last? Is this what God wants us to do? Am I adequate? All these questions and more keep running through my head. One thing I do know… God is in charge and I am simply along for the ride. I am reminded that we are in this time and place for a particular purpose much like Esther:
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? -Esther 4:14
Please keep us in your prayers as we start this whole “new thing” tomorrow.
This morning I was listening to Mark Yaconneli speak at the National Youth Workers Convention last year. He was talking about wonder and the need to grasp the wonder that is in God. He mentioned that far too often our churches response to changing times is rooted in anxiety. That the dwindling amount of young families causes a clear issue and the response is to hire a Family Pastor. Our response to issues is not determined by a clear cut discerning process but a reaction that is heightened by our anxiety level.
Our anxiety can be risen for a number of reasons, and some of them are based upon institutional needs rather than fulfilling the Great Commission. As churches continue to decline and membership age grows their is a natural tendency to want to attract others to our church. While at times the motives may be honorable, other times they may not be. For instance a church may see young adults not in church and want to see them more active. Is this because we honestly miss them and are willing to make the changes necessary to fit their needs? Or are we simply looking to ensure the survival of our current church institution through “giving units” and other numbers? The problem is that people can easily sense the motives for you wanting to be around them. If your motives are more about the institutional church and less about the person than we are acting contrary to what we as a Church and what God calls us to be.
When we respond to the needs around us not connected to our anxiety it comes from a place of honest caring for that family or individual. That genuine caring is what creates relationships and the potential beginning of a faith journey. Our communities need to develop out of genuine relationships with a person, rather than seeing that person for our own needs. Our calling as a church is to be out into the community and welcoming those imperfect people to where other imperfect people reside, the church of God.
My own anxiety gets the best of me at times and it causes me to take actions that are filled with fear and potential failure rather than one that is gracious and Spirit-filled. I pray that as we move forward as communities of faith that we not live out of our own institutional anxiety.
Years ago this shy and introverted one had to create a new persona. That new person was much more outgoing. It is difficult to be a Youth Pastor while harboring many introverted traits. At times you have to be a Pied Piper of youth, sometimes loud, and other times soft spoken. Too many in my church context know me this way. It is my unnatural side. While I may sometimes project a persona that is not my Meyers Briggs personality type, I am very much still my INFP. Which is not exactly an extravert. I have been pondering and looking for examples of people that have similar personality types in a church planting as I have. They seem to be far and few, but also are not the big “personalities”. When we look at the “personalities” of church planting or leadership they seem to be larger than life. You have the Louie Giglio, Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Ray Johnson, and so forth. They are not exactly introverted styled people.
Yesterday I felt like I had the life force sucked out of me. This past week I have been pushing to meet and create contacts with a number of people. On the fourth of July, Laurel Springs had a parade and festivities and I was out there having developing relationships with people there. Then the crash came. It was late Thursday night and all I wanted to do was hide in my bedroom. I did not want to talk to anyone, simply hunker down. This introvert was mush.
In the days since I have been wondering how does my personality type affect how I do ministry? I have a number of reminders to myself, and at times I remember them. Maybe even act upon them. Here are some suggestions to you.
1. It’s not all about you.
In this world of where we think that we cause projects to succeed or fail, ministry is quite contrary. Though you may be the leader, your not in charge. Remember who ultimately is in charge: God. Let God lead, simply follow. Often times I feel that I am responsible if this is going to take off or not, I continually need to remind myself that God is in charge.
2. Team Mentality
God has surrounded me with a great team. It was not the team that I thought would walk alongside me, but it is who God has brought to our team. Where my weaknesses fail, others pick it up. Our team compliments each other. Too often we think of starting a “new thing” as the one leader in charge. While that works in some contexts, it does not work for me. By being introverted leader, it helps to be surrounded and encouraged by others.
3. Ride your strengths
Do you know what your strengths are? Often we see the weaknesses that we have rather than what gifts God has given us. As I mentioned above, God has brought a team together with a specific purpose. This team is unique. Why should I structure our project to protect my weaknesses? I need to use the gifts that I have been given and allow those who strengths (that are my weakness) to do what they are best at. Quit focusing on your weaknesses and play to your strengths.
4. Don’t let your fears paralyze you
I am good at second guessing my decisions or worry that they might be wrong. Often times indecision causes us to not make any decision at all. As leaders, we are sometimes afraid to put ourselves out there and wind up being wrong. Through my many years of ministry, I have failed many times. There is no doubt that I will continue to have moments of failure and times when I just want to curl up in the fetal position. Do not be afraid to fail, failure is a constant learning tool and a way to refine ministry.
5. Times of Rest
Set apart times to be alone or with your family. That means forgetting about work even when you need to get it done. My priorities in life are: God, Family, and Ministry. In that order. My ministry comes below my family and there will be times that ministry will come before your family but the general norm is that family over ministry. Take those times so you don’t end up like mush.