Tuesday, June 01, 2010

I love the PCA Strategic Plan AND the Alternative

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours getting up to speed on the PCA Strategic Plan and the debate surrounding it. Conveniently Wes White has compiled a page on his blog that gives readers easy access to much of what has been written on this topic. If you want to get up to speed on the proposed plan and with what speakers in the blogosphere are saying, it's a go to place.

Here's my brief take: I love both, the PCA Strategic Plan and the Alternative. Here's why ... I think Paul would like both. I think both embody PART of the way Paul thought about ministry and together they represent the best of the totality of the way Paul thought about how church ought to be done locally AND across diverse ethnicities and geography.

I've had the great privilege of being at a new call over the past two years and preaching through the book of Acts. If you haven't preached/studied Acts, you should. It  will challenge you to actually work out what Biblical ministry looks like in the midst of congregational life. One thing it has done for me is that it's given me greater perspective on the personal ministry of Paul and the more global view he held of the work of Christ's church.

Let me briefly comment on why I think Paul (and thus God since we don't see the things Paul did gaining God's disapproval but rather His blessing and ultimately it's been to our blessing as most of us - especially in Seattle! - live at the ends of the earth relative to Jerusalem) would be excited about both proposals, the PCA Strategic Plan and the Alternative. I figure if Paul could be excited about both, then it would be okay if I was as well.

First, let's take the Alternative. To my reading, the Alternative comes from and appeals to the "Ordinary Means" crowd in the PCA. I'm a proud product and member of that group. Some of you might even know of a podcast by that name. If Paul were evaluating the Alternative I believe he would say, "Right on! That's the kind of goals and means I used in my house to house ministry, when I helped plant a church, and when I sent out men to revitalize churches." The virtue of the Alternative is that it robustly reasserts what local church ministry should focus on and seek to inculcate in the sheep.

I believe Paul would also enthusiastically give two thumbs up to the PCA Strategic Plan. Why? Paul didn't ONLY do ordinary means ministry in local churches and encourage it. He saw a nascent 1st century church that wasn't facing it's ethnic struggles and ministry climate and he made sure both were faced (Acts 15 & Galatians 2 for ethnic struggles and cf. the variety of Paul's ministry approaches among the Gentiles). Paul wasn't content with a ministry that didn't also connect with the larger church in the world. He provided a connection point and encouraged others to pursue a love relationship with the broader church (i.e. the collection from the various Gentile churches that came to Jerusalem in a demonstration of the unity of the Body of Christ, cf. Romans 15:25 and Acts 21 for the delivery of the gift with representatives of what was then the global church).

Acts 15 is a fascinating study. Was it a safe place for dialogue on a sensitive issue pertaining to the question, "How do we minister given today's realities concerning a people of God that now crosses - and must cross - ethnic boundaries"? I believe it was. As I've taught Acts 15 to my leadership, it is evident that a tough question was wrestled through and one side didn't "win". It was a consensus with folks who were hardened on either side ultimately "losing" in the final analysis. And yet, because they were men who believed the Holy Spirit to be at work in their midst, they could say at the end in the letter that was sent to all the churches, "...it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." And they said this when no one "won" in that I don't believe anyone had the solution when they gathered initially.

At this point I must give out a kudo to an old friend (in the ordinary means camp!). Near the bottom of Martin Hedman's second post on his analysis of the PCA Strategic Plan he helpfully points out that a large part of the problem as we process the struggles in the PCA (and really everything else!) is our sin. One of the sad ways sin works itself out in the PCA is that sometimes we don't "hear" each other. We talk past each other. In Acts 15 I don't see that. Frankly, they were better men than we. They were willing to "lose" and move from their entrenched position so that at the end the final product was a group product that was good to the Holy Spirit.

My sense of this debate is that we are actually in Acts 15 sort of situation in the PCA. If you watch the video of Bryan Chapell working through some of the longer version of the Plan, you'll see him simply be honest about how we evaluate each other in the PCA. The reason the Plan engenders so much debate is that both groups are "entrenched" and seemingly speaking past each other.

Let me perhaps try to move things a bit forward by asking a series of questions.

Do the drafters of the Strategic Plan think an ordinary means style of ministry is wrong? Not to the best of my understanding. I believe they "assume" that's what what we're all already doing and so they didn't feel a need to reassert those aspects of our common life.

Do the drafters of the Alternative Plan think we should be insular, only concerned with "my local church" and have no regard for changing culture in America and worldwide realities concerning the church? No. Some of those men and their churches are the most active in intentional local, regional, national, and international missions.

So what is the dividing line that is showing up? IMHO opinion the dividing line that is showing up is whether - as a denomination, a group of churches in a geography not unlike the 1st century - we should be concerned MOSTLY with our local ministry and BARELY with the rest of the situation in our country and world or whether we should BALANCE these concerns.

The Alternative plan puts the emphasis on solid, ordinary means, local church ministry and sees that as the "solution" to whatever ails the PCA. I believe Paul would say, "Amen!" and then he'd say, "But what about ..." And this is where I see the Strategic Plan coming in to fill out the other aspects of the Kingdom work Paul felt God wanted to see happen through his ministry.

The Strategic Plan (Theme #1) puts the emphasis on engaging with a changing ministry environment that needs us to pull together to do intentional ministry. That is messy to produce (Acts 15 was messy, but it was a "safe place" for the messiness to happen).

That Kingdom ministry (Theme #2) should reflect the kind of Biblical Kingdom variety we see Paul using in his ministry. Paul made good use of older men, contemporaries, younger men, women, and cultivated new leaders intentionally.

Last that Kingdom ministry should be concerned with the larger church and what we can learn from it and give to it. This was certainly on Paul's heart. (Theme #3)

To be honest I don't think Paul would be content with only the Strategic Plan or the Alternative. I don't think he would have recognized either as sufficient in itself.

Let me add one more layer to my analysis. I believe the Alternative plan is seeking to work out the implications of the gospel for local church ministry. I believe the PCA Strategic plan is seeking to work out the implications of the gospel for a denomination ministering in a changing ministry context at home and abroad. BOTH plans are seeking to lead us to gospel faithfulness but in different realms. The Alternative is concerned with faithful ministry in the local church. The PCA Plan is concerned with crafting what a faithful ministry would look like by our group of churches believing we are stronger together than standing alone. To return to Paul, I believe he was concerned about BOTH of these questions. Certainly his actions reveal that he was. Shouldn't our actions that flows from our plans?

Can I tell a story on myself as I move towards the end of this absurdly long analysis? Some years ago I had the privilege of becoming friends with a "missional" PCA guy. At that time I identified myself with the "ordinary means" camp (still do, hence the podcast name, but that's a longer story than I should tell today). When we began spending time together neither of us understood each other or where the other was coming from. We both assumed that "ordinary means" and "missional" were mutually exclusive positions. We assumed they were speaking about the same issues in a divergent manner. We were wrong and it took us a both a while to figure that out.

Let me explain what I mean because I think getting this right will help the PCA through the process it is in currently. "Ordinary Means" thinking relates to the ways in which we do ministry (i.e. we focus on preaching, the sacraments, and prayer as the ordinary means God uses). "Missional" relates to the "stance" we have as we go about doing ministry. That is, do we think of ourselves as missionaries even here in the US. A missionary has a certain "stance" as he approaches ministry. "Means" and "stance" are quite different things actually. A few years ago I heard Lig Duncan say something close to this, "There's no such thing as an uncontexualized ministry." And this from THE ordinary means guy in the PCA! This paragraph is a brief attempt to make the point that "ordinary means" (the focus of the Alternative Plan) and "missional" (the focus of the PCA Strategic Plan) are not enemies. Ideally, they are friends. This is the way Paul viewed them.

For my own ministry in Seattle and for my leadership here we have moved towards something we call "intentional faithfulness". The "faithfulness" aspect of this term embraces the kinds of things the Alternative Plan puts forward as the keys to renewal in the PCA. The "intentional" aspect of this term embraces the kinds of things the PCA Strategic Plan puts forward as key to our continued Kingdom fruitfulness.

Perhaps the way forward is to think about these two documents in tandem not in disagreement. Do we need reminders to stick to the "foolish" means God has ordained for the conversion of hardened sinners and their sanctification? Yes. Do we need reminders that we don't exist on an ecclesiastical island as individuals churches that can afford to not be intentional about our ministry context? Yes. These two documents together call us to "intentional faithfulness" and that's a good call in my mind.

2 Comments:

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Aquatiki said...

I agree with you 100%. Maybe this is because David S. just preached through Acts too, last year. Maybe it's a PNW thing. Anyway, I'm glad to see someone else sees them as compatible.

 
At 8:23 AM, Anonymous sdesocio said...

Matt,
Good thoughts man, I am glad I came across them. I think your right the difference is local or national focus.
Id be very pleased if we passed both. I feel comfortable saying that Im and ordinary means guys and a missional guy at the same time. Id be happy if we affirmed both. One is saying what and the other is saying how.

 

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