Presbyterians Consider 'Whole New Paradigm' for PC(USA)

The three-year effort by evangelical pastors and lay people from the Presbyterian Church (USA) may culminate with a complete paradigm shift within the historic denomination, according to an announcement by the New Wineskins Task Force, Nov. 30.

New Wineskins, one of the many renewal groups with in the PC(USA), developed a "bold new design" for the denomination, which includes new statements of faith essentials and ethical imperatives, a revised constitution, a new approach to leadership development at the congregational level, and a pared-down, adaptive service structure at the national level.

These proposed changes will be presented during a national gathering, entitled, "Pioneering the 21st Century Church -- A New Wineskins Convocation," is slated for June 15-18, 2005, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While the convocation will feature worship, preaching and prayer, much of the focus will be placed on how evangelical Presbyterians should respond to the direction of a liberalizing denomination, whose membership losses accelerated over the years.

"I think people across the board are pretty much in agreement that the PCUSA is in need of some serious repair," says David Henderson, a task force member. "Clearly we can't continue as we are. What we are seeking to do is to paint a compelling picture of what we believe God could be calling us to in the future, and then let God take us there."

According to the Nov. 30 release, the task force has been especially concerned about the theology, mission and structure of the current PC(USA).

"The Presbyterian denomination has a rich heritage, but it has lost its focus and its effectiveness. We're divided theologically and ethically; we've lost sight of our kingdom mission to reach the lost; and we have a complex, multi-layer institution that is served by the congregations rather than the other way around," said Henderson, pastor of the 2,000 member Covenant Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette.

"What we envision is both a call back and a call forward ¨C going back to the simpler relational association of the past, to a community that has self-consciously placed itself under the authority of the Scriptures and going forward to a lean and adaptive structure that has the reaching-equipping-and-sending ministry of the local congregation at the forefront."

In 2003, Henderson presented the unfinished draft of the task force's work during the Presbyterian Coalition --another renewal group within the Presbyterian Church -- gathering. Many attendees took interest in the draft, and there were large turnouts for Henderson's seminars on the issue thereafter.

According to Rev. Tom Edwards, associate pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kansas, and coordinator for the New Wineskin Convocation, the same energy, expectation and excitement marks the upcoming event.

"There is tremendous excitement... A lot of work has gone into planning for this convocation... good work," said Edwards. "There are many of us who believe that God isn't finished with the Presbyterians."

Meanwhile, Elder Rebecca Miller, of Lafayette, Indiana, who participated in two of the New Wineskins working sessions, explained that the task force is not trying to stir trouble within the denomination. Rather, it is an effort to bring the church back to its original position.

"It is not a call to arms, to fight a battle," said Miller, of Lafayette. "What excites me is that there is a possibility for us as Presbyterians to continue to do ministry in some form as a part of Christ's Church, but with a renewed focus, bringing us back to what the original intent was: Presbyterians united around the simple essential tenets of Scripture as truth and Jesus as Lord and Savior, and with individual congregations working together, building relationships, serving one another, sharing resources, providing pastoral accountability --I think that is very attractive."

Rev. Dean Weaver, co-chair of the Task Force, put the task force's goals in simple terms: "The culture is changing, and we're not doing a very good job of keeping in touch with it. It¡¯s time for a whole new paradigm, a bold new design for how we do ministry together."

The Rev. Doug Pratt, task force co-chair and pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bonita Springs, Fla., agreed that the Task Force's goal is to plant a greater vision of renewal within the broader denomination.

"We don't claim to have all the answers," said Pratt, a former co-moderator of the Presbyterian Coalition. "But we believe we have a vision for our life together that is worth sharing with the broader denomination. We see this as an act of service. If there is something here worth putting to use, we trust God will make that evident."

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The following is the list of changes envisioned by the Task Force:

The New Wineskins initiative envisions "a connectional structure" that:
-Serves the ministry and mission of the local congregation.
- Is united by a mutual commitment to a broadly evangelical and Biblical theology.
- Fosters relational networks based on ministry context as well as regional proximity.
- Provides accountability, support and discipline in a healthy, balanced, Biblical way.
- Is flexible and responsive to changing needs and cultural dynamics without compromising faith essentials.
- Supports and encourages partnerships for cooperative mission between congregations.
- Encourages partnerships for ministry and mission with Christians of other denominations and parachurch ministries.
- Draws upon proven programs, curricula and other resources available from across the broader body of Christ.
- Functions like a missions agency more than a regulatory agency.