Monday, December 9, 2013

What Are You Waiting For?

Advent is a season of waiting!  But Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, not for everyone.
"Not everyone can wait; neither the sated nor the satisfied nor those without respect can wait.  The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them and people who look up with reverence to the greatest in the world.  Thus Advent can be celebrated only by those whose souls give them no peace, who know that they are poor and incomplete, and who sense something of the greatness that is supposed to come, before which they can only bow in humble timidity, wait until he inclines himself toward us--the Holy One himself, God in the child in the manger, God is come; the Lord Jesus is coming, Christmas is coming.  Rejoice, O Christendom!                                                                     (from "Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger; Reflections on Advent and Christmas" published in 2010 complied and edited by Jana Riess) 
For what are you waiting?  Or like so many "sated" and "satisfied," to use Bonhoeffer's terms, do we suffer from affluenza, the dis-ease of having more than we need.  So goes the Christmas shopping dilemma.  What do you get someone like me, who doesn't need anything?  Our restlessness is not so much in what we don't have, but hanging onto what we have worked so hard, we misguidedly think, to get.  We look not to God, but to our hard work and merit.  The temptation of the powerful is to protect our blessings at all cost, and write the rules to keep and add to our advantage.  Note, I include myself and most of my readers in this category.

As I write, the world is celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela, who waited restlessly in prison  for 27 years and beyond for Apartheid law in South Africa to end.  In August of his year, we remembered the March on Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr. "I Have a Dream Speech."  And just weeks ago we remembered the assassination of John F. Kennedy 50 years ago and the subsequent ground breaking civil rights and voters rights legislation.  Some of us remember the night people climbed on the concrete wall called the Iron Curtain, which divided East and West Berlin, with sledge hammers in hand, and tore it down.  Just a few years ago, Presbyterians celebrated 100 years of ordination for women as deacons, 75 years as elders, and 50 years as ministers of the word and sacrament.  So much longing, waiting, and restlessness...sacrifice and pain were part of those trans formative experiences.

People today still wait restlessly without peace.  Palestinians and Jews still wait for justice and peace.  Dispersed Syrian refugees wait to get their lives back.  Girls in Afghanistan still wait and wonder is it safe to get an education. Undocumented workers and their children wait for U.S immigration law reform. The uninsured wait for the Affordable Care Act and for the online exchanges to work.  The unemployed wait for a job.  The working poor wait for a living wage.  The sick wait for a positive test result, for a new treatment. Soldiers wait to be sent home. Military families wait for their loved ones' safe return and embrace.  LGBT persons wait for equal treatment under the law, and for their loving and committed relationships to be recognized and blessed by their community.  We all should be restless over the impact of fossil fuel emissions on our climate and our planet.  For what do you wait?

Sadly, we find ourselves so often caught at odds with these hopes..our financial portfolios, our social privileges, our life choices, and our faith commitments collide with and exasperate the hopes and dreams of so many!  We find ourselves clinging to what we have known and trusted.

At Christmas God came close in Jesus, was incarnate, made flesh, human, born in a manger amid the powerless and transformed lives. "The mission of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is to serve God through sessions and  congregations together: seeking God's leading, Sharing God's love, spreading God's light."  In a new statement we claimed this fall, "The purpose of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is to challenge, encourage, and equip worshiping communities of faith to make disciples of Jesus Christ."  Which begs the question, what is God waiting for this Advent?  The gospels tell the story.  God waits for us to continue the story.  What are you waiting for?  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving Thanks!

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae,
     "In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.  You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has become to you.  Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.  This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant.  He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit."  Col. 1: 3-8
    There is no pastor serving in the Presbytery of Lake Michigan named Epaphras, but as I travel the presbytery, worshiping with our 66 congregations, I give thanks for our gifted preachers, loving pastors, sensitive administrators, and courageous leaders, who serve our congregations.  This Thanksgiving, join me in giving thanks for your pastor.
     I also give thanks for the faith I am privileged to witness among our congregations.  These are challenging times for the church.  These are also exciting times when our faith and witness makes a difference.  On November 8th, the Presbytery claimed a new and very old purpose statement:  "The purpose of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is to challenge, encourage, and equip worshiping communities of faith to make disciples of Jesus Christ with the gifts God gives them."   Thanks be to God for your witness which bears fruit to the glory of God, showing forth the grace we know through Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Post Presbytery Meeting Reflections

The Presbytery of Lake Michigan met at the First Presbyterian Church in Marshall on Saturday, November 9th.  I thought it was a great meeting.  It had three segments:  Worship, learning and business.  Each one was rich and meaningful.
     At worship we remembered the elders and minister members of Presbytery who joined the church triumphant this past year.  The host church bell choir and guitarist, John Barrett blessed us with special music. Mike Wicks preached a powerful sermon "Fighting for our Lives" based on Acts 15: 35-41.  This text is a story illustration of either/or thinking, Paul being passionate about the mission. Barnabas compassionate and encouraging valuing the relationship with John Mark, a young leader to be nurtured.  This either/or stand off transformed into a both/and reconciliation when Paul later wrote to Timothy, "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11).   
     We then learned together from Barry Johnson, founder of Polarity Partners, who introduced the lens of polarity thinking to us.  Some conflicts are not problems to be solved but natural, normal polarities to be managed like inhaling/exhaling, and activity/rest.  You can't do one for long without the other to complement. Tradition/innovation in the church, and spiritual health of the individual/spiritual health of the congregation are two polarities assessed in 18 congregations in a pilot assessment this October.  A total of 920 Presbyterians completed assessments.  We briefly looked at the results for those individual congregations and of the combined results. A resource team in the presbytery was trained by Barry to help congregational leaders interpret and learn from the assessment for future planning.  Another assessment opportunity will be available in March 2014.  Contact Karen Kelly or me to inquire about these opportunities.  
     We conducted some important Presbytery business as well.  We examined Janice Jasperse for ordination.  Her ordination service will be at 2 o'clock p.m., Sunday, November 24 at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids.  She will serve the Lake City Presbyterian Church as a half time temporary pastor.  We also examined Ryan Donahoe, member of the First P.C. in Holland, in his sense of call, and moved him from inquirer to candidate. Our offering, just over $1,000, will support the  inquirers and candidates of the presbytery, such as Janice and Ryan, who are preparing for ordered ministry of Teaching Elder.  We adopted a 2014 Presbytery Consolidated Budget of $946,480, and a new Presbytery purpose statement:  "The purpose of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is to challenge, encourage and equip worshiping communities of faith to make disciples of Jesus Christ with the gifts God gives them."  Pray for the Leadership Team and me as we review our organizational structure, build future staff and budgets to support this purpose.  We also elected fifteen persons to serve on eight ministry teams, committees and agencies of the presbytery, and the following persons to serve as our commissioners to the 221st General Assembly in Detroit June 14-21, 2014:  Rev. Rob Carlson, Okemas P.C., Rev. Laurie Hartzell, First, P.C., Benton Harbor. Elder Dan Stenburg, First, P.C., Niles, Elder Polly Wilde, Westminster P.C., Jackson, YAAD: Casey Carbone, Eastminster P.C., Grand Rapids, Alternates: Rev. Linda Knieiremen, First P.C., Holland, Elder Renee S. Llagan-Donovan, Forest Hills P.C. Grand Rapids, and Synod Commissioner:  Elder Renee S. Llagan-Donovan, Forest Hills P.C. Grand Rapids.  Pray for them as they prepare for their work.
     We ended the day with two reports:  One on the ministry of the Synod of the Covenant from Christine Barnes, as she and Bill Sorensen complete six years of service as Synod Commissioners.  Doug Orbacher, PCUSA Mission Co-worker in Nicaragua shared the power story of reconciliation of two opposing persons in the war, working together on community building projects coordinated by CEPAD, our Protestant church partners there.  Doug is in the presbytery this month interpreting the global mission of the church.  The Presbytery Mission Agency is hoping to better connect our mission co-workers with presbyteries and congregations.  Think about hosting a mission co-worker at your congregation next fall.
     We thank the folks at the First Presbyterian Church in Marshall for their gracious hospitality.  

Grace and Peace

Monday, October 21, 2013

Leading Questions

     The Leadership Team is proposing the following purpose statement for our consideration at the November 9th Presbytery meeting.  The Leadership Team at its October meeting edited the proposed statement as follows:  
             "The purpose of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is to challenge, encourage and equip congregations worshiping communities of faith to make disciples of Jesus Christ with the gifts God gives us."   
Our rationale is that "worshiping communities of faith" is more inclusive of congregations, mission fellowships, camps, and campus ministries, and aligns with the PC(USA)'s 1001 New Worshiping Communities of Faith movement.   
     This proposed purpose statement grounds us and redirects our focus from saving the church to the heart of what the church is called to be and do.  We have expended too much energy concerned for survival of the church we have known and loved.  This statement clarifies why we are a church, why we would want to have thriving congregations, fellowships, camps, and campus ministries:  to make disciples of Jesus, to join what God is doing in the world.  At the June meeting we discussed "What does a discipleship look like in your context?"  
Based on the foundation of this statement, the Leadership Team is contemplating following questions:
  1. What are the organizational implications of this purpose statement?
  2. What will we not do because of it?  We will no longer...
  3. What will we do differently because of it?  We will give our attention to…
  4. What outcome(s) does God want? What will we measure so we know when we have reached that outcome?       
  5. How should we staff to support this outcome?

Please contemplate these questions with us and share your thoughts. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thriving Congregations Project Assessment Schedule and Materials

This program year, the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is partnering with Polarity Partnerships in a Thriving Congregations Project. The goal of this project is to increase the health of the congregations in the Presbytery, wherever a congregation may be on that continuum, and to increase its capacity to thrive. 

Polarity Partnerships has worked with corporations and organizations around the world, such as General Motors, Shell Oil, and government agencies including the U.S. Defense Department, toward achieving the organizations’ preferred future faster and more sustain-ably. At the November 9th Presbytery Meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in Marshall, Barry Johnson, president of Polarity Partnerships and co-author of the Alban Institute book, “Managing Polarities in Congregations: Eight Keys in Thriving Congregations,” will introduce “Polarity Thinking” as a lens through which to understand an organizations, in our case, congregational life. He will suggest that polarities are as natural as inhaling and exhaling, and are not problems to be solved, but realities to be managed. Roy Oswald and Barry identified eight polarities in their book. There are likely many others, as well. Polarity thinking helps organizations get unstuck from the vicious down side of each pole seeing them and by identifying action steps to move toward the up side of each pole .Be sure to have a good representation of your church leadership at this meeting.

The Presbytery’s Thriving Congregations Project, with the support of Polarity Partnerships, is designed to equip Sessions in assessing their congregations' life in two areas that thriving congregations manage well: Tradition AND Innovation, Spiritual Health AND Organizational Health. It involves asking members and friends of congregations to complete a 5 to 10 minute survey, which can be done online. Results will be shared with the Session with support from a Presbytery team trained by Barry Johnson.  Sixteen people were recruited and trained to help congregational leaders interpret the results and to assist learning from the assessment and utilizing results in future planning. Our expectations were exceeded by his insights and leadership. This group selected the two themes of inquiry noted above, reviewed and tweaked the 24 survey questions. 

All Sessions are invited and encouraged to lead their congregations in participating in this assessment. We realize that the timeline is tight to do so this October. Therefore a Pilot Assessment will be open from October 4 through November 4. The results will be presented at the November 9th Presbytery meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in Marshall. The same survey/assessment will then again be available March 1 through 31. 

Now that plans are more fully in place, we have communicated again to Sessions with a link to support materials posted at the Presbytery web-site that congregational leaders can use to understand the project, and how to implement it. 

Click here and you also can find
  • A description of the project, 
  • Suggestions for Congregational leaders, 
  • A Bulletin or Newsletter announcement, 
  • An invitation letter which we suggest you copy and email to your members, 
  • Instructions that participants will see at the beginning of the survey.
  • A copy of the actual survey itself. 
  • And remarks of our trained leaders.
Please let the Presbytery Office know if your church is using the assessment tool. 

Yours in Christ,

John Best, General Presbyter

On behalf of the Project Design Team
            Karen Kelly, Church Growth Committee
            Ray Kretzschmer, Mediation Team
            Christine Barnes, Leadership Team

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Conversation Connections a Hit at Presbytery Meeting

I'm still feeling the after glow of a successful Presbytery Meeting, September 17th.  We owe our hosts at Jackson, First our thanks!  Feedback from 37 attendee evaluations resonated with my reflections.  People appreciated starting with worship, which set a tone for the meeting.  The seven Conversation Connections options in the afternoon were great!  People were engaged in meaningful conversations and wanted more time and another session to get to a second conversation.  That's a great frustration!  Let me suggest that the conversations don't need to be limited to Presbytery meetings! Our host, Jackson, First had their brand new projection system working to perfection. Yeah!

Things to look for:
1. Thriving Congregations Project:  Instructions for how your congregation members may participate in the online assessment any time at their convenience between October 4 and November 4.  The results will be explored at the Presbytery meeting November 9 at Marshall, First.

2. Online application for Commissioner and YAAD to General Assembly and Synod.  Look for this on our web site, 

3. 221st General Assembly in Detroit, June 14-21. There will be many opportunities to volunteer. A web link will soon be available for volunteer needs, where you will be able to sign up to volunteer   Opening worship at the General Assembly is a great event to attend.  This should be on Saturday, June 14. Save the dates.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Conversation Connections

The Presbytery of Lake Michigan's theme this year is "Connections." This may not sound very theological, but I think it is very theological. Our experience last year of dismissing two congregations challenged our deeply felt connectional nature of the church. Every time we ordain and/or install a person to an ordered ministry we speak the words of the Apostle Paul, reminding ourselves that we each have a necessary gift and function for the good of the whole. We need each other to be whole. Together, we are the body of Christ. Christ is our unity, the glue that connects us. There is a joy in the strength of our voices lifted together in song at worship; joy in the sense of accomplishment in a shared mission, doing together what one could not do alone! Sitting through endless reports at Presbytery meetings has lost the luster of such joy for most of us. Yes, we have business to tend to, but that business does not define us. So is there a more faithful use our time together to connect, challenge, encourage and equip each other for ministry in this strange time and beloved place in which we minister here in Southwest Michigan? The Leadership Team and I think there is.  

At our upcoming Presbytery meeting on September 17th at the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, we will worship, do our business proficiently, break bread together, and then after our meal, participants will have the choice of seven ways to connect with colleagues. We call these Conversation Connections. Pick one. If it's boring, move to another. Be engaged and engaging.

1. Theological Discussion: We've done this before during lunch...Matt Wright, pastor of the Parkwood Presbyterian Church will host this planning for future theological discussion

2. Small Church Success Stories: Hear the stories of three congregations  (Concord, Homer, and Buchanan) with some measured success, hosted by Dan Anderson, member of the Church Growth Committee.  

3. Young Adult Ministry: OK, so we're not doing so good at this....what must we learn to engage young adults today? Eric Iden, intern at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson supported by a Presbytery Deep and Wide Grant and a student at Arbor Springs University, will share some observations.

4. Global Partnerships: The Westminster PC, Portage sent a team to Perico, Cuba this summer and formed a new congregational partnership with the Reformed/Presbyterian congregation there. Hear there story. Learn about the church of Cuba. Other congregations have partnerships in Ghana, Nicaragua, Malawi, Haiti. Share your wisdom in crossing cultures. Discuss the joys, challenges and lessons that come with Global Partnerships

5. Presbytery Visioning: Explore with members of the Leadership Team, what we learned from the Table Discussions on discipleship at the June Presbytery meeting in Holland, the proposed Presbytery Purpose Statement and help shape the emerging vision for our future.

6. The new Hymnal “Glory to God”:  Charles Frost, a member of General Assembly Hymnal Committee will introduce us to our new Presbyterian hymnal. Many consider a hymnal a practical theology book of a generation.

7. The Board of Pensions Medical Plan: There are coming changes in 2014 and more in 2015. Ernesto Badillo, Board of Pensions Regional Representative, will help us understand them.

God's rich blessings to you as you engage in your fall schedules AND as you connect with one another in rich conversations.  


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Big Tent Experience

Fifteen hundred Presbyterians gathered in Louisville August 1-3 to worship, learn, and enjoy fellowship together at the Big Tent Conference. I was blessed to be one of them.  Worship was uplifting, preaching inspiring, workshops stretching.  The gathering concluded with a grand street party under the Second Street bridge, right next to our General Assembly office building on Witherspoon Street. We celebrated 25 years in that space.  Our move there supported the beginnings of a renaissance and reinvestment in downtown Louisville, which is so evident today.  We also celebrated 30 years since the church reunion in 1983 when two streams of Presbyterians walked down the streets in Atlanta to announce our reconciliation. We are not the same church today.  Nearly every preacher, speaker, workshop leader named the hard realities we face today in the church.  If you loved the past there is so much to grieve. One workshop leader, Stan Ott, stated it in broader terms than the church, "The 20th century is the name of a train that no longer runs." However, the Big Tent gave witness to God's promise of a new day, the young families down front and center on mats, bean bags and rocking chairs during worship; the many racial ethnic church leaders; the new mission coworkers commissioned to service in countries around the world;  and 126 new worshiping communities of faith since last summer igniting a movement toward 1001 such new communities of faith by 2020.

I focused my time at the Big Tent on the Evangelism and Church Growth conference offerings.  I became familiar and impressed with the General Assembly Staff persons called to assist us in learning again, how to make disciples, who provide a discernment process for how to start new initiatives, and refocus the ministries of existing congregations, how to exegete/study/read a community and connect with it.
With Labor Day week end arriving and the beginning of our fall schedules, remember to focus on the end outcome of all your efforts, making disciples of Jesus Christ.  It begins with each one of us experiencing God in ours lives, meeting Jesus in the faces of persons we encounter, learning from them, and intentionally identifying a couple of persons to walk along side of to help them grow into Christ.  May God bless your ministry these coming weeks.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thriving Congregations Project

I hope you’ve had some re-creation time and space this summer!   My summer vacation is August 5-19.  Looking forward to this program year, the Presbytery of Lake Michigan's Mediation Team and Church Growth Committee are co-sponsoring a Thriving Congregations Project with a Deep & Wide Presbytery Grant.  We are partnering with a group who works with individuals, corporations, organizations and churches in challenges of transformation and continuity.  Our project is based on Roy Oswald’s and Barry Johnson’s Alban Institute book  “Managing Polarities in Congregations: Eight Keys to Thriving Congregations.”  Barry Johnson, an organizational development expert, will be our main support person. 

Sessions are invited and encouraged to join this initiative.  To participate church leaders and some members simply fill out a short survey this October, which will focus on two key elements identified by Oswald and Johnson in thriving congregations. The survey will be done online at home or perhaps at church where there is a computer and internet service.  The results of this assessment survey will be shared at the November 9th Presbytery meeting and discussed in small groups.  It will give us a picture of each participating congregation and a composite of presbytery, concerning two key elements of thriving congregations.    
Also as part of the project, 10 to 20 persons in the Presbytery are being recruited and trained by Barry Johnson.  These trained leaders will then serve as an internal resource in the presbytery for assisting 10 to 12 congregations, who want to go deeper in learning healthy practices, and to explore the ramifications for future planning. The grant will pay the cost of this training.  If you or someone you know is interested in this training please contact one of the Design Team members listed below. 

We hope and pray that this project will assist participating congregations in their faithful living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.  More information will be forth coming in September.  

Those on the Thriving Congregations Project Design Team are:
Doug Petersen, 269-501-9227
Ray Kretzschmer, 616-485-0384
David Milbourn, 616-443-1690
Karen Kelly, 517-784-9796
John Best , 269-381-6337, ext. 1

Monday, July 22, 2013

Presbytery Table Discussion Report and Next Steps

At a retreat in April, Presbytery's Leadership Team sought to clearly state Presbytery's purpose.  If adopted, such a statement would guide our decision making concerning the use of our time and resources.  We drafted such a statement for the Presbytery's consideration "The purpose of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is to challenge, encourage and empower congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ, according to the gifts God provides."
The Leadership Team then prepared six questions which explore the meaning of discipleship of Jesus Christ, and engaged the Presbytery in small group discussion at our June meeting at Holland, First.   These questions were:
      1. What do you believe faithful discipleship to be?
      2. What are the characteristics of a faithful disciple?
      3.  How do we know we are making faithful disciples?
      4.  What does faithful discipleship look like in your context?
      5.  What are the barriers to getting to faithful discipleship in your setting?
      6.  What can Presbytery do to challenge, encourage and empower congregations to make disciples?

Responses of 22 small group discussions were recorded.  You may read the recorded notes:  The leadership team studied this and prepared a Wordle composite of the words used in the responses:      And prepared a preliminary summary
Some themes:  There is a clear voice for spiritual being/nurturing/deepening on the one hand, and mission service/action/doing on the other These seem to an either/or choice, but we understand them as both/and. There is also an element of fear and angst in these responses, a desired guarantee for success, and an aversion to risk taking, that seems to stand in stark contrast to the good news of the gospel we profess.  We believe that in our baptism we faced our death, and that now we live in Christ.  Ours is an Easter resurrection faith.  Christ won our victory!  The gospel is our guarantee!  We need to let go of our beloved institutional survival and be faithful witnesses of God's grace to all in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we may dare to risk and fail in faith.   Faithful discipleship looks different in different contexts.  Finally, there are many good ideas shared for shaping Presbytery's life and ministry.

At the Leadership Team's  July meeting we pondered these things and three new questions:  What is not here in this data?  Who was not represented in this discussion? What do we now do?  We are now sharing these reports with you and seek your comments.  Please post your comment on this blog.  We look forward to hearing from you.

NEXT STEP:  One thing seems clear, our presbytery meetings need to be transformed.  So as a next step, the September presbytery meeting will begin with worship, followed by a brief business meeting to hear and conduct essential matters.  One will be the first reading of the Purpose Statement.  We will then provide open space and time for participants to discuss in small groups matters most important to them. You might prepare by asking yourself, what discussion do I want to enter into with some others.  Some possibilities are new ministry initiatives and innovatinos:  SoJo new worshiping community in East Lansing and Ground in Grace Coffee House in Jonesville, Circle of Friends worship in Buchanan, a new congregational partnership between Westminster PC/Portage and the Perico Presbyterian/Reformed Church in Cuba; explore the Presbyterian Hymnal: Glory to God, or discuss recent decisions of the Board of Pensions with Ernest Badillo.   

In addition to changes in the shape of Presbytery meetings, we realize our new purpose statement will lead to changes in Presbytery structure and organization, as well.  Such changes are not fully clear as yet.  We welcome your suggestions.

Blessings to you.  
Yours in Christ,

John Best, General Presbyter
Jeff O'Neill, Presbytery Moderator

Monday, June 24, 2013

Vital Signs

What are the signs of vitality in ministry?  What do we measure to know if we are accomplishing what we understand God desires of us?  Discussion of these questions is a holy conversation.  What the PC(USA) asks us to measure each year in our statistical reports is membership gains and loses, financial receipts and expenditures.  These actually are resources for ministry, not the outcomes.  Worship Attendance is a ministry activity.  Professions of Faith and baptisms are  outcomes.  Less easily measured outcomes are transformed lives, transformed communities?  What difference is God calling you to make where you live?  

Looking at five measures of our congregations based on the Ten Year Statistical Trend Reports for the Presbytery of Lake Michigan:
  1. 2011 Reported membership increase over 2006 (5 years)
  2. 2012 Reported membership increase over 2011 (1 year)
  3. 2011 Receipts greater than 2001 (10 years)
  4. 2011 Worship Attendance increase over 2006 (5 years)
  5. 2011 Validated Mission Giving (Shared Mission, PC(USA) Special Offerings) greater than in 2001

I discovered that:
4 Churches, No Report/Records
23 Churches with no positive indicators reflected in the above five measures. 
19 Churches with one positive indicator
14 Churches with two positive indicators
5 Churches with 3 positive indicators
Buchanan, First, 1 year members +1, receipts +$145,000, worship attendance +7 
Concord, First, 1 year members +5, receipts +$47,000, validated mission +$1,200
Homer, First,  receipts +$36,000, worship attendance +35, validated mission +$1,900
Kalamazoo, First, 1 year members +16, Receipts +$196,000, worship attendance +59 
Eastminster, GR, 1 year members +7, worship attendance +10, + $1,500 validated mission

Congratulations to these congregations.  How do you measure success?  The number of contacts with people?  More powerful than numbers are the stories of lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The church is blessed and is vital when it participates in such transformation.  Let us be part of those transformation stories, identify and praise God for them, and tell the stories!  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

New Website!

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new website! This is the result of 6 months of labor by our staff and leadership. Visitors to our previous site were experiencing a variety of issues, many caused by the advancement of technology.  We hope the new site will be quicker and easier to use. Below you will find a few new features of the site:

The home page has been simplified to allow users to find information quicker. The main menu has been shortened to only the most frequently accessed items. All ministries are now located under one menu item.

The new interactive search will start displaying results as you type in your search criteria.

We thought it would be a great idea to make announcements really stand out so we included a homepage slideshow. The slides link to web pages that contain more detail about the announcement.

Office Links
To help our congregations, we created a block with frequently used links for church offices, treasurers, clerks of session and ministers.

The member login is now located in the top left on every page. When a member logs in the Presbytery Meeting page will automatically be displayed along with special ‘Member only’ menus, displayed on the right. This allows members to find meeting information and documents easier.

Remember, we also use Facebook to communicate quickly, so please join our group. The link is found at the bottom of every page on our website.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Window into World Mission - Big Tent

Window into World Mission

Hope to see you at Big Tent!
It’s not too early to make your plans to attend the World Mission Partner Conference at Big Tent 2013, August 1-3, in Louisville, Kentucky.  The Big Tent combines ten national mission-oriented conferences under one roof, gathering thousands of Presbyterian pastors, elders, and other church leaders to study, share, worship, and fellowship, and to build up the body of Christ.  At Big Tent, you can learn how Presbyterians engage in global mission for collective impact and discover the tools that will help your congregation address poverty, do evangelism, and engage in reconciliation.  You will discover strategies to advocate for, empower, and partner with sisters and brothers throughout the denomination and around the world through mission.

The Power of We:  Collective Impact in God’s Mission
This year’s theme reminds us that although we might be limited in our reach when we try to do mission alone, together we have a collective impact that cannot be shaken.  Whether your group is sophisticated or inexperienced in global mission, you will be informed by others and can share your own tips to success or lessons learned.  You will make surprising and useful connections to other mission leaders nationally and throughout the world.  And, by the end of this intense weekend, you will leave Big Tent energized and informed, and ready to bring World Mission home to your congregation.

To make sure you get your spot at Big Tent, sign up today at:
Also, don’t miss the World Mission pre-conference (August 1, 8 am – 3 pm) featuring key note speaker Dr. Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity:  How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).  Lupton’s presentation will challenge how you think about Mission and will equip you for more effective ministry.   A separate $35 charge, including lunch, supports this program; register as part of your Big Tent registration.


Bruce Whearty
Church Support Associate

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Moving Forward

If the Biblical wilderness narrative in the books of Exodus and Numbers resonates with our experience, what can we learn from it?  In order for the Israelites to go where God was leading them, they had to take a risk, leave their comfort zone, form a new identity, and organization themselves around that new sense of self and purpose. That was a lot of new learning and took them 40 years.  So don't get in a hurry!  The wilderness is scary, frustrating and even painful.  When really pressed, people default to what they know, what they've been trained.  The Israelites knew life in Egypt.  In the wilderness, even slavery looked better to them than dying of thirst and starvation.  They knew how to be slaves.  If they had gone directly forward....likely they would still think of themselves as slaves.  Instead, they became a people of God organized in 12 tribes and oriented by Jacob's family faith story.  They became Israel, a chosen people of God, blessed to share God's blessing.

We Presbyterians also have some learning to do. We have some default settings that aren't working well for us.  We know how to solve problems, form committees, and sit through long meetings.  Many persons now quietly question the purpose of long meetings, and some rebel like freed slaves, choosing to give their time to more purposeful ends.  Recognizing this cultural sea change, the PC(USA) revised our Form of Government, including a new identity. Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods and General Assembly once called governing bodies are now councils.  Councils do not govern but gather to discern God's leading.  Ruling Elders "discern and measure fidelity to the Word of God" (G-2.0202).  Not to the literal proof text, but to God's mission revealed in Christ, the Word.  Another identity shift is from spectator consumers of religion, to disciples of Christ engaged in God's mission where God calls us.

The Leadership Team, at its recent retreat, identified our own personal wilderness journeys.  God has prepared us for this journey.  We pondered our presbytery's wilderness experience and concluded several things.  (1). First, we may be in the wilderness, but we are not intended to stay forever in it.  (2). Second, we claim our purpose and believe "the Presbytery of Lake Michigan's purpose is to challenge, encourage and empower congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ."  Our constitution states that "In Christ, the Church participates in God's mission for the transformation of creation and humanity" (Book of Order F-1.01).  Disciples organize to do that, like salt flavors soup. There's plenty of room for what that might look like where you live AND SERVE.  The local congregation is the locus for making disciples.  The Leadership Team is claiming Presbytery's role of challenging, encouraging and empowering congregations for their role.  (3). Third, we recognized that we have reached a tipping point.  We recognize the proverbial pillar of fire and cloud of smoke, and sense it's time to move. Our journey will be an odyssey of learning and reorienting our governing, consumer, entitlement culture to one of participatory, engaged disciples in action.  We will focus Presbytery's time, attention and resources to this.  Fasten your seat belts.  It's time to move.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Client is the Mission

The wilderness narrative in scripture resonates powerfully with my experience of church leadership.  We have crossed over into a time when our culture no longer sends people through our church doors, or listens for our social pronouncements.  Familiar church activities no longer produce the same results in this new landscape.  We find ourselves living and ministering where we do not know the language of the people or are familiar with the digital terrain.  For those of us over 30, we are like immigrants and digital  social media is a second language.  There seem to be no maps charted for ministry in the global village, ethnically diverse, digital, spiritual but not religious world in which we live.  In such a context, there are no experts, but explorers, who chart a course of exploration into the unknown, who pay attention to what they find on their journeys and return to share their learning. 

Presbyteries and clergy groups are being called today to be such communities of learning.  We’ve been at this wilderness journey for awhile now.  What have we learned?  At recent meetings, Lake Michigan Presbytery has sat with Landon Whitsitt, Graham Standish, John Bell, explorers who came among us who have shared what they are learning.   

Gil Rendle, one of my mentors, wrote an article last year in which he explores some new basics many have learned in the wilderness thus far.  The first new basic is a huge shift of thinking.  He writes,
“Perhaps the most central of the new basics learned by those who have responsibility for the operation of a denominational system and the deployment of its key leaders is the reality that the ‘client’ they serve is the mission of the church. This most fundamental perspective is critical to all non-profits where leaders commonly struggle to understand whom they are to serve. For-profit organizations are very clear about their stakeholders (primarily their stock holders), and they understand they hold the business or corporation “in trust” for those stakeholders. In a non-profit organization, like a church or a denomination, the single and primary stakeholder for whom the organization is held in trust is the mission for which it exists.”  (Article:  “Next Steps In the Wilderness, Rehearsing Our Path in Order to Move Forward, by Gil Rendle, 2012, page 16)

One of the gifts of our Book of Order in the new Foundations section is clarity on this same point, that the client is the mission.    
“The mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church.  In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ.  Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission.” (Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Part 2, Book of Order F-1.01)

OK, the transformation of creation and humanity is not overly specific, or measurable! As God’s local agents we must put flesh on what that means where we live.  This statement also helps me to see that proclaiming the good news of God’s love, and offering the grace of God, and calling people to discipleship, all primary, right and good activities of the church, are not ends in themselves, or the outcomes God seeks.  They are the ministry activities we do along the way with the resources at our disposal toward the end of transforming creation and humanity toward God’s beloved, blessed community.  In God’s economy, there is abundance and enough for all and all thrive!  OK, this is apocalyptic, and seemingly out of our reach!  The gap between our present reality and this vision is too far of a leap to get there from here.  The call to discipleship, however, encourages us to see through the lens of God’s future victory and glory, calls us to live in God’s economy anyway, as if bending that future glory back into our present, and to live accordingly now. 

Understanding the client is God’s mission of transforming the creation and humanity, changes to whom we give power, attention, resources and determines how we measure success.   Keeping people happy, pews filled, and budgets growing may not be the right measures of fidelity to the mission.  Organizing people and money is how one builds power to affect change, but as means, not the end.  To whom do you give power, the loudest voice seeking his or her desire, or to the transformation, which the community of faith discerns God is leading?  What does that desired transformation of creation and humanity look like in your neighborhood?  What would a provisional step in that general direction look like in your neighborhood, in southwest Michigan where we live?  What will be different in a year or two, because of your congregation's, this presbytery's spent energy and resources?  Can you paint a picture of what that would look like so you know when you’ve arrived?