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It’s all in the timing


Matthew 25 focuses fit nicely with Presbytery of Arkansas priorities

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

For years, congregations from the Presbytery of Arkansas have worked side-by-side with colleagues in Honduras to construct concrete block homes in Central America. Eradicating systemic poverty is one of the three focuses of the Matthew 25 invitation. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The right idea in the right place at the right time has led the Presbytery of Arkansas to say yes to the Matthew 25 invitation, one of the most recent mid councils to do so.

Saying yes fits in nicely with the direction the presbytery’s currently headed, according to the Rev. Dr. Leslie Belden, Presbytery of Arkansas’ temporary stated clerk: the Matthew 25 invitation mostly dovetails with the presbytery’s three adopted priorities:

  • Building strong congregations that faithfully and effectively share the gospel through mission and ministry
  • Connecting congregations, resources and expertise to support life-giving practices in congregations and fellowships
  • Developing and supporting ministries with youth and young adults, including collegiate and campus ministry.

“Because the first two have to do with encouraging congregations to be more vital, we are excited about Matthew 25,” Belden said during a break from preparing the packet for the presbytery’s June 8 meeting. That’s when the presbytery’s coordinating team will roll out a proposal for living out the Matthew 25 invitation among Presbytery of Arkansas’ 79 churches and 10,129 members.

Officially launched nationwide on April 1, the Matthew 25 invitation encourages congregations and mid councils to actively engage in the world by working on one or more of three focus areas: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

Presbyteries that accept the Matthew 25 invitation pledge to encourage 20% or more of their congregations to become Matthew 25 churches. They also promise to keep track of the ministry’s impact and to share their stories with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from time to time through the Matthew 25 website,

Rev. Dr. Leslie Belden is temporary stated clerk for Presbytery of Arkansas.


“We think that Matthew 25 is a vital tool that the denomination is offering us, which we in turn can offer to our congregations,” Belden said. “For us, it’s like a ray of sunshine because it symbolizes hope.”

Some of the presbytery’s congregations “won’t have to do anything different” as they continue with the kind of ministry they’re already doing, she said. “Our stronger congregations are already living into this model,” she said.

A handful of congregations “will struggle to understand the importance of addressing racism,” Belden said. “We think it’s possible to challenge those congregations, even if there is a little pushback. There are wounds that people don’t want to touch again, but they need to be opened up. Not all our people understand that we Caucasians do have white privilege. There has to be some acknowledgement of what that means in our lives and in our communities.”

Belden, who’s also parish associate at First United Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, predicted that the presbytery’s largest churches will seek to address all three Matthew 25 focus areas. Congregational vitality will probably be the chosen focus of most of the smaller churches in the presbytery, she said.

“For those churches, I think it will be energizing,” she said. “So many of the itty-bitty churches, all they think they can do is get together and worship. It is wonderful to worship, but how are you living into your commitment to serve as the body of Christ in the community?”

“We want every congregation to look at themselves, regardless of their age or their tiredness,” she said. “There are ways they can serve their communities besides opening their doors on Sunday mornings.”

Beginning with the June meeting and running through presbytery meetings scheduled for fall 2019 and spring 2020, the presbytery’s coordinating team plans to highlight a different Matthew 25 focus during each meeting.

The coordinating team “had a big conversation (about the Matthew 25 invitation), and I think to a person we were excited,” she said. “We had thought, where will we get ideas?” for working on the presbytery’s top three priorities, she said. “Now we know. The timing is wonderful.”

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