‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’

Rather than telling people what change will look like, it’s more effective to show them

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall

LOUISVILLE — During Thursday’s Being Matthew 25 discussion on generational change, Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall kept hearkening back to a favorite verse in the Old Testament, Psalm 34:8: “O taste and see that the Lord is good …”

When it comes to facilitating change, said the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s deputy executive for vision, innovation and rebuilding, “tasting and seeing what the new vision looks like at each step can be a useful approach or strategy,” he told host the Rev. DeEtte Decker, the PMA’s acting senior director of communications. “When it’s only an ideation, it’s going to be troublesome.”

Watch the 49-minute broadcast here. Thursday’s edition included videos highlighting the social justice ecological work being done by Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis as well as a look ahead at the May 19 edition of Being Matthew 25 featuring Decker’s interview with the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the PMA, and the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

 

One hindrance to change is that most people “really like to like what we like,” Schlosser-Hall said, employing a phrase given to him by his spouse. “We create things that we enjoy and then we seek to recreate those things that we enjoy — and yet Jesus, God and the Spirit continue to move beyond us … Jesus requires us to be thinking about how we reinvent ministry for God’s kingdom, not for ours. The church is just like any other human organization: We like what we like.”

During his years leading what is now the Northwest Coast Presbytery, Schlosser-Hall helped facilitate a multi-step process that merged three presbyteries into one. “I really think that a big part of helping invite people into changes that God might be calling us into involves a whole lot of imagining about what we can help people taste and see what it might be like so they can courageously give it a go,” he told Decker.

The vision for the PMA cultivated by Moffett and others “is not a short-term shift, not next quarter or next year … It is a broader time epoch. We are shifting for another season of disciples for Jesus Christ … This Matthew 25 vision,” he said as Moffett joined the discussion, “embodies discipleship, a diversity of forms of ministry, new ways of engaging people in their contexts and how we keep experimenting with that in an ongoing way. If it’s a two-year vision, it’s not going to happen. It’s got to be generational.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett

Moffett pointed out a number of changes congregations are wrestling with: the best use of technology, the climate crisis, the sin of structural racism and an “LGBTQIA community no longer staying silent that understands itself as being created in the image of God. We have people who have different mental and physical capacities saying, ‘no more in terms of marginalizing us.’ We have a great opportunity to heal, but it’s going to be difficult. It’s going to require us to go through death to get to life.”

But there’s also good news, Moffett said.

“We can have a prophetic imagination to imagine a world where people are free, clothed and housed,” she said. “We’ve got to use that prophetic imagination, and that means we have to be tied to the One who has called us, and that’s Christ. So much of the church … has been complicit in the domination. They have no critique of chattel slavery or the devastation of Indigenous populations. Are we going to be the church, or just continue to move on as we have been?”

Decker said she has to look only to her own children for proof that “some generations are already making that shift.”

The Rev. DeEtte Decker

“We talk about Earth care and climate change, and they’re all over it,” Decker said. “They naturally see the intersection that has with hunger and poverty and racism. It’s us parents who are trying to catch up with the younger generation and how they’re viewing what’s going on in our world.”

“God so loved the world that God became a human and dwelt among us, moving into our neighborhood,” Schlosser-Hall said. “We all need to embody that ethic when we’re seeking where God is leading us. We talk about belonging in the body of Christ. A central tenet of belonging is that you have a right and an invitation to help shape the future.”

Finding ways to embody that kind of belonging “and centerpiecing those who see more than we see is going to be essential for helping to make that shift,” he said.

Those answers can indeed come from younger people, Moffett said, citing biblical messages including “and a little child shall lead them” and “the wisdom of this world is folly to God.”

“In terms of the prophetic image, Jesus says, ‘Look to the young,’” Moffett said. “Let them lead. Help them lead. They aren’t entangled by all the BS and the bravado that [previous generations] have picked up. Center them.”

“When God wants something to happen in the world, it’s already happening somewhere,” Schlosser-Hall said. “There are communities all over the PC(USA) and the country where ways of honoring each other are already present. God almost never says, ‘Go and do this’ or ‘I’m calling you to something new’ without giving us the opportunity to see where it already exists.”

“We have grown so accustomed to the culture that says, ‘It’s OK to have disposable humans,” Moffett said. “The prophetic image can be provoked, as Corey has said, when you see it coming forth already. The fullness of the tree has not blossomed, but it’s already rooted — it’s rooted in the Word … We can actually have a different world.”

Schlosser-Hall differentiated between any organization’s — congregations and mid councils included — strategy and culture.

Strategies can be intentions to bring about certain actions, such as, for example, a congregation setting out to eradicate systemic poverty in its neighborhood by helping to house people. The congregation’s culture “will have a lot more to say than its strategic plan about whether or not that comes true,” he said. “It’s the habits people have developed in terms of working with each other. It’s the attitudes that people have developed. I hear this a lot, that ‘The poor are always going to be with you, so deal with it.’ Those things that have developed over the years are going to eat your intention, your strategy, every time.”

“We have to use our actions and intentions and ways of being together to influence and modify our organizational culture so that new possibilities become possible,” he said. “In Paul’s words, think beyond what you can ask or imagine, because God is there already.”

Moffett then introduced the video describing ecological innovations undertaken as a social justice ministry by Westminster Presbyterian Church, where the Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen is the senior pastor.

“I had the pleasure of going to school with Tim Hart-Andersen,” Moffett said. “It’s always wonderful to see what Tim and the folks at Westminster are up to.”

Next, Decker played a brief video excerpted from her interview with Moffett and Nelson. That discussion on the state of the Church is set to air during the next edition of Being Matthew 25 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on May 19.

“We discussed what the pandemic has taught us, your hopes for the future of the Church, and how the [Office of the General Assembly] and the PMA are collaborating to bring about a 21st century Church,” Decker told Moffett.

Just in time for the opening of the 225th General Assembly, the guests for the June 16 edition will be the Co-Moderators of the 224th General Assembly, Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart and the Rev. Gregory Bentley, the hosts of their own acclaimed broadcast, Good Medicine.


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