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‘We exist to be about God’s mission, and that’s it’

Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is updated on the process that will help restructure the agency

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Leadership Innovation Team formed to envision the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s size and structure in a changing world racked by racial reckoning and the pandemic is well into its work after 17 three-hour sessions, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, PMA’s president and executive director, told the PMA Board Wednesday.

The team will present its recommendations to the board in October, recommendations that will certainly include restructuring and rebuilding the agency. The recommendations could include job losses.

“We will be prayerful and careful with the employee transition process,” Moffett told the board. “We don’t want to create undue anxiety in our work environment. Our employees are valuable, and we will do our very best to keep all employees and board members informed.”

Moffett said finances are not at the heart of the re-envisioning process, set to conclude in October after the board decides whether or not to adopt the LIT’s recommendations. CounterStories Consulting, LLC is working with the team to help it form the recommendations.

“The pandemic began to press us quicker and faster to make some changes,” Moffett told the board. “We saw some decline in giving, but money is not a factor. It’s ministry that drives us.”

“God has called us to look beyond our pews to look at a world that’s hurting,” Moffett said. “The center of ministry is those on the edge … We want to engage our communities, domestically and internationally, in ways that transform the world.”

“Jesus is calling us to perform ordinary acts of compassion in daily life,” Moffett said, “so the practices he espoused — love and justice — become a reality.”

The document the board will consider in October will be built on these considerations, Moffett said:

  • Values
  • Audiences
  • Programs and services to start, stop and continue
  • Key considerations of relationships in the structure of the Church
  • The organizational authority of the PMA and its sustainability
  • The identification of funding sources and engagement approaches to take the agency into the future
  • 21st century and post-pandemic expectations
  • Work environment and culture
  • The definition of leadership.

The work of rebuilding the agency begins in November and is expected to carry on past the conclusion of the 225th General Assembly next summer.

As influencers, board members are being handed communications tools such as those on this website developed to support the work of the Leadership Innovation Team. Kathy Francis, the senior director of the PMA’s Communications Ministry, said the site has or will soon have engagement suggestions, presentation materials, social media suggestions and the opportunity to share engagement feedback. “Your efforts to spread the word,” Francis told board members, “is one part of a broad communications plan.”

After board members discussed the plan in small groups, Moffett told them the agency will need “the presence and the power of the Spirit to pick us up when we get knocked down. If we don’t help the Church to be its better self, we are doing ourselves a disservice.”

“This vision came not from me, but from the General Assembly,” Moffett said. “This is gospel-led, and it it’s challenging,” especially “when people get pushback and it hurts. This is part of the cross that some of us endure every day,” in the manner of WEB DuBois’ “double-consciousness,” Moffett said.

“We have a lot of churches willing to go forward,” Moffett told the board. “Those are people we must engage so we can see God is yet moving, so we don’t turn our heads only to the places where we find resistance. That’s part of what it means to lead, to do so loving our people, this denomination and the people we encounter. That’s extremely important to me, and I don’t want us to forget it.”

Asked to speak about her church’s experience by the PMA’s board chair, the Rev. Warren Lesane Jr., the Rev. Kate Murphy, the pastor of The Grove Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a PMA board member, told the story of transformational change at the church she serves. When consultants told churches engaged in transformational efforts that their pastors had been unfaithful because they weren’t making disciples for Christ, “I was angry. I had to sit with that for months,” Murphy said, before realizing “they were right … It took a while to uncouple how I had assumed God’s mission was limited by our resources … It was amazing to realize the resources of the kingdom of God are different” than institutional resources.

The Rev. Kate Murphy, pastor of The Grove Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, preached in 2019 in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

“As a leader, I didn’t like being 10-15 years into ministry realizing I had to start over as a beginner and be publicly vulnerable,” Murphy said.

The PC(USA) remains a wealthy denomination, Murphy said. “We see it as a blessing, but it’s a liability” because “what we do is limited by the money that follows us.”

Murphy expressed gratitude for the hard work of transformation that occurred at The Grove Presbyterian Church.

“I have been reborn as a leader and a disciple of Christ, and I have discovered that God is faithful,” Murphy said. “I’m grateful this denomination is modeling that we exist to be about God’s mission, and that’s it. Whatever follows from that will glorify God. It was hard for folks in our congregation to let go of things we were excellent at, but the discernment process was really fruitful.”


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