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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

“I Have a Dream,” Part 6
June 10, 2010

In a broken and fearful world, Pittsburgh Presbytery glorifies God…

So begins my “vision statement” for Pittsburgh Presbytery. Before I continue to flesh out that statement, I’d like to talk a bit about the nature of “vision.” “Vision” is a sense of how things really are (as opposed to how they appear to be), will be, should be, or could be.

While “vision” is an optical term, it strikingly parallels my aural experience as a music composer. Before the advent of computer-based music notation, the first time I’d physically hear my compositions was when musicians first performed the finished manuscript. Someone once offered, “I’ll bet it is an unbelievable thrill to hear your music played or sung the first time, isn’t it!” Well, in one sense he was right – hearing my music played live is always a delight. But in an important sense he was entirely wrong.

As I prepare my manuscript, I can play a few of the score’s notes on the piano, but not much more. I often compose music for choirs, and I don’t have nearly enough fingers to play the six vocal parts and the instrumental accompaniment all at once. What I do have is the capacity to “hear” inside my head the music on the score before me. I don’t know how to explain it, but I hear it as distinctly as if it were being performed right in front of me.

And so to my friend who thought my greatest thrill as a composer would be to hear my work performed, I had to come clean and say that hearing it performed is inevitably a disappointing experience. Why? Because in my head, as I am composing, I hear heaven’s musicians performing my work – they are never out of tune, out of balance, too fast or too slow. Heaven’s musicians, inside my head, perform the work flawlessly. Only after “hearing” heaven’s performance, do I get to hear mortals take a crack at my composition. They inevitably disappoint me, compared to the perfection of heaven’s performers.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t seek out real live musicians to perform my music, even if they do butcher my composition compared to heaven’s musicians. Indeed, hearing the faltering performance of mortals only deepens my longing and love for heaven’s perfection.

Pardon the long illustration, but I think it is helpful in unpacking what I mean by “vision” for the presbytery. I dream of a presbytery that is nothing less than the kingdom of heaven on earth. The realm where God’s will is perfectly embodied is both our measuring rod and our destiny as God’s people. Of course, the actual presbytery with which I seek to realize that vision is far from perfect. It can be discouraging to deal with the disharmony, imbalance, and off-pitch performance that characterize our life together, when we know that heaven’s ideal has no such stumbling.

So what do we do with the gap between “vision” and “reality?” Do we give up on the vision altogether because it is so far beyond our current state of affairs? Do we opt out of the choir when the song isn’t being sung well? Or do we take the gap between where we should be and where we are as fuel for a Spirit-driven fire to press higher up and further in?

A recent study of exceptionally thriving congregations identified several factors they shared in common. One caught me by surprise: They all were deeply dissatisfied with their current state of affairs. In a strange twist, the “best” churches are the most dissatisfied churches. I call it “holy dissatisfaction” – an acute sense of the gap between what is and what should be in the church. What made them thrive rather than shrivel was that they took the gap as a vision challenge, rather than as a judgment. Their dream of something better propelled them forward.

I propose in this series to lift up a challenge that stretches us far beyond where we are, toward where we ought to be – indeed, toward where we shall be, if the promises of Scripture are to be trusted.

Reaching higher,


The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery


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