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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Pittsburgh Presbytery is a covenant community formed by the triune God, called to share together in the ongoing life and ministry of Jesus Christ....

~ Pittsburgh Presbytery Mission statement

The Greek word we translate “church” is ekklesia, which means literally “called forth.” The fundamental act that forms a Christian church is this: Jesus calls people to join him. What makes us “church” is not our response, but Jesus’ summons.  

That’s not to say that our response is immaterial, but to underscore that it’s Jesus’ call, rather than our response, that gives us place in his company. The Gospel stories are laced with many botched answers to his call on the part of his disciples. It’s debatable which is more remarkable – the number of missteps they made in answering his call, or his patience to stick with them regardless. In any case, the Gospels paint a picture of the earliest Christian church as a band of folk who take a long time to get their response to Jesus’ call right. If only we were as patient with ourselves as Jesus is!

Our mission statement declares that we are “called to share together in the ongoing life and ministry of Jesus Christ.” Jesus called to himself disciples whom he “sent on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” (Luke 10:1) Their mission was to join and extend his mission. They didn’t choose where to go or what to do and say – those were Jesus’ choices. Theirs was but to join his program of proclaiming and demonstrating God’s reign by announcing good news to the poor, casting out evil, and healing the broken. This is still the heart of our mission as Jesus’ followers.

It is noteworthy that he sent his messengers out “in pairs.” Christ’s ministry is in its essence shared ministry. We share in his life and mission, rather than establishing our own aims and strategies. And we do this together with others, just as Jesus and his original circle did. For Christians, “solo ministry” is an oxymoron; ministry in Jesus’ name is rooted in union with Christ and partnership with others who are likewise united with Christ. By doing ministry publicly in company with folk we’d otherwise not likely associate with, we confirm our message that in Christ God reconciles us to himself – and thereby to each other. There is no such thing as reconciliation with God that is not also reconciliation with those who belong to God. Shared ministry makes our proclamation of the Gospel publicly credible.

The church’s ministry is nothing less – or more – than participating in the ministry of Jesus. And this ministry is ongoing; it did not end with his bodily departure from the company of his friends. As the ongoing living “body of Christ,” the church continues to be Christ in action in this world.

Sharing ministry with people in our congregation is relatively unremarkable – after all, congregations are self-selecting affinity groups. We gather with people of similar values and preferences to form congregations, just as people of like mind gather around other shared passions, like playing bridge or sky-diving or supporting the Steelers. We expect such groups to do things together. But presbytery is different – we gather simply because we are called by the same Lord and Savior, not because we have found our way together due to natural affinity. In fact, presbytery is a collection of folk who have very different passions. What unites us is not shared inclinations, but a shared relationship to Jesus Christ.

The Westminster Confession underscores that those whom the Holy Spirit unites to Christ are thereby inevitably united to each other. (Book of Confessions 6.054) We share in Christ’s ministry not by virtue of our natural affinities, but because through the Spirit we are united with and in Jesus Christ. Because presbytery is a collection of people from all across the socio-political spectrum, presbytery is uniquely and advantageously positioned to demonstrate the power of the Gospel to reconcile us to God and to each other.

It’s Christ’s life that animates us, not our energy. It’s his ministry that shapes our work, not our passion for service. The mission of Pittsburgh Presbytery is to join Christ’s ministry because we are united with him, and thereby joined to each other.

In His bonds,

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

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