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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

The More Things Change…
September 13, 2012

…the more they stay the same. Or at least so goes an old saw. I’ll never forget a particular elder in the first church I served – every “new” initiative that was proposed to the session drew from him the same response: “Been there, done that.” Ecclesiastes puts it succinctly, “There is nothing new under the sun.” All too often it becomes a voice of cynicism that dismisses every new idea before even giving it a chance. Why put ourselves through all the struggles that proposed changes present, if in fact nothing will really change?

We are in a season of facing significant changes in the life of our presbytery. We have adopted a new mission plan that involves reducing our staff, adjusting the job descriptions of those who remain, changing our operations manual, and altering our meeting patterns. Similar changes are afoot in many of our congregations. Some of the changes are forced on us by budget realities, while others are driven by a sense of the Spirit’s movement in some new directions. Indeed, budget pressures may be our Spirit-given opportunities for those of us resistant to change (and let’s be honest, that’s most of us) to embrace new ways into which God is calling us.

Most of us receive proposed changes with real apprehension. “Better the devil you know,” we are tempted to say when confronted with uncertain future alternatives to the status quo. We fear both losing our way and losing our place in the system under new organizational and operational schemes.

There is no escaping the fact that one of the main themes in the Bible is that God is in the business of transformation, of making all things new. God promises us “a new heaven and a new earth” in fulfillment of all the divine promises given to our ancestors, to us, and to our children. Yet as much as we yearn, amid all our brokenness, to see all things made new, we are far less sure that we want much to change around us quite yet. We claim the slogan that the Reformed church is always being reformed by the Word of God in the power of the Spirit – but are we truly ready to welcome God’s reforming work here and now?

I am glad that the coming of God’s reign does not await our being fully ready before it breaks in on us. Thank God for the Holy Spirit seizing us mid-course and setting us sovereignly on a new track, just as Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. In God’s economy, some of the most important changes happen entirely unbidden.

But many Spirit-driven changes come through developments far less dramatic than a Damascus road epiphany. Through prayer, counsel, study, and more prayer, we often come slowly to understand the changes God is asking us to embrace. Yet just because we get to the point of change gradually does not mean that the change is therefore less significant or transformative. Indeed, I suspect that some changes that emerge from such deliberative processes have a better chance than ground-shaking epiphanies of being revolutionary for the long haul.

Change for its own sake does not yield spiritual renewal. But when change is effected by the Holy Spirit moving through the cooperative work of the many members of Christ’s body, the world can be turned upside-down! (Acts 17:6)

“The more things change… the more we know how much we depend on the Holy Spirit to transform us into the kingdom people God has called us to be.” I know this saying isn’t as snappy as the familiar one quoted at the beginning of this letter. But though it may not sound so proverbially sage, I propose that it is more theologically sound. Change for the good in the life of the church emerges as the Holy Spirit works among us, with each part of the Body contributing to the world-changing ministry of the whole.

As we receive proposals for change, let us open our hearts to the possibility that God is at work among us making all things new. It may not come with the noise and flash of fireworks, but let us remember that when members of the Body of Christ work in concert to discern godly wisdom for the way forward, the Spirit is at work among us to transform us for more faithful and powerful witness to the Gospel, to the glory of God.

Ready to move as the Spirit leads,

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

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