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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Pressed Beyond Our Comfort Zone
August 27, 2015

The church is a living organism, and as such it is always changing, adapting constantly to ever-shifting external situations and internal conditions. We may imagine that there once was a time when the church stayed steady and strong, without controversy or struggle, or that the church could be like that today if only we got everything right. Sometimes we recollect how church membership peaked in its “golden age,” and yearn for its return. Yet history shows that such high points are the exception, rather than the rule for “normal” church life.

Since death is the only escape from change for a living organism, why would we imagine that the church could ever reach a place where no further change is needed? As soon as the church settles into maintaining its status quo, the Holy Spirit stirs up something new. Sometimes God’s new thing feels exciting, but more often it feels disruptive. We see this in the book of Acts, where it took persecution by hostile authorities to drive the church out of its comfort zone in Jerusalem to reach out to surrounding regions. (See Acts 8:1-8, 11:19-30)

One reason the apostles developed a pattern of staying in one location for only a short while was to spur churches that had grown comfortable with their current leader to grow their capacities for ministry in new directions. Paul thought it normal for church leadership that “one plants, another waters,” and cautioned the church against getting too attached to one leader or another. (1 Corinthians 3:1-8)

I am reminded of this as we adapt to recent changes in our presbytery’s staff leadership team. With the departure of Doug Portz, for years a critical part of our team, the way we do our ministry necessarily changes. We look forward to the Lord bringing us a new colleague to help us accomplish the mission to which God has called us. Until then, we need to change our current staffing assignments temporarily to cover some of the bases Doug’s departure leaves open:

  1. West Branch – Ayana Teter will serve as staff to the west branch steering team, and to west branch churches going through transitions, even as she continues doing the same with south branch churches.

  2. North Branch – Beverly James will serve as staff to the north branch steering team, and to north branch churches going through transitions, even as she continues doing the same with east branch churches.

  3. All branches – I will provide supplemental guidance as needed with pastoral transitions in all four branches.

  4. Commission on Preparation for Ministry – Betty Angelini will serve as staff to the CPM.

  5. Administrative Commission on Transformation – Betty Angelini will serve as staff to ACT.

  6. Administrative Commissions for departing congregations – I will serve as pastoral staff to all such ACs.

We will do our very best to maintain these critical services at the highest level in this interim period. In order to keep this commitment, we will be less free to engage some of our other ordinary services, such as consulting and assisting congregations with regard to stewardship, strategic planning, programming, special projects, personnel management, and leader development. We look forward eagerly to working with you again more fully in those ways once our staff is back at full strength. Toward that end, the Executive Committee has already begun the process of nominating to presbytery a PNC to conduct a search for a new associate minister. As our current team members, who were already working at full capacity, stretch themselves in new directions through this interim season, we covet your patient understanding and prayers for extra strength.

As the disciples witnessed Jesus’ glory unfold on the pinnacle of Transfiguration Mountain, Peter urged that they erect a campus there so they could maintain the status quo on the mountaintop. (Mark 9:2-6) Perhaps we can be forgiven if we too want to preserve things just as they are when we reach a high point in our life and work as Jesus’ followers. But no matter how good things may be – or, thankfully, no matter how difficult they may get – change is inevitable. The Spirit of God is ever on the move, taking us to new places, teaching us to adapt to new limitations as well as opening us to new possibilities. God is always at work in us and among us to do far more than we could ever ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)  Thanks be to God!

Moving forward,



The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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