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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Pass It On!
April 7, 2016

Years ago we used to sing “Pass It On,” a Christian campfire song that likens our faith sharing with others to a small spark setting a large fire. It’s almost like spreading a cold – it takes only minimal contact, and the virus itself does the rest. That may be how some people’s faith journey begins, but much more is needed for God’s people to grow in the life of faith. To become truly a disciple of Jesus involves time and intention.

April’s prayer focus for our presbytery, part of our 2016 Call to Prayer, is on those responsible for leading us to grow as disciples of Jesus. This includes those who lead the church in pulpit ministry, classes in church schools, confirmation, baptismal preparation, youth and young adult ministry, officer training, camps and conferences, men’s and women’s ministries, small study groups, colleges, and seminaries. What a wonderful array of disciple-making resources are readily available to us!

Yet we have often neglected them. Many of our youth do not participate regularly in ongoing faith formation beyond confirmation, and far too many become disengaged from the church altogether after they leave home. More than a few of our members rarely encounter Scripture beyond Sunday worship. In many places, the bar for being considered a “regular” churchgoer has lowered from weekly to bi-weekly or even monthly worship attendance.

The depth of the discipleship challenge we are facing in our church today was underscored for me years ago as a pastor when I was asked to lead a session of our confirmation class. I gathered with a dozen or so bright young people in their early teens, and began by asking them to turn to a particular passage in Matthew. They didn’t all have the same edition of the Bible, so I couldn’t give them a page number. But, I told them, it shouldn’t be hard to find since Matthew is the first book in the New Testament. To which one of the students (the son of an elder and grandson of a Presbyterian minister, who was in church most Sundays) replied: “What is ‘The New Testament’?”

Biblical illiteracy is just the tip of the iceberg. It is possible to know the Bible well yet live in a way that is very different from the way of Jesus. It is noteworthy that in the ancient church, inquirers were prepared for baptism not by learning Christian doctrines or mastering Bible content, but by being apprenticed in Christian behavior by dedicated sponsors. The church believed that the essence of being Christian is more about how we love God and neighbor day in and day out than about our detailed knowledge of Scripture, doctrine, and church order.

As we pray for our church’s educators, let it be that they would have the wisdom to be able to shape a Gospel way of living in those whom they teach. And let us pray not only for pastors and teachers, but also for sessions of churches and for the boards of seminaries and colleges as they fulfill their charge to provide for the spiritual nurture of those under their care.

The first two chapters of 2 Timothy depict Christian disciple-making at the very beginning of the Christian era. It began with family formation, as young Timothy was influenced first and most significantly by his mother and grandmother, who imparted faith to him through years of godly upbringing. The church family joined them in teaching him the way of Jesus, providing him further encouragement and instruction that led to his ordination with the laying on of hands. Eventually he was expected to transition from being a disciple to being a disciple-maker. The apostle charges him, “What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

One of the most striking features of this model of disciple-making is that it is a thoroughly communal process. It begins at home, then broadens to include our exposure to Christian instruction in company with others in church. This leads in turn to our sharing what we have learned with still others, who will themselves become instructors of many more in due time. Yes, it does spread like a virus – not magically or automatically, but with great love and intention on the part of God’s people working together in disciple-making.

This vision of a community of people learning and transmitting faith in our risen Lord together is as potent today as it was two thousand years ago. We never get to a point where we no longer need to be challenged to follow Jesus more nearly. May our risen Lord raise up and empower leaders to keep us constant in our quest to become more faithful disciples, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to God’s glory, for the sake of the world!

Growing with you in the life of faith,

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

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