In exactly one week I will be flying to Orlando, Florida to meet with a group called The Fellowship to discuss the dissolution/reformation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as we know it [FYI, Highlands Church is currently a New Church Development member of the PC USA]. Gathering with me at this meeting will be thousands of other pastors and church leaders who are, on their face, upset about recent changes regarding ordination standards for church leaders as well as being disgruntled about a new form of government (NFOG) that has just been put in place. Beneath the surface of this group's displeasure lies a much deeper feeling of general dislocation from the heart of the Presbyterian denomination and it's power mechanisms. The underlying issue is really more about a sense of not being on the same page as the leadership of the denomination. As one recent church articulated it, "We haven't left them, they have left us."
On the one hand, this meeting seems like it might be one of the most depressing gatherings I have been to in a long time. The concept of the Presbyterian Church dissolving, a place where my family has moored it's proverbial ministerial canoes for the past four generations, seems very sad. On the other hand, one of the things I have learned in my eleven years of ordained ministry is that wherever there is division, wherever there is dissolution, wherever there is the evidence if "bustin' things up", there is often the presence of God. I have come to call it;
Last week I preached a message based on Barnabas and Paul's call to an early Christian refugee camp called Antioch. Barnabas and Paul would teach at Antioch for about a year, but then, an incredible thing happened, God "busted up" that call. Paul and Barnabas left Antioch to bring the gospel to the cities of the Mediterranean Ocean, the world as they knew it. Paul and Barnabas' mission trip was extremely successful, and people from many different cultures and countries were brought to Christ. But then another incredible thing happened, God "busted up" the relationship between Paul and Barnabas. While we will never know exactly what happened, we know that Paul and Barnabas parted ways - in the words of Luke who wrote Acts, "They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company." (Acts 15:39). Luke may have called it a disagreement, but I think know what really was going on. It was an example of;
Perhaps God wanted Paul to form up with Silas and take another missionary journey. Perhaps God wanted Paul and Silas to go to Cyprus.
One of the most painful experiences of my entire life was when my brother Jamie and I had to part ways at Highlands Church. For those who don't know, Jamie was a founding pastor with me at Highlands from the very beginning. While the details of our separation are better left to history and the past, and while no ongoing anger or resentment between us exists, I have wondered for a long time now, in my heart what really happened. However, time and God have have come to help me understand the situation in a different way. God might have been up to
God may have wanted Jamie to go to seminary and work for a different church. God may have wanted me to rely on my own leadership strengths, for a while, and dig deeper, rather than to lean so much on Jamie for moral support.
There are, of course, many examples of separation and dissolution in life that have nothing to do with God. The separation that happens in marriages more often than not (divorce) is not God's plan for our lives. The separation that happens in countries when civil wars break out is not at the heart of God's plans. The separations that occur in Washington between political parties (gridlock) is not God authored. Not all separations/dissolutions are of God.
But many dissolutions and separations are a part of God's plan. As we contemplate the dissolution of the Presbyterian Church USA, a denomination that has existed in one form or another since the founding of this country - the PC USA founded in 1777, it could be that God is dividing up the Presbyterian Church somehow for His own unique and inexplicable purposes. It may be that we are witnessing yet another example of;
All For Now,