I was born into the PC(USA). I had no more say in the matter than I did when my parents chose to have me baptized as an infant. I was a member of this church before I was self-aware. By the time all my friends were rebelling against the churches of their youth, I was being elected an elder in mine.
And I swear the idea of being a pastor never once crossed my mind until I was 19 years old, and then it didn’t cross my mind so much as blow it. I was sitting in a college library ignoring my professor’s lecture and a revelation hit me out of the blue and I knew right then and there that God wanted—planned for, expected—me to serve him as a minister of Word and Sacrament (my apologies for struggling to call myself a “teaching elder”). There was no questioning it; it was not an offer, but a directive. So here I am, in a call and denomination God chose for me and asked me to respond with a life of faithful service.
So…the question for me is “Can I still serve God faithfully here?”
I can only answer with a resounding “yes.” I have served as an elder commissioner to presbytery for my home church, been a member of a presbytery for almost seven years, and chaired a presbytery committee for three.
Is the PC(USA) all rainbows and sunshine? Of course not. I’ve experienced the oft-repeated list of problems: an emphasis on institutional survival, a focus on numbers (did you get your annual statistical report in?) over visible signs of the Holy Spirit’s movement, the endless cycle of debating and voting with little constructive conversation, and, most troubling, a squishy theology that manages to embrace everything and nothing all at the same time.
For sure, I could leave here and go to a denomination that was a better theological fit for me, but I’m sure I’d find plenty to gripe about there, too. But more important than that, none of the denominational ills listed above bind my conscience or force me to serve in a way that is unfaithful to Scripture or my faith in Christ alone as Lord and Savior. I may not win many votes (or friends, depending on the issue) and I will undoubtedly encounter discomfort and resistance from time to time, but again…none of that negates my faithfulness to God and his call on my life.
Beyond the denominational question, there is the pastoral one. I serve a church of about 200 in southeastern North Carolina. When I stand in the pulpit on Sunday mornings, I stare back at a group that includes both fundamentalists and folks who question the authenticity of the Bible. Rabid conservatives sit alongside hardline liberals. In the back there’s a couple who refuse to join because they don’t want a dime of their tithe to support the PC(USA) and down front is the man who gets tears in his eyes whenever he talks about what the PC(USA) means to him.
We’re as diverse theologically as it gets, but somehow it works.
There’s no doubt, though, that my leaving would divide the church and hinder its current mission. My leaving to go to a denomination more my theological flavor would be more than a stumbling block to the faith of many in our congregation; it would be a land mine. As a pastor, I can’t do something that would so deeply wound the community God called me to teach, love, serve, and care for.
I did not choose to be a pastor. I did not choose the PC(USA). It was all God, so here I am. As long as I can serve God in a way that’s faithful to him and his call on my life, here is where I’ll stay.