LOUISVILLE - In a stirring address to the General Assembly Council (GAC) Thursday, executive director John Detterick turned a potentially mundane discussion of the 2004 Presbyterian Church (USA) mission budget into a revival tent-like call to "build a theologically-based strategic framework" for the future.
A long line of council members raced to the podium after he finished to praise Detterick for his remarks and to offer support and encouragement for the vision he outlined.
Reflecting on an "exhausting but energizing" schedule that has taken him and General Assembly stated clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick to 15 synods and 83 presbyteries in the last couple of years, Detterick outlined four "critical challenges" that he said the church is "yearning for the GAC to be a resource on":
* Church growth * Leadership development * Linking evangelism and social justice * Spiritual formation
Not coincidentally, Detterick said, those challenges closely match the four largely-dormant "priority goals" established by the 1993 General Assembly - evangelism, justice, spiritual formation and partnership.
He added a new wrinkle, saying "partnership doesn't work for me as a category, because everything we do we do in partnership partnership is a core value in fulfilling these four goals."
After his address, Detterick told the Presbyterian News Service he hopes the Council will eventually recommend that the Assembly realign the priority goals in keeping with his proposal.
Bemoaning the yearly membership losses that have seen the PC(USA) decline from 4.2 million members in 1965 to less than 2.5 million last year, Detterick said the biggest and most distressing factor has been the transfer of large numbers of Presbyterians from the "active" to the "inactive" roll. "We're not losing members to other churches," he said, "we're losing them out the back door. They leave and don't go anywhere else." Other trends that must be reversed, he said, are declines in the number of baptisms, which he called "a reflection of our lack of zeal"; that the number of "new churches we're starting doesn't significantly exceed the number of closed ones"; and that "we're still a predominantly white church in a growingly diverse society."
"Good pastors are vital to the health of churches, especially small churches," Detterick said. "The number of small churches that simply cannot afford a pastor is and should be jarring to all Presbyterians." He said the church must reclaim historic patterns of leadership in the Presbyterian Church, particularly strong lay leadership in congregations. "We have to ask ourselves, 'How can the GAC resource and support leaders in our churches?'"
Linking evangelism and justice
"For too long we've seen evangelism and justice as competing," Detterick said. "If nothing else, the gospels show us a Jesus who said and demonstrated that they are two sides of the same coin, that the good news is lived out in care and justice for the poor." He said the challenge to the GAC is to resource and support congregations in "reflecting Christ's example."
"Vital congregations are the ones who are able to meet the spiritual needs of different cultures and generations and still maintain their unity in Christ," Detterick said. Another key element in spiritual vitality of congregations and their members are solid programs of biblical literacy.
Oh yeah, the budget
Almost lost in the enthusiasm with which Detterick's vision was greeted was the plan to trim $3.14 million from the 2004 mission budget. As reported earlier (see story #03163, March 28), GAC staff leaders presented a plan which calls for $1.47 million in programmatic cuts and the use of $1.67 in reserves to balance next year's budget at just under $127 million. The cuts are coming from the Executive Director's Office and Mission Support Services ($600,000); Congregational Ministries Division ($380,000); National Ministries Division ($300,000) and Worldwide Ministries Division ($190,000). Reserve funds will come from Worldwide Ministries, $130,000 carried over from 2003 in anticipation of the 2004 budget cuts; National Ministries, $250,000 in designated reserves applied to the 2004 shortfall; a $900,000 bequest that will be used to offset the administrative costs of the Mission Initiative, a $40 million, five-year effort to raise funds for overseas mission personnel and domestic church development, particularly racial ethnic and immigrant congregations; and $390,000 from the Presbyterian Mission Program Fund, the PC(USA)'s cash reserve account. Staff reductions from the cuts total 19 - nine vacant positions and 10 layoffs. GAC deputy executive director Kathy Lueckert said those persons who lost their jobs will get "first crack" at a number of positions that will be filled in coming months, now that a two-month hiring "freeze" has been lifted. No overseas missionary jobs were eliminated in the cuts. The GAC is scheduled to vote on the budget proposal Friday morning.
By Albert H. Lee