Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Abiding Sources of Vision

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Abiding Sources of Vision”
First Published: September 23, 2003

Over the last several months, I have been approached on many occasions by officers, ministers, staff and church members, and asked to share “my vision” for First Presbyterian Church. I understand by this request that there is a desire for me to clearly set forth and explain the focused goals of my service among you and my dreams for the future health, growth and ministry of the church. This is perfectly appropriate, as long as one recognizes the truth of James 4:13-15 and Proverbs 16:9. In no sense, however, would I want you to think that I am under the delusion that “my vision” is some sort of sovereign, unilateral dictate. I am not only well aware of the Session’s corporate role in the leadership and vision of the church, I revel in it.
At the same time, I have been able to share these “dreams” of mine with the elders of the church on several occasions now, and I think that they have resonated with what I have laid out before them. So, I thought over the next several weeks, I would share with you the congregation so of these dreams and aspirations. Bear in mind, then, that what I present here is deliberately designed not to be merely reflective of one individual’s expression of opinions and desires, or the vision of one teaching elder among many ruling elders. Instead, it is a fresh restatement of an historic, standing and growing Sessional consensus about the ministry of our church.

The prime source of the vision I wish to share is found in the Bible, and especially the Pastoral Epistles of Paul. Where he sets forth the God-given principles of healthy church life. The whole of the Scripture is our infallible rule of faith and practice, but especially the New Testament guides us in the principles of new covenant congregational life. Acts gives us a picture of Apostolic church life. Revelation 2-3 reveals Jesus’ evaluation of the early churches. The Pastoral letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus) teach us about church administration, public worship, qualifications for ministers, elders, and deacons, how women are to be involved in the work of the church, the church’s responsibility to provide for its needy, how to give spiritual counsel to aged men and women, and young men and women, and more. They stress sound doctrine, demand consecrated living, show the value of creeds and confessions, reveal the closing activities in the life of the Apostle Paul and disclose what church life was like toward the end of the first century. They are written for our instruction: they show us what Christian ministry is supposed to be like (Paul expects us to pattern our ministry thusly – he is not simply making suggestions [see 2 Thessalonians 3:14!], but rather laying down a permanent pattern for Christian ministry). I want to be clear in saying that I do not have any authority to depart from God’s inspired, authoritative and infallible Word in envisioning the future of the church. I aim to be faithful to his vision, not to create an alternative.

There are however other sources on which I lean to gain wisdom for direction for our common future. They are not on the same par with Scripture and indeed each to different degrees are actually themselves dependent on the wisdom of Scripture, but they are significant influences nevertheless because they guide us by showing how wise and godly people have applied the principles of Scripture to specific circumstances in the life of the church. One of those resources is church history and especially the Reformed tradition (tradition, rightly understood and employed is the “living faith of the dead,” rather than “the dead faith of the living” as Jaroslav Pelikan has reminded us). Godly Christians and churches of the past have much to teach us in tackling church life in our own time. Another resource is our corporate, public theology and doctrinal standards (the Westminister Confession of Faith and Catechisms). Since the authors of those great documents were expressly attempting to reform the church in its “doctrine, worship, discipline and government” surely we have much to learn from them. A third resource is the history of First Presbyterian Church and the legacy of her former leaders. There have been giants among us in days past and we ignore their wisdom at our peril. Fourth, there is the Session of First Church. I am but one elder amongst a brotherhood of elders, all of whom are jointly vested with the responsibility of guiding the church. I draw from their wisdom in what I am about to outline. Finally, there is the church’s mission statement, adopted by our Session a little over a decade ago. It is a fine document and I have drawn much wisdom from it.

(To be continued)

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