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Conversation continues on changes in mainline denominations

Practice mission by empowering, inviting, accompanying, speaker says

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Company of Pastors luncheon

The Rev. Laura Aull Johnston and the Rev. Brian Paulson converse during the Company of Pastors luncheon Tuesday. —Photo by Tony Oltmann


Continuing an unintentional theme of this year’s General Assembly, the Rev. Craig van Gelder spoke to the Company of Pastors luncheon about the changing face of mainline denominations and the future of Christian leadership in America.

“The church doesn’t have a mission; God’s mission has a church,” he said. He discouraged pastors from marketing their congregations like secular businesses, but instead to rely on the gifts and the call that the Holy Spirit gives each congregation, praying, “Lord, help us to become more of what you’ve already made us to be.”

Using Rublev’s classic icon of the Trinity sitting at a table with space for the stranger, van Gelder reminded participants of the mutuality and relationality of the Triune God. He finished by challenging church leaders to practice mission not as benefactors, but by empowering, inviting and accompanying.

Forrest Claassen, stated clerk of the Inland Northwest Presbytery, said afterwards, “It’s a real push-point in the congregation — the idea that we are no longer a Christian society ...  [people say,] ‘Yeah, we want to reach out to our surrounding community,’ but they’re not there yet [in accepting] that North America is a mission field and they are the missionaries.’ We’re a long way from turning the corner on that question.”