A Shared Vision that Unites Us?

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Brian Wallace
Associate Minister for Emerging Ministries &
Acting Head of Staff
Thursday, September 21, 2023

A Shared Vision that Unites Us?

Dear Friends-

When we first received the results of the Landscape study, I knew to pay special attention to the “drivers of satisfaction.”  In the realm of Holy Cow Consulting’s assessment, drivers of satisfaction are those areas where, if improvements can be made, overall satisfaction will increase.  At the congregational level, its things like “A friendly atmosphere prevails among the members of our church” or “Persons who serve as leaders in our church are representative of the membership.”  The drivers of satisfaction aren’t a statement of how true something currently is, but rather what is most important to those currently involved in the life of a congregation or Presbytery.   When I opened the Landscape report and came to that section, I was struck by the #1 driver of satisfaction: “Our Presbytery leadership has done a good job of developing a shared vision that unites us.”

I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes a bit.  In theory, I like things like mission statements and vision statements.  But it seems to me so often, a lot of work gets put into developing a mission and vision statement, and then the statements just end up getting entered into the minutes and never really utilized again.  Plus, and here’s my confession: when we started this leadership transition, I may have said out loud, “We’re not going to waste our time writing statements that aren’t going to make a difference, and no one will ever read.”  Plus, and here’s another confession: the phrase “unites us” felt like a gut punch.  Is there anything that unites our 120+ congregations, 300 ministers, and over 20000 members?  Needless to say, I kept looking down the list at the next drivers, hoping to find something that was more practical and felt more doable.

With that as a background, it may surprise you to find out that last Tuesday, after a six-month process, the Executive Committee approved new purpose and strategy statements for Pittsburgh Presbytery.  And here they are:

Pittsburgh Presbytery is a covenant community of Jesus Christ that exists to assist and support the witness of our congregations and members as we actively participate in the mission of the Triune God in the world.

 To accomplish this, Pittsburgh Presbytery, through our commissions, staff, and ministry teams:

  • Gathers church leaders and connects them for shared ministry and mutual benefit.
  • Resources them through grants and collaborative sharing.
  • Advises and assists them through challenges and transitions.
  • Cultivates an environment that encourages them to innovate and experiment with new forms of ministry.
  • Equips and encourages them as they proclaim the good news of Christ in word and deed.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about mission and vision statements is that they are indeed time-bound.  An organization’s mission and vision can and should change over time as they respond to the world in which they are called.  And so, one thing I want to be very clear on is that adopting these two new statements is in no way a judgment on the previous work done by the good and faithful people of our Presbytery in previous times and situations.  In fact, astute observers will note that there are some similarities to our previous mission and vision statements and even some language that was carried over word for word.  But you may also notice that there are some substantial and important differences as well.

This all leads me to my third confession of the day:  As I guided the process that led to the development of these statements, I found myself getting excited and optimistic.   While I don’t think these statements are some silver bullets that will unite us all into one happy family and turn our churches around overnight, I am optimistic that despite our differences, there’s quite a bit that unites the members and congregations of Pittsburgh Presbytery.

At our Presbytery meeting next week, as part of my report, I’ll be providing a more extensive background on the process by which these statements were discerned and developed.   But that presentation will be somewhat time-limited (As much as I might enjoy it, an hour-and-a-half long report from me probably isn’t what most people are most looking forward to).  And so, I’m excited to host an opportunity before the Presbytery meeting to get the full report, next Tuesday, September 26th at 4:00 pm via Zoom.  At this time, I am going to cover the following:

  • A brief look at the history of the Presbytery’s mission and vision.
  • An explanation of why, for a host of reasons, we needed to update our mission and vision statements – and why the vocabulary has shifted to purpose and strategy.
  • An overview of the process, including the information we gathered and the other individuals we talked to.
  • An explanation of why certain elements are phrased the way they are and an initial take on how this may shift the work of the Presbyter moving forward.

 I’ll also be sharing some information from my latest project.  I’ve analyzed every congregation in our Presbytery that has completed Holy Cow Consulting’s CAT Scan in the last ten years and compared their results.  The congregations range from urban to suburban/rural, our most theologically conservative to our most theologically progressive congregations, and from our mid-size congregations up to some of our largest.  All told, 13 congregations and 2100 survey are included in my analysis.  And, I’ve discovered some really interesting things.  Here are a few hints:

  • Irrespective of size, location, or theological perspective, the items identified as the most important priorities for these congregations are very similar.
  • An interest in socially minded causes is driven not by theology as much as geography.
  • Despite significant theological differences (our congregations ranged from the 9th to the 96th percentile in theological perspective), the priorities identified by our congregations align closely with the historical emphases of the Reformed tradition.

I’ll also provide some time at the end for question and answer.  If you’re interested in attending, please RSVP here.  If you’re interested but unable to join next Tuesday, we’ll be recording it and posting it on our website.

Last Tuesday, as I was sitting down preparing for the Executive Committee meeting, I sort of laughed to myself.  If you want to make Jesus laugh, tell him your plans, or so the saying goes.  So much for “We’re not going to waste our time on statements,” I thought, as I sat staring at the completed work in front of me.  No, we didn’t find a genie in a bottle that’ll change all our fortunes.  But what we found, or what I hope we found, are some spirit-inspired ideas that might help us focus on what is most important for our congregations and members in the season of ministry in which we find ourselves.

In Christ,

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