Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
Sustainability is a word that is used in many contexts. We talk about it with farms that have found the balance between what the soil can give up and what the soil needs to be healthy. It is used to refer to communities who have the resources they need to maintain a healthy economic life. Energy sources that are renewable also are viewed in terms of their sustainability.
We also use this word to talk about the church. A congregation is viewed as sustainable when it has enough resources to support its ministry and, frankly, its ministers. I would like to offer a slightly different definition. A congregation is sustainable when it is nurturing people in discipleship that motivates them to participate in God’s mission in the world.
In the Gospels, Jesus uses different images about sustainability. We are asked to consider the lilies that are beautiful without benefit of a Singer sewing machine. On the other hand, we should build our houses on stone not sand. There would seem to be some confusion as to whether we should not worry or we should plan carefully.
Sustainable ministry happens because of people who have sustainable souls. Souls nourished by good preaching and teaching, genuine fellowship, and honest reflection on the life of their communities. Souls that expect challenge from the Gospel to care about people. Souls following the law of physics to be bodies in motion.
With this definition, a twenty-member congregation of motivated souls who minister in their community is a sustainable congregation. Will they last forever? Probably not. But they are filling up their Kairos time with what God wants them to do. They are both following the lily example and building on the rock.
John Adams said, “If we take a survey of the greatest actions … in the world … we shall find the authors of them all to have been persons whose Brains had been shaken out of their natural position” (Old Family Letters, p. 9). May your soul be shaken into sustainable discipleship and into sustainable ministry.