It seems to me that the Christian church (all denominations) is struggling with the questions of “how to turn around the decline?” and “how to become more relevant?” in this complex and changing world in which we live. Our presbytery adopted three priorities to focus on and yet as we move into the implementation of those three priorities, the way forward is not entirely clear and mapped out. As many of our congregations have experienced decline in membership and resources, the only activity for many is to gather for a worship service on Sunday morning. That may have drawn people in 50 years ago but more is needed today to reach people with the good news of Christ. Our denominational leadership is wrestling with these same questions and the Presbyterian Mission Agency has recently announced the “Matthew 25 initiative”. I think the intent both of the implementation of our presbytery priorities and the Matthew 25 initiative is to encourage our congregations to become more actively engaged in our communities. That engagement will not necessarily provide the abundance of new members that we all would like to see, but it will perhaps help our congregations become a more vital and relevant presence in the world.
At its meeting on April 27, the Presbytery of Arkansas’ Coordinating Team voted to become a “Matthew 25” presbytery. The Presbyterian Mission Agency recently announced a denominational wide vision and invitation to become a “Matthew 25 church”. The Matthew 25 account of the Son of Humanity placing sheep on the right and goats on the left “calls all of us to actively engage in the world around us, so our faith comes alive and we wake up to new possibilities,” the initiative states. Our commitment as a Matthew 25 presbytery is to encourage 20% or more of our congregations to become Matthew 25 churches. So, this is your initial encouragement to begin prayerful consideration to become a Matthew 25 church.
What is a Matthew 25 church?
Matthew 25:31-46 calls all of us to actively engage in the world around us, so our faith comes alive and we wake up to new possibilities. Convicted by this passage, both the 222nd and 223rd General Assemblies (2016 and 2018) exhorted the PC(USA) to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor. Congregations can become a Mathew 25 church by embracing one or more of three areas of focus:
–Building congregational vitality by challenging people and congregations to deepen their faith and get actively and joyfully engaged with their community and the world.
–Dismantling structural racism by advocating and acting to break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color.
–Eradicating systemic poverty by working to change laws, policies, plans and structures in our society that perpetuate economic exploitation of people who are poor
You can learn more about the Matthew 25 initiative by visiting pcusa.org/matthew25. And if your congregation decides to become a Matthew 25 congregation, please let the presbytery office know so we can report on our progress to meet the goal of 20% of our congregations.
I look forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming presbytery meeting on June 8 at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock. I continue to be thankful to all of you who are working hard on the challenging issues we face as we work together to share the good news of Jesus Christ in this beautiful part of God’s creation.