I am a life-long Presbyterian who loves the church. I went to a Presbyterian seminary, where I was formed by Presbyterian theology. It has been Presbyterian pastors and lay people who have shaped me, and it is a Presbyterian pension and medical plan that secures both my family’s future and present well-being. I am deeply appreciative to be affiliated with a church that has loved and claimed me and has expanded its understanding of the breadth and depth of God’s love and claim for others.
All of this is true, and so is this: most people do not care one iota about the denominational name on their church’s sign. In fact, spending time teaching them about your denomination is likely to do more harm than good. Denominational talk to the typical church-goer (especially the younger ones) sounds like coded language and institutional propaganda, in a time when people have serious doubts about the credibility, authenticity, and transparency of all institutions (and for good reason).
No one cares about your church’s denominational identity.
This does not mean the work of our governing bodies is irrelevant or unimportant, or that our denominations’ stances on issues don’t matter; they do. But it does mean that talk of your denomination will sound a lot like Lucy and Charlie Brown’s teacher, a muffled sound that distracts rather than informs. This is neither good nor bad, it just is, and if we do not accept it, we will end up spending less time on the church’s most important work: formation.
Instead of lamenting the loss of denominational affiliation or trying to resurrect it, let’s embrace it for what it is – a gift from God! With the decline of denominational interest and influence we no longer have to teach people what it means to be Presbyterian, or Methodist, or Baptist. We do not have to explain why we are governed by a board or a vestry or a guild. Instead, we can spend the limited time we have with people teaching them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in a diverse, complicated, and increasingly secular world. Instead of teaching visitors and members what makes us different from the congregation down the street, we can prioritize teaching them how to work with others whose affiliation is different from their own, especially those part of the fasting growing denomination, the ‘nones.’
People do not participate in a local church to find connection with a national church. They participate to find connection with their community and with the God they hope and pray is invested in its health and well-being, and I for one rejoice at this change. Instead of trying to teach people how to spell Presbyterian, which is pointless, I can now spend that time teaching them how to spell words like love, mercy, compassion, and peace.
A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary in 2000, Derek has served churches in Denver, Akron, and Cleveland Heights, Ohio. In his ministry he seeks to help congregations better serve their community by refining their vision, streamlining their governance, and focusing their efforts. Having recently moved to Richmond, after his wife, the Rev. Amy Starr Redwine, accepted the call as the Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian, in Richmond, Virginia. Derek is currently enjoying the full-time job managing the schedules of his three children and exploring how he can use his gifts to bring about lasting transformation to Richmond. Derek is a passionate advocate of Waldorf education and loves to read, run, and watch movies.