City Reformed Presbyterian Church Detailed Vision Statement
The area we are focusing on is the “university” and “east end” area of Pittsburgh, which includes the communities of Oakland, Shadyside, Point Breeze, Squirrel Hill, Greenfield, Regent Square, Edgewood, and Swissvale.
This is a distinct community which is geographically separated from the downtown area and from other residential areas. There is a mix of university people, internationals, students, lower income white and black people, older ethnic communities, and starving artists. It is one of the few areas in Pittsburgh where people walk the streets and go to cafes and shops at night after 7 PM; in this respect it has a “Manhattan” feel. There is a large Jewish community, and an active arts community. The total population of the area is around 100,000 people, plus three universities with around 40,000 students. The population and economic strength of this area is growing due to high tech and computer companies associated with the universities, and people are moving to this area from larger cities to avoid “big city” problems while still having the feeling of a cosmopolitan area.
Church attendance is very low. There are five or six Protestant churches in this entire area with an average attendance over 100. These are all members of mainline denominations, namely the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal church, and the American Baptist church. There is also a Church of Christ and a new Baptist church plant, and a Korean and a Chinese church. Student Christian groups at the universities also have very low attendance, the largest (Coalition) with around 100 and all others with 50 or less.
We expect that we will attract some people from other areas of Pittsburgh who share our vision, and this will be aided by the fact that the university area is central to all of Pittsburgh and has easy access to the highways.
In our overall goal, we are not unique at all. Very simply, we want to glorify Christ by living out all that Christ calls us to do and to be in every aspect of life. This is an aim that is shared by many churches in many places. We want to flesh out what this means specifically for the city of Pittsburgh, in a way that makes sense to the people of the area described above.
We want to be a warm family for all kinds of people, including older singles, new people in town, single parents, and people who have never attended church before. We especially are concerned not to make “singles ministry” something that leaves out older singles. Many churches emphasize the importance of family and marriage, and this is good, but we must not make people without families feel left out or feel that singles ministry is all about finding a mate. The church itself is a family, and one way we demonstrate this is by practicing hospitality and having meals together regularly. Home groups which meet regularly are an important way for this family life to happen.
Another way of being welcoming to all people is to be a church where people can ask questions and get straight answers. We will make ample time for question and answer sessions with leaders of the church and will plan special events on a regular basis which deal with intellectual and deeper questions which may be controversial or troublesome to some people. Weekly worship together is a time when we all come together. This worship time brings us to focus on God and should make us feel we have come into God’s presence. To this end we seek to have worship which focuses on God from start to end without many interruptions. We are not seeking a particular worship “style,” and view debates over “old” versus “new” music as silly. We want to explain what we are doing and not assume that all the people know what to do or what it all means. The elements of worship are taught to us in the Bible, and include singing, prayer, Bible reading, preaching, and the sacraments (the Lord’s supper and baptism.)
Our preaching and teaching centers on the Bible as the Word of God. We hold to the historic Christian view that all of the Bible is the Word of God meant for all people, and while we must sometimes work hard to understand it properly in its historical context, we are not free as a church to just ignore parts of it we don’t like. We firmly believe that the Bible speaks to us today, and our teaching is aimed at helping people to see how it is relevant to their lives.
We interpet the Bible in the framework of the “Reformed” school of thought. While all Christians have many things in common, there are several major schools of thought which differ on many substantive issues. The “Reformed” school of thought (named after the Reformation, the major historical movement in Europe which led to the creation of the Protestant churches in the 1500’s and 1600’s) emphasizes a continuity between the Old and New Testaments and a connectedness with the historical church and its scholars throughout the ages. Theologically, the Reformed school of thought emphasizes God’s initiative in saving people, God’s free grace which is unmerited by us, and the centrality of the work of Christ. We are also “presbyterian”, which means that we are led by a group of “elders” elected by the people, and we are connected to other churches which can overrule the actions of local churches by means of church councils.
We believe that the theology of the Reformed school of thought is not dead doctrine, but relevant to our lives in a vital way. While we do not seek to define a checklist of everything it means to be “truly” Reformed, many of us have found that the systematic approach of Reformed classics such as the Westminster Confession of Faith has greatly helped us in our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Understanding the Gospel is essential for our well being in every way, and people of all ages and experience, including people who have been Christians for years, benefit from considering the Gospel again and again. In very short summary, the Gospel tells us how we can be acceptable to God through the work of Jesus Christ. This deals with the core need we all have to feel “okay” about ourselves.
Because we believe the Gospel is vitally important to all people, a core value is to be deliberately evangelistic. We plan to regularly have contact evangelism and public seminars on themes that will engage our community. Contact evangelism (e.g. book tables and handing out materials on the street) is viewed as strange by many people, but if done in a considerate way it is a valuable way to reach people who might never otherwise come into contact with an evangelical church.
An extension of local evangelism is support for world missions, including sending out members of our own church to other countries and cultures. Support for missions should never be seen as competetive with the work of the local church. Missions is not outdated, Western imperialism, but a natural extension of believing that we have a message in the Word of God which is relevant and vital to all people, because the God of the Bible is the creator of us all.
A natural extension of the love of Christ is to find ways to help people in our community whether or not they are Christians or members of our church. This is sometimes alled “mercy ministry.” In the area of mercy ministy, a core value is to be “authentic.” Our hope is that in our church, mercy ministry will grow out of helping people we know, as we build a church that is authentically part of the city and is aware of the real needs of people. We do not want to simply create programs as a way of making ourselves feel we have done something good.
The money of the church should come from donations out of a generous heart, and we do not want anyone to feel pressured to donate. We want the money of the church to primarily go toward people, and not property and buildings. While we do not rule out the possibility of buying land and property, this is not an immediate goal.
As part of the Reformed school of thought, we do not reinvent the wheel when it comes to expressing our faith; we feel that good summaries are given in historical statements such as the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, the Westminster Confession, and the Westminster Catechisms. Copies of these can be found at http://www.pcanet.org/general/beliefs.htm.
In affirming these historical statements of faith, we are not putting the words of man at the same level as the Word of God in the Bible. The documents are simply helpful summaries of the teaching of the Bible, designed to refute specific errors that have been made in interpreting the Bible.
Our presbyterian structure means that we are led by a group of elders. We do not want to become centered on one person as the central figure of the whole church, but instead to have a team of strong leaders with different gifts. This team may include full-time employees of the church, part-time employees, and self-supporting volunteers.
A primary goal is to have elders lead weekly home groups which include Bible study, worship, prayer, fellowship (including meals) and outreach activities. To this end, the elders will need to meet frequently for training and for growing in unity so that the different home groups do not end up spinning away from each other.
Home groups, and all other programs of the church outside of the weekly worship, should have a finite lifetime. We do not want to ask people for open-ended, eternal commitments to any group. Instead, we want to reorganize groups from time to time to allow people the flexibility to change direction.
Our church will be a member of the Prebyterian Church in America (PCA). In this denomination, the elders of the church must be men. This is not because of sexism, but because of the view, presented in the Bible, that the church is a family, not a business, and as such it has its father figures and mother figures. Roles in a family are not determined by competition, power and skill, but by the role given to us. Having father figures in a church does not mean that they are superior to others or that the leadership of women is not valued.
Because of this, we take seriously the role of elder women, i.e. our spiritual mothers. We want both elder men and elder women to play an important role in the lives of younger Christians in helping them to understand how Christ related to their lives. This is known as “discipleship.” Part of this process involves the church officially recognizing some people as elder men and elder women so that people may go to them for counsel.
Besides elder men and elder women, the PCA also recognizes “deacons” as roles in the church of leadership in service. These people, both men and women, are given the responsibility of overseeing the mercy ministries of the church. This is a spiritual office because these people often get to know the intimate problems of other church members.
Again, the PCA makes a distinction between men and women deacons and ordains men deacons as a type of father figure as well.
We recognize a need for programs which focus on certain groups, such as children’s and teens’ fellowship groups, a student fellowship group, a medical fellowship group, ministry to parents of special needs children, and so on. For the sake of unity, leaders of these groups should also be meeting regularly with the elders of the church for prayer and study. The church is open to hiring staff whose jobs are dedicated to one or more of these ministries. This may include, eventually, formation of a study center with a direct focus on interacting with the university academic community. These ministries are never a substitute for the meeting of the whole church together, of all ages, in weekly worship.
We need to have a relationship with our whole church family, and not only people like ourselves. As a church helped by the goodwill of other PCA churches, we do not see the formation of new churches as competitive to us. As we grow we are open to forming daughterchurches in other communities. Last, we believe this vision statement itself is open to change. As time passes and new members are added to the leadership team, we need to continue to pray and consider what will be our common vision. The Word of God is our only fixed point, and we must be open to God’s directing us.