The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) could use some good news. No, I don’t mean the Good News, though we could always stand to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ once again. I’m speaking more of specific, tangible good news that would tell those of us who are faithful Presbyterians that our denomination is on the right track. (I am, as you may know, a PCUSA pastor.)
Last month my denomination received “sort of” good news, when the presbyteries (our regional governing bodies) voted to reject a change in our polity that would have allowed the ordination of people who are sexually active outside of marriage. I say this was “sort of” good news because it didn’t mean that my denomination is healthy and thriving, only that we had voted not to drink spiritual hemlock at this time around. We did, however, spend a whole lot of time and energy arguing over whether we were going to uphold biblical teaching or not. I’m glad for the conclusion to honor the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, but sad for the huge distraction from our mission. I wonder how many more people would know God personally and how much more justice would have been done in this world if the PCUSA had not spent so much time and money over the last thirty years arguing about sexuality, but had instead focused on evangelism and discipleship.
So what is the good news for the PCUSA that encouraged me today? It was the appointment of the Rev. Dr. Stephen Hayner as the next President of Columbia Theological Seminary, a PCUSA institution in Decatur, Georgia. Since 2003, Dr. Hayner has been the Peachtree Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Columbia. Now he will assume the reins of seminary leadership.
I have met Steve Hayner on a couple of occasions, and have followed his career for more than 30 years. When I first got to know Steve, he was the university pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. From there he went to Seattle Pacific University before serving as the President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for 13 years. Following his stint with IVCF, Steve was a parish pastor for a couple of years before joining the faculty of Columbia Theological Seminary in the evangelism chair.
I have always been impressed with Steve’s bright mind, passionate heart, and winsome personality. He is a faithful, orthodox Christian who seeks to engage this world for the sake of the kingdom of God. He sees the mission of Christ wholistically, emphasizing the centrality of evangelism without ignoring the call to do justice. Steve has had a long commitment to students, and this will surely enrich his leadership of Columbia Seminary.
I congratulate Steve for this fine appointment and the Board of Trustees at Columbia for this fine choice. Please join me in praying both for Steve and for the seminary as they seek to be faithful to Jesus Christ in trying times, both in the PCUSA and in the world.