Presbyterian Outlook: Four more years? 20 minutes with Linda Valentine
Interview by Jack Haberer, OUTLOOK editor.
Linda Valentine has been re-elected by the General Assembly Mission Council (subject to confirmation by the 219th General Assembly) to serve a second four-year term as executive director – the chief of staff to most of the denomination’s national and international staff. Editor Jack Haberer sat down with Linda Valentine to talk about her first term and to look ahead. ...
...JH: Looking back over the past four years, what are you proudest of? What would you like to see change as you move into the next four years?
LV: In the Presbyterian Panel survey of May, 2005, 84% of respondents said they had little awareness of mission and ministry of the Presbyterian Church. A few months ago the Panel asked those same questions, and the awareness has more than doubled.
Some significant and profound things have happened in the church in the last couple of years, principal among those, the Dallas Mission Consultation. It has been described as a watershed — as a real working of the Holy Spirit — as Presbyterians from a broad range of perspectives formed a statement of mutual encouragement, of acknowledgement that there are many ways to carry out mission in the world, and that we are better and more faithful when we do it in cooperation and collaboration with each other. It has guided much of our work, principally in the realm of international, global mission.
Another marker is (that) the GAC, now GAMC, brought to the 2008 GA a call to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide.” It has caught on in a lot of places, as an inspirational call that addresses on the one hand the concern about the decline in membership and loss of vitality in some area of the church, and at the same time recognizes that there are SO many places where congregations are transforming, people are engaging in mission, lonely people are finding a place in a church. It has helped us lift that up to encourage us to grow Christ’s church in evangelism, discipleship, diversity, and servanthood. GAMC is bringing that back to this year’s GA to renew that effort. ...
... JH: You’ve asked the GAMC to think about what kinds of things the national offices do best and which can’t be done by other levels of the church. What are some of those key functions?
LV: I raised those questions to help us look at what we’re doing. As we’re seeing our role as connecting, equipping the church, inspiring the church, we can find stories and lift them up to encourage and inspire others. We can connect people to resources. Perhaps that’s more important than necessarily creating resources. We have a tree top view from which we can see where there are issues to be addressed and some ways to pull things together.
For example, we realized that we have more candidates coming out of seminary than churches open and available to first call candidates. At the same time we have underserved congregations, including ones who can’t afford fulltime pastoral leaders. And so, connecting with an interested Foundation donor, we put these elements together to create the For Such a Time as This Pastoral Residency Program. Presbyteries will identify congregations needing pastoral leaders, we will work with new seminary graduates looking for a first call, matching them into cohort groups where they are mentored to learn and encourage each other. That’s one example. ...
... JH: What changes might come in your second term?
LV: Of course, it’s a second term only if the GA commissioners confirm me. If they do … well … I think that many pieces are in place and we’re gaining momentum on some of the matters we’ve already discussed the moving from being a resource generator, provider, a bank of experts to being connector, equipper, facilitator — continued growth of mission networks. The Haiti response, for example. Folks have given $9 million to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Organizations have partnered in unprecedented ways: PDA, World Missions, Self Development of People, the Hunger Program. We’re utilizing a much more multi-aspect approach to this situation. We also have been holding webinars. In the first webinar over 300 people participated who wanted to know what’s going on, who wanted to share their experiences, their prayers, wanting to know how we can help, when we can get involved, what’s the best way to be involved. So this is one way our ministries are coming together in more collaborative ways that has multi-parts in a more effective way.
We’re excited to be rolling out a brand new Web site before GA. One of the features of the Web site will be a lot more means for conversation. How do I tell my story? How do I get involved? Who all is doing such-and-such? Where are resources for something else?
We had a focus group conference call a few months ago with a number of church leaders about mission priorities and areas of concern. One of the participants said, “You should be speed-dial #1 for everyone in the church who wants to get involved in something, wants to know how to do something, and your role [speaking to the GAMC] is to point to others, to resources, recognizing that there’s a lot of expertise throughout the church that we can help people tap into.” ...