Throughout the 2011 General Assembly, one word seemed to emerge over and over again: Vision. The Record asked the nominees for moderator of the 2012 assembly to introduce themselves and reflect on their visions for the future of the church…
By the time he was 14, Peter Bush had spent more than half of his life in Beirut, Lebanon, and Shiraz, Iran, with his missionary parents. “Not surprisingly those years have been formative to the way I see the world,” he wrote. “I am fascinated by the way Christianity grows in Asia and Africa and South America—and believe the church in North America has much to learn.”
Following the promptings of the Spirit—and of a minister he worked with at Camp Geddie, N.S.—Bush embraced a calling to ministry and discovered a love for teaching, preaching, and training lay people to do the same. He is currently minister at Westwood, Winnipeg (although he prefers the term “teaching elder”), and has been editor of Presbyterian History, a publication of the history committee, for more than two decades. He has also served as moderator of presbytery and synod, and as an interim moderator more than a dozen times. He penned the book In Dying We Are Born based on his experiences with congregations as they underwent change.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you come to follow a call to ministry? What has kept you going?
Seven and half of the first 14 years of my life I spent in Beirut, Lebanon and Shiraz, Iran. My parents were missionaries, my father teaching math at the university level as a way to carry the good news into places where regular missionaries had difficulty going. Not surprisingly, those years have been formative to the way I see the world. I am fascinated by the way Christianity grows in the Asia and Africa and South America—and believe the church in North America has much to learn from our Christian sisters and brothers in other places.
I grew up in the church, and I never rebelled against God or the church. But I never wanted to be a minister. I tried to get into a Ph.D. program in history—but God clearly shut the door to that. So I was not sure what I was supposed to be doing. I spent a summer at Camp Geddie (a PCC camp in Nova Scotia) as program director and there a minister who was serving as a camp counselor for one week said to me, “Have you ever thought of being a minister? You lead Bible studies well, you preach well, you should think about this.” And that was a key factor in my hearing the call to ministry. And ministry within the PCC.
I love preaching and teaching—something happens when I get the chance to do those things. I have a sense that I am where I am supposed to be when I have the opportunity to preach or teach.
I believe the church has been called into being by God—and although human beings (including me) keep messing it up—somehow in the mystery of God, God still uses the church for God’s honour and glory. Through the church I have the chance to fulfill my highest calling —the highest calling of any human being—to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.
What would you say your passion is when it comes to the church and/or faith?
I am going to take your question in a somewhat different direction and highlight five things that I am passionate about as it relates to the church/the Christian faith
1. The Word of God. I am committed to helping people discover the power of the Word in their lives and for their lives. This includes not just preaching—but helping lay people discover that the Bible can and does speak to them and their lives and to the reality of the world.
2. Reaching outside the doors of the church. We have been blessed that we might be a blessing; we have been blessed that we might serve. We are the salt of the earth and we need to get out of the saltshaker. Not for our good—not for our benefit—but for God’s glory.
3. New models of church. It is time to experiment, to find new models of church—to develop lay – led church models, to embrace circuit riding, to raise up house churches, and to play with other models that we have not yet talked about. Most of these new models will mean less clergy involvement and more space for lay people to exercise the priesthood of all believers and the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to all followers of Jesus Christ.
4. Partnering with Christians of all branches of the church. To make connections with Baptists and Anglicans, Pentecostals and Lutherans, Mennonites and Roman Catholics—to enter into these connections with humility and courage. To be willing to learn from people we have often looked down on. To enter a conversation where we are unapologetic about being Presbyterians.
5. The history of the church. Both the saints and sinners of the past remind us to walk humbly now. The past reminds us of who we are. The story of past forms us now.
Some moderators like to choose a particular theme or issue to focus on during their year in the position. Have you thought about something like that? If so, what, and why is this important to you?
I have thought about theme; I have not chosen one. I am hoping that if I were to be elected, which I think is unlikely, the Holy Spirit will help me discern a theme.
at the 2011 General Assembly, there was a lot of talk about vision and the future of the church.
What would you say is your vision for the future?
I think we have not yet been broken enough to hear what God’s vision is. We are still working on the basis of us human beings finding the vision that will save the church. We cannot save the church—only God can do that. Before we can discern the vision God has we need to give up the reins of power, dying to our visions, dying to our plans, dying to our dreams. We need to be able to pray the phrase from the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done” and really mean it before we will be able to see the vision God has. And I know for myself I am not sure that I am there yet, and I don’t think that many of the people I meet in the church are there yet either. We need to be further broken.
What do you see as the greatest challenges facing the church today?
The answer to the last question may sound very depressing. And in some ways it is. But there is something I have not said yet: God knows how to get broken, dead people—and churches—out of the tomb. The God who raised Jesus Christ to life again can raise the church from its tomb. The challenge for the church is not to find some way to find new life; the challenge for the church is to have the courage and faith to get into the tomb—knowing that God will bring new life. That new life is something we cannot predict—that new life is not something we can control—we don’t even know its shape. All we know is that God will raise to the church to new life—and we will be astounded.