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What's Your Church's DNA?


In 1953 two British molecular biologists, James Watson and Francis Crick, developed a model that described the genetic structure of the hereditary material in each of us. The double helix became the name for that model and the hereditary material became known as our DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid.

At the annual meeting in February of the Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest, the host pastor, the Rev. Dr. Lacy Sellars, delivered a superb presentation on the history of First Presbyterian Church in Hot Springs. The other presentations were equally fine, but one reference Lacy made has stuck in my memory. He talked about the DNA of that congregation. With all the talk these days about tracing our own personal genetic identity and ancestry using DNA evidence, I found it fascinating to think about the DNA of our faith, our theology, our congregations.

As Christians, we certainly trace our faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ as witnessed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. As Presbyterians, we trace our theological roots to the 16th century reformers – John Calvin, John Knox, Heinrich Bullinger, Huldrych Zwingli, and Theodore Beza, to name only a few. Twentieth century theologians in this Reformed tradition include such persons as Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Niebuhr’s brother, H. Richard Niebuhr.

What is the DNA of your congregation? What are the special emphases or characteristics that describe the witness your church makes? For some, it may be fine preaching. For others, it might be an outstanding music program. Perhaps there is a special outreach effort to meet the needs of your community. Or maybe it’s an education program that takes seriously shared learning at every age. The art and architecture of your church building may tell the gospel story in a unique and powerful way. The DNA of some congregations includes an interest in and involvement at the presbytery, synod, and General Assembly level. Then there are some churches that simply exude a spirit of joy and welcome to all who come through their doors. And this is not an exhaustive list.

I have had the privilege of serving churches whose DNA has included one, two, and more of the characteristics that describe the life and service of Christian discipleship. What are some of the DNA characteristics of your congregation? Who are some of the persons who over the years contributed significantly to the life and service of your church? It might be someone who goes about quietly making a difference, or it might be someone with a larger voice. Has someone written the story of your church and its DNA? It could be fun as well as important. I’d be interested in such stories. Feel free to share them.

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