Robert Austell, Candidate for Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

In an attempt to help folks get to know the candidates for Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have asked the Moderatorial and Vice-Moderatorial Candidates a few questions. You can find links to all of their responses HERE and you can follow most of the candidates on Twitter HERE. Thanks for taking the time to read their responses and please feel free to share this with friends, leave a comment or ask a question.

Robert Austell – Teaching Elder, Charlotte Presbytery

A snippet from Robert’s responses in the 2012 Moderatorial Handbook:

I am a “bi-lingual” GenX-postmodern, meaning I am equally as comfortable with modern and post-modern culture, having grown up on the front-end of a significant cultural shift . . . I am deeply a people-person, but also cherish solitude to recharge and renew.  I love technology, but as a tool rather than an end in itself.  I am a laid-back, type A person. What in the world does that mean, you ask? That means I am very administrative and organized, but don’t stress over disorganization or disorganized people.

Knowing that being Moderator/Vice-Moderator will require a great deal of time and energy from you and your community, why give in this way to the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

I believe God has called me to stand. I am blessed with a supportive family and congregation that see themselves as part of that calling. When I shared with the church elders, deacons, and staff, their first responses were about how they could fill in and carry on. For years, we have sought to be faithful with a little and have seen God open doors and call us (all) further out in service and witness. I am humbled by the confirmation of these dear ones around me as well as by the enthusiastic support of my presbytery.

Part of the ‘why’ also has to do with timing, gifting, and passion. I believe the PCUSA faces challenges and opportunities unique to this time and culture and that God has gifted, called, and impassioned me for those challenges and opportunities. For a number of years I have been working in my congregation and presbytery to draw our attention to the world God loves, and have found that to be a unifying and compelling vision. I understand that vision not to be the latest fad or plan, but the very heart of evangelism, witness, mission, and justice. I joyfully and passionately find myself running after Christ and, with others, being the Church in the world.

I believe we must lift our eyes and hearts beyond our walls and remember our first love and call to be winsome witnesses to the grace and mercy of God in and among the world God loves, and endeavor to encourage, inspire, equip, and accompany all I minister among in that journey.

If someone were to ask you, “Why should I bother going to church?” how would you respond?

I believe that all kinds of people (not just church-types or “Christians”) are interested in connecting with God. I think it’s something built into us, to long for something and someone much bigger and more lasting than ourselves. I’d like to invite you to come try church with me because I believe that you will find connection with God. I’m not saying that because we have the corner on truth, because we’re Presbyterians or because we teach some special brand of Christianity. I say that because I believe God wants to connect with you. The whole God-thing isn’t about being good, creating a good philosophy or religion, or attending a church obsessively. If the God described in the Bible is true, then God is not waiting around for us or hiding from us, but IS seeking us out in love.

At the church I am a part of we believe the Bible is God’s love-letter to the world and we get together to seek God around that message. And you know what? God shows up. It’s not mystical or spooky; there are no sparks or screaming people; there is no giant voice from the sky. But if you asked just about anyone who comes to our church, God is here. It’s a very special place full of very special people. We aren’t perfect – far from it. But we are all seeking the same thing – connection with a God whose story is one of loving and coming to us… all the way down to where we are. Look around some more… think about it… take a chance… come see us.

Check out some more thoughts here:

Choose one item of business or issue that will be coming up at General Assembly and share your perspective.

For sure there will be “hotter” issues coming before the General Assembly this summer, but I believe the most significant one will be the future unity and witness of the PCUSA.

Our institution is aging and showing it. We must be willing to flex, adapt, and learn. I commend the mid-council commission report as a START in this direction. I also commend the conversations among the NEXT conference and the Fellowship as twin stirrings about where the church could head. In each case, there is risk of being side-tracked.

Our community is fractured. We must graciously… graciously… seek healing or release-with-blessing. We cannot afford to cling, fight, or curse one another in this fractured state. I’ve helped author dismissal policies that seek either outcome, with our public witness to Christ as paramount. I urge the church to choose this route and not a more destructive path.

Our debate is polarized. I have modeled and will hold out theological friendships as an example of a way forward in Christ. Interestingly, my conversations in those contexts range deeper and wider than any pronouncements ever made at a microphone. In our efforts to boldly profess our Christian convictions, we too often exhibit far from Christ-like behavior. We can do better; we must do better.

The Church is not our own; may we be reminded of Whose we are and there find grace and vision for the future.

What are a few things that most people would never guess about you: interests, adventures or . . .?

I am a life-long musician (since age 4), but a kind of strange one. I’m not a performer. I CAN perform, but it’s not what fuels me. I like creating and I like helping others create. My dad taught me the “Boogie-Woogie” and how to improvise, and fourteen years of classical lessons and improvising in rock and jazz bands later, I went to Nashville as a session musician, learning to generate any style of music on demand. Along the way I picked up guitar, drums, bass, and audio engineering, and… a call to ministry. It’s made for an interesting mix and much soul and church-searching to find the right mix of ministry. But as much fun as music and recording and Nashville were, seminary and pastoral ministry were even better.

So, I’ve found two primary fits for music and ministry. One is in worship music. One of the biggest challenges in worship music (whether choral, praise team, instrumental, or in-between) is the struggle to turn the focus away from self. As one who is not a performer, writing and leading worship music has been a perfect fit because my very task is to direct people’s attention and worship Godward. Secondly, I’ve been able to use my gifts and resources to help younger (and sometimes older) amateur musicians record or flesh out musical ideas in a way that hopefully encourages and blesses them and those to whom they minister. Our congregation has turned into quite a creative hub as musical, then visual and dramatic arts have flourished.

WILD CARD: Answer any question you want, one that someone has yet to ask or choose from some that have been asked here:

Claire Worthington asked specifically how I voted on NC Amendment 1. What is more pertinent to the PCUSA General Assembly is WHY I voted as I did.

NC Amendment 1 was not just about banning same-sex marriage, but defined marriage in the civil sphere and declared “marriage between one man and one woman the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” Public debate was heated, simplistic, and often unhelpful.

I’ve appealed for better communication for the sake of community here:

This summer the PCUSA will be asked about a Christian definition of marriage. I do believe Christian marriage to be correctly defined as one man and one woman, covenanting before God and the church.

However, with NC Amd. 1 voters were asked how the STATE should view marriage and domestic union. I do not believe that the civil definition of all “domestic legal unions” must or should be restricted to that of one religious perspective. Further, I do think Christians have an obligation to bear witness to God through generosity and kindness in the public sphere rather than through imposition of Christian belief. To curtail legal and civil benefits to my neighbors for the sake of asserting a Christian definition of marriage was something I was not willing to do. Moreover, I am willing to explore supporting legal and civil benefits for my neighbors, recognizing that there is a difference between the spheres of church and state. I voted against the NC amendment.

Thanks again to all of the candidates for being part of this process. While we obviously hold all of the candidates in prayer throughout this process, please be sure to pray for their communities of service, their families and all who are supporting them during this time.

For all of the candidates’ links and responses click HERE or go directly to the individual responses:  Robert and HopeSusan and JamesRandy and Shamaine |Neal and Tara

Be the Change: Steve Lindsley and the “Let Go” Project

BE THE CHANGE – This is a series of posts highlighting people and projects that I encounter during my travels that are, in my opinion, doing the hard work of changing the world for the better. Subjects are chosen purely by me, no committee or proposal needed, so if you know of a person or project that you think is doing something that is making the world a more just, compassionate and peaceful place, please feel free to send me a note or make an introduction.

I am not really sure of the first time that I met or heard of Steve, but we have both been around the church now a long time.  I have known him mostly through youth ministry circles and his musical gifts.  I was pretty excited to see that he has a new album out that was going to created and shared in a little different way.
Here is a quick audio clip of an interview Steve did with a local radio station and then my interview with musician, pastor and good guy, Steve Lindsley.
Forty-something father of two young boys, married to a former prosecutor and current substitute elementary school teacher, pastor of a wonderful loving PC(USA) congregation in Mount Airy, NC (a.k.a. Mayberry), gigging musician & singer/songwriter, music leader for the 2012 Montreat Collegiate Conference, teacher of Old & New Testaments at the local community college, runner/swimmer, blogger, child of God.
Typically an independent singer/songwriter releases an album after an intentional period of planning and preparation, with the ultimate goal being a “product.” “Let Go” had a much different focus. It came out of a three-month sabbatical my church and I took in the summer of 2010, funded by a grant from the Lily Foundation. In the spirit of the sabbatical I resisted the whole “product” emphasis and instead chose to engage music in ways I hadn’t had a chance to in years. Even the studio time I entered into after the sabbatical, funded in full by the sabbatical grant, was more about continuing the songwriting process and less about putting out an album.
We recorded last fall and this spring, all the while making sure we didn’t cut any corners. I got to work on one song with the guy who produced R.E.M’s first two albums. I also recorded with some Nashville string session players who are the “go-to” guys for people like Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Jars of Clay. It was pretty amazing.
When all was said and done, I was pleased enough with the tunes to want to share them. But I didn’t want to go the typical route of CDs and selling a “product,” so I chose to give the album away as an mp3 download. I did this mostly as a gift for the members of the church I serve, in thanks and gratitude for our eight years together. But I’m making it available to anyone who’d like it. Since I didn’t have to spend any of my own money to make this album, I don’t think others should have to spend their money to get to listen to it.
I just hope they’ll still be listening to it! The album is a collection of songs about relationships – good and bad ones, broken ones and relationships being healed and transformed. There’s a line in the last song, “The Dance,” that repeats, “Everyone’s a part of us.” I remember a high school English teacher of mine saying this when we were analyzing some characters in one of the books we were reading, and it really stuck with me. So my hope is that the songs will stick around for awhile since the common thread that runs through them is something we all can relate to.
I gig a few times a month either as a solo acoustic artist or with the band I play in (Mediocre Bad Guys); and I still lead music for a number of presbytery retreats and youth conferences – including the upcoming 2010 Montreat Collegiate Conference in January. So I hope I’ll always play an active part in the overall music ministry of the denomination.
Since I’m not making a dime off the album, people can support it simply by listening to it, finding their own story in the songs, and sharing them with others. Folks can head over to and download the album. From there it’s very easy to share the link on Facebook or Twitter. Ultimately the success of “Let Go” won’t be determined by how much money I make off it (obviously!) but how many people get to listen to it and then let others know about it.
Recently I’ve become a fan of Heifer International and the very simple way this organization enables average folk to help people and communities on the other side of the world. A great “pay-it-forward” concept too: when an international family gets a calf from Heifer, they promise to pass along the first-born female to another family. That idea of empowering people to care for themselves rather than simply giving handouts has always been attractive to me.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t get a shout-out to my fellow musician and friend Bryan Field McFarland, currently serving as Hunger Enabler for Salem Presbytery. Recently Bryan released a CD of mission-minded music titled, “Until All Are Fed,” where 20% of the profits go toward the Presbyterian Hunger Program. He’s also taking the show on the road, asking churches to sponsor a fundraising dinner & concert where he works with musicians in the church to perform the songs with him. [More about Until All Are Fed]
If you want to get in touch with Steve and find out more about “Let Go” he is wired and plugged in: