Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What if… the Presbytery? - Part 1

Is there still a need for Synods and Presbyteries? This question was raised at the recent General Assembly Council meeting. Yesterday I looked at doing away with Synods. Today I will begin looking at what we could/should do with Presbyteries.

The point of today’s post is to look at the “positive” things that a Presbytery can do. Here is a list that I have come up with:

  1. Assisting congregations in times of crisis: In a perfect world there would be no problems in our churches. Just imagine… people getting along together all the time. Fantasy land! I remind my church on a regular basis that the people who attend our church are not “perfect,” we are forgiven! We will not be perfect until Christ returns. All churches are filled with imperfect people—including the pastor; thus, there will be times of crisis within our churches. There have been MANY church crises in my Presbytery over the past few years: clergy sexual misconduct, pastors and church members not getting along for theological reasons, pastors and church members not getting along for “cultural” reasons (believe it or not there are different cultural expectations on pastors across the country), power struggles within congregations, etc. The Committee on Ministry (COM) is a first responder to the local church in times of crisis. This is an important ministry.
  2. Assisting congregations in searching for pastoral leadership: Losing a pastor is traumatic for a congregation. The departure of a beloved pastor is very difficult for a congregation--it can feel as though a part of the church body has died. It is also traumatic for a congregation to get rid of (fire) a pastor. The hurt and the sense of betrayal and failure can have devastating consequences on a congregation. The COM can assist the congregation as they go through the LONG search process. The COM can check references of pastoral candidates (this may be the most important thing the COM does to assist a congregation in the search process).
  3. Ordaining pastors: The Presbytery can assist people interested in the pastoral ministry. The Committee on Preparation for Ministry walks with a person through the entire ordination process.
  4. Assisting congregations in times for financial struggles: Presbyteries use to be able to assist congregations in times of financial struggles—some may still be doing this. More and more Presbyteries are experiencing their own financial difficulties and have little or no funds available to assist struggling congregations. Two years ago I sat in a meeting where a Presbytery was open and honest about their financial situation. They realized that if even one church defaulted on a loan the Presbytery would be financially ruined! At that time, they were looking into the possibility of signing over the ownership of all church properties to the local congregations. Most of our Presbyteries are one major “event” from being financially ruined. There is, and will continue to be fewer and fewer dollars available for the Presbyteries to give to congregations that are suffering financial struggles.
  5. Camping ministries: Camping ministries are very important to the smaller congregations. Larger churches “do their own thing” in that area. A Presbytery can help put together a camping ministry.

There may be (and are) some other ministries that a Presbytery is involved in. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list!

To be brutally honest, if the Presbytery closed its doors tomorrow it would have ZERO impact on the church I serve.


At 9:35 AM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Good list. In New Covenant we are also planning to train pastors and lay leaders in transformational ministry so that the presbytery can help congregations grow disciples and the presbytery to grow churches--not just maintain the status quo.

It may be the impossible dream, but we're pursuing it anyway.

At 1:13 PM , Anonymous Larry said...

Re Presbytery helping a church find a new pastor---

The internet has made it a lot easier for churches to get the word out to the pastors that they have an opening.

The presbytery likes to think they are important in the pastor search process, but the reality the presbytery is most often involved in blackballing a pastor they do not like.

I ask the rhetorical questions: "If all of the presbytery staff and office buildings were gone tomorrow, would your church survive?" Would not the various presbytery committees (comprised of ministers and elders) still function? Are not church buildings empty six days a week and thus any needed presbytery committee meeting could be held in those otherwise empty buildings?

Until the churches stop sending money to financially support the presbytery bureaucracy, nothing will change. It will take firm action by individual churches to cut out the nonsense jobs.

The entrenched bureaucrats have no incentive to change anything.

At 7:01 PM , Anonymous Jon Thomasson said...

Pastor Lance,

If your Presbytery closed its doors tomorrow, there would be at least two points of impact on Evergreen:

1. Your church would no longer have to pay "per capita" to the Presbytery.

2. You, your Session, and your church's property would no longer be vulnerable to an unfriendly takeover by the Presbytery.

We should think positively! (smile)

At 8:17 PM , Blogger Presbyterian Gal said...

Perhaps it's time that PCUSA catch up with the new technologies (as larry pointed out) and new business models that now require far less overhead.

We could do away with the Synods, transfer what each individual Synod did do to a joint venture of the Presbyteries involved and administered by a small group appointed by agreement and required to provide quarterly accountability in an "executive committee" type meeting, which could be conducted online. Could be done quite elegantly. Especially for keeping camping ministries going.

This, after overhauling presbyteries and their roles as Lance has outlined. Would likely make for more cooperation and positive action.

The property issue would have to be arm wrestled. I would vote for each church owning its own. Would that violate anything fundamental in the BOO?

At 5:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pastor Lance,
I just scrolled down your list quickly. Is there any conviction that the presbyery simply is the church, and that questioning what it's good for strictly in reference to the local congregation is misleading?

At 9:49 AM , Blogger Bayou Christian said...

Going through your posts backwards here:

Camping ministry - is it really cost effective to do it through the presbytery? if you look at the cost of owning, maintaining, and staffing our denominational properties we could sell them all and form a multimillion dollar charity to make sure the small churches could pay cash to send their kids to the best camps in the country.

Instead we prop up our very average facilities with our gving, then those same facilities charge us to go to them and we have to provide our own leadership while we were there.

I've studied it pretty close that on is not a possitive (it wants to be but it isn't)

Providing clergy - how are we doing? 47 % of our churches do not have a full time installed pastor - they aren't doing very well for the money we pay them.

Training clergy - I would much rather go to a non-denominational conference.

Doing united mission - I don't know we spend alot of time fighting over it.

Not to mention really involved pastors may be spending 20-40 hours a month doing presbytery work - how is that propping up the local church.

Sorry I didn't even try to be possitive.


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