Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What if… the Presbytery? Part 2

Warning: Those securely vested in the current “system” might view this post as negative. I do not want that to be the case. We can only move into the future if we are courageous enough to remember the past and look critically at the present.

Yesterday’s post was an attempt to look at some of the positive things that a presbytery could accomplish. This list was far from exhaustive. Each presbytery has things that it does well and are valued by its member churches. Be thankful for the things that your presbytery does well, but do not assume that other presbyteries do that same function well.

We live in a different world today. This blog is an excellent example of the new reality. People all around the world can read the ramblings of a “somewhat crazy” pastor in Graham, Washington, USA, who has a passion for Jesus Christ and what the church can be. The church of today does not have to be stuck in the ruts of yesterday. One of those ruts is our current structure. We do not HAVE TO HAVE presbyteries or synods. There may be better ways of organizing.

Today I am going to begin looking at the negative aspects of having presbyteries. Again, this is based on my experience and that of close friends. Your experiences may be quite different.

  1. Finding a new pastor for a congregation: It is absolutely ridiculous that it takes almost two years for a church to call a new pastor. I realize that some of the reasons for this time frame are Book of Order (BOO) requirements. These could be streamlined by our presbyteries. Can you imagine Ford Motor Company going almost two years without permanent leadership? Of course not! Our current process kills churches. I was recently talking with an Associate Pastor of a church that is seeking a Head of Staff. Their average worship attendance has dropped well over 100 people since the arrival of the Interim Pastor. That is a third of their worshipping congregation. That is unacceptable! Our presbytery’s Committee on Ministry (COM) is swamped. I believe that the process of a church finding a new pastor would be much shorter if there were no presbytery. Also, our rule that an Associate Pastor cannot serve as the next Head of Staff is ridiculous. The best person for the task should be hired—who ever it is.
  2. Hindering a pastor from finding a new church: Two of my pastor friends ran into presbytery difficulties when seeking new calls. One had been ordained for over ten years and the other for five years. They were well respected in the current presbyteries. The problem is that they were evangelical pastors being called to evangelical churches in VERY LIBERAL presbyteries. The churches had followed all of the presbytery and BOO rules. The COM required additional face-to-face interviews of possible candidates when learning of the theological views of my friends. Each church had to spend additional dollars to interview candidates they were not interested in so that they could get the blessing of the COM. I know two other pastors who feel as though the Executive Presbytery of their presbytery hindered their search for a new church. Once again, these pastors had no problems in their current presbytery. They were guilty of having theological views vastly different from their Executive Presbyters. Did their EPs really seek to black-ball them? Good question! Many years ago I was serving as the moderator of a presbytery’s COM. Unfortunately, we were having to fire our EP (I still can’t say why due to negotiations with our lawyers and his). The General Counsel of that presbytery (I was a member of General Counsel as moderator of COM) was trying to decide on whether to file charges in the denomination court system against this person—we did not want to pass him on to another presbytery or church, like had been done to us. The General Assembly lawyers advised us not to file the charges—if we lost it could have bankrupt the presbytery. I was informed by a high ranking person in the denomination (I am being vague to protect identities) that the man would never receive another call in the PCUSA. The “system” behind the system would put the word out concerning him. If that “system” could keep that EP from finding another call it can do the same thing to you and me!
  3. Forced relationships aren’t relationships: Geographic similarity doesn’t equal trust and common focus. The PCUSA is TOO diverse. We don’t all serve the same God (sorry, that how I feel based on scripture). Manufacturing relationships between churches never works. We would never put up with “arranged marriages” in the United States; yet, we force local churches into “arranged marriages” with their presbytery. Churches networking together for a common cause/ministry/mission creates strong bonds.

This is just a beginning for this list. I do not want to have too much on this topic on any single day—it might make the “pill” too difficult to swallow. Check back tomorrow for the list to continue.


At 9:17 AM , Blogger Dave Moody said...

Spot on.

At 12:30 PM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Oh, yeah, what dave said.

Especially about the hinderances to calling new pastors. Retirement of a long-time senior pastor at my church is looming and I can't tell you how many times I've had to explain why we just can't call our wonderful associate as the senior. I can explain it, but can't defend it.

It's insane to risk killing the congregation with our current balky system. There must be a "more excellent way."

At 1:39 PM , Anonymous Larry said...

Right on!!!!

Another issue is giving voice and vote to non-pulpit and retired pastors. Ordained ministers who are not actively serving a congregation as a pastor or associate pastor should not get voice and vote at presbytery.

If they want to have voice and vote then let them become active pastors. There are more than 3,000 PCUSA churches without a pastor.

At 7:58 AM , Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

One of the more encouraging aspects at the GAC joint meeting with synod/presby execs two weeks ago was that they were openly questioning the whole sturcture question. Do we need synods? Do we have too many presbyteries? Etc. I get a sense that many execs (by no means all) or questioning major portions of how we all relate to each other. Keep pressing your issues!

At 8:06 AM , Anonymous John O'lane said...

Ah the joys of self interest--read SIN. Although Presbyteries do cause us to follow our Constitution, it seems to me that our dissatisfaction has to do with how WE are inconvenienced, rather than seeking to serve God. My experience as a moderator of COM is such that it is a good thing our constitution prohibits automatic promotions from within, promotions which our history confirms merely keeps the current power structure intact at the expense of God's intentional leading of the Holy Spirit. As to the abuse of Presbytery authority, I concur that much needs to be done, such as having fewer EP types and having them work out the Synod and serve several presbyteries, not one. We have grown dangerously close to having bishops, ie, one powerful person operating behind the scenes affecting our very life together.

It is time to change the effectiveness of our presbyteries so that they accomplish God's will, and not our own.

At 9:16 AM , Anonymous Rev Dave said...


There is a different way of doing things upon retirement of a long-term pastor. IIRC, a large PCUSA church in Colorado Springs called a co-pastor to serve alongside the soon-to-retire senior pastor during the last year of his ministry. Upon the retirement, the co-pastor became the senior pastor.

Of course, I can imagine getting this through COM and presbytery was more than a little daunting. But they persevered.

I also agree that the process (most of which is _not_ in the BOO, but the individual presbytery's policy manual) is way too slow.

At 9:21 AM , Blogger Noel said...

Good call, Dave: McCarthyism of the Left.

At 9:44 AM , Blogger Bayou Christian said...

Why the assumption that the old power structure is sinful?

My guess is that idea came up to deal with the racism issue - which was a worthy cause but now if we are honest it is being used to deal with the pro Bible crowd.

Frankly that disenfranchisement model is a historical aberation.

I mean really- can we imagine a Church that told the Jerusalem Council it had to break up because they had been around too long?

that would sound something like this:
"James - you need to move out of power - we know you were the brother of Jesus and all so we see a real power block developing here and we need to disenfranchise that for the good of the Church."

At 1:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of our presbyters DO use a "code of silence" which, in essence, black-balls ministers whom the presbyter does not like or agree with. This is unethical, and I don't understand why they are allowed to do this. A Minister of Word and Sacrament can spend years studying and preparing as well as spending a great deal of money for schooling; yet, a presbyter can flush all of that down the drain with thirty seconds of silence when another presbyter makes reference calls. Will you please explain this to me? A Sister in Christ

At 9:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 6:05 AM , Blogger 愛莎Cherry said...


At 5:29 AM , Blogger 小小彬 said...


At 12:02 AM , Blogger 小小彬 said...



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