Friday, October 13, 2006

What if… the Presbytery – Part 4

The General Assembly Council met with presbytery and synod executives a few weeks ago. During that meeting there was going to be some discussion about whether there should be synods and presbyteries. I thought this would be a good topic since nothing from that meeting, on that subject, has hit the public domain. Monday I talked about the synod. Tuesday I talked about the benefits of having a presbytery. Since that time I have been looking at the drawbacks of having our current system of presbyteries.

  1. Wasted dollars: It costs a LOT of money to keep a presbytery office open. Do we get a big bang for those bucks? The critical functions of a presbytery could be achieved through new paradigms that cost fewer dollars. My presbytery use to have two budgets: a per capita (my term-I think it was called the ecclesiastical budget) and a mission budget. The cost of running the presbytery (including the staff) was paid for through our per capita. Churches were not required to give to the mission budget—dollars collected went to missions that our presbytery supported. The costs of our executive/general presbyter were moved to the mission part of the budget when per capita could no longer cover the costs of running the presbytery. Now, we have a unified budget: we give almost no money to mission (less than $20,000 out of a budget of around $450,000); the rest goes to running the presbytery! So let’s think for a moment… the PCUSA has 173 presbyteries; if the average cost to run a presbytery for a year was $400,000 we would be spending $69,200,000 to keep our presbyteries open! (Some presbyteries spend less than $400,000 but many spend several times that amount.) Just think about the number of churches that could be planted with that amount of money. Imagine how many shelters for the homeless that could be started for that amount of money. Imagine how many homes could be rebuilt in the Gulf Coast region. And remember, it is that amount of money EVERY YEAR!!! It is shameful how much money our current system wastes that could be used for life-changing ministries and missions.
  2. Pastors are members of the presbytery and not the local church: This may seem like a nit-picky item. This goes against all that scripture teaches about the local church begin the “body of Christ.” There are many spiritual gifts listed in scripture. Paul always says that each part needs to work together as one body—of which Christ is the head. It makes no sense to say that I use my spiritual gifts in a body of which I am not a part. If I am a part of that body then I am a member of that body (like a hand, a foot, an ear and an eye are all a part of the same body). It is baffling to members of the church when I tell them that I am “forbidden” from being a member of Evergreen. We have a retired pastor who is a part of our church and yet he cannot be a member of our church. He has no vote in congregational meetings. Oh well, we want to bend scripture on the topic of sexuality so we might as well bend it on who is, or isn’t, a part of the local body of Christ.
  3. The same people are entrenched in the system: In the past I have been very critical of our General Assembly “system.” The same people keep getting asked to serve on committees (yes, their committee assignments may get shifted around but it is the same people on committees). The same thing can be said about our presbyteries. The same elders attend presbytery time after time after time. The same people keep getting rotated through our committees. I know--it is almost impossible to get new people to serve on presbytery committees. Did you ever stop to think—if it is not important enough in the eyes of our local church elders to serve on a presbytery committee then maybe we don’t need that committee? Our denominational rules say that a person can only serve on a presbytery committee for two consecutive three-year terms before they must be off that committee for at least a year. I would suggest that after a person serves as a presbytery delegate (or on a presbytery committee) for six years that they cannot serve on any committee for at least six years (or be a delegate to presbytery for six years). The same would go for pastors and presbytery committees. Then we would see how important our presbytery’s committees (and presbytery for that matter) really are to the local church. Either new blood would come onto committees and presbytery or they will die away. Without new blood our presbyteries and denomination are going to die away anyway.

Please don’t hate me for these thoughts. I have a passion for ministry and mission; I have no loyalty (or patience) to broken systems.

Yesterday was a sad day. An older lady in our congregation found out that she has pancreatic cancer (4 – 6 months to live). Her “system” is broken. There is nothing that the doctors can do. Only a miracle of God can save her life. But remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Kate’s ultimate healing will be going to be with Christ. Two weeks ago another lady in our church had knee-replacement surgery. Her “system” was broken. Her “system” was changed by an operation. The recovery is hard work—sometimes painful. Yet, she knows that it will all be worth it. You see, she had two bad knees. Her recovery from the surgery on her first knee was VERY DIFFICULT. I feared that she would not go through with the second surgery. But she wants to LIVE LIFE—not just exist. In a couple of months she will be able to do things she has not been able to do for years, maybe decades.

The PCUSA doesn’t have to just “exist” with its old and broken systems. We can change. Our broken “systems” do not have to be fatal. The big question is whether we will allow them to become fatal.

PS-I would like to thank for mentioning this blog on Oct. 12 & 13. I read Presbyweb every day and follow most of the Presbyterian bloggers that are mentioned on the Presbyweb site.


At 10:01 AM , Anonymous Kyle said...

First off, my prayers for healing are with the members mentioned.

Next, I agree that I'm jaded (for lack of a better word) whenever I read the presbytery's budget and less is going to mission, however they have bought a piece of property and building to house an office. Then at the Presbytery meetings they ask us to shift towards the church giving more money to missions directly instead of using them as a middle man.

And on your posting yesterday, it is hard for younger working professionals to make a meeting that starts at 3pm and lasts 5 hours. (With very little being accomplished.)

It is time for a change! Keep up the commentary.


At 2:28 PM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Should mission really be funded through presbytery, though?

You mentioned in a previous post that churches are hurt because presbytery doesn't have the staff and resources to efficiently assist them with COM issues such as calling new pastors. That is an example of a function that is unique to presbytery. Should presbyteries focus on performing their essential functions well before branching off into other areas.

Mission is not a function unique to presbytery. Too often mission supported by presbytery goes to things that are controversial with many of the churches. A couple of years ago the chair of the mission committee of my church resigned from the mission committee of presbytery in disgust at the "anti-American" attitude she perceived there. That's probably due to the fact that this committee was controlled by the same group year after year unchallenged. Which relates to another of your points about the same group of people serving again and again.

Owning a building may not be the best way to provide the infrastructure needed for a presbytery's essential functions either. Maybe the presbytery offices could be housed on the campus of one of its churches--particularly one that has more square feet than they can use anymore. Rent and utility payments may be a significant savings over ownership.

I've been thinking along the same lines you have and applaud your raising these issues in your series. Keep it up.

I'm sorry about Kate and will be praying for her.

At 3:46 PM , Blogger person in the pew said...

Thanks so much for this series of posts and for thinking of new ways to do things. I agree with Kyle's can working people attend Prebytery meetings that start early or mid-afternoon afternoon and then go through dinner into nighttime. I plan to attend a Presbytery meeting soon to observe but will only be able to attend the evening portion of the meeting.

How about using an online collaboration tool (eRoom is one example...I'm not affiliated with eRoom in any way but it's one I've used) to conduct much of the Presbytery business? Most collaboration tools allow collaborative document editing, doc storage, threaded discussions, chat rooms, etc... I'm not suggesting doing away with all human interaction, but tools like that can help make "live" meetings more efficient.

At 7:33 PM , Anonymous Larry said...

I agree with your analysis.

Now, how do we move from one blogger and one commenter to a situation where a substantial majority of Presbyterians also see that money is being wasted at Presbytery, Synod, and GA?

A lot of what you have written is included in the New Wineskins initiatives to vastly reduce denominational bureaucracy. But churches are not tripping over themselves to join New Wineskins.

It seems the churches would rather wallow in their misery of declining and aging memberships than do anything about it.

There are models of how denominations changed and grew stronger. The Southern Baptists are a prime example. The SBC began cleaning house in the 1970's and have nearly doubled in size in the past 30 years.

At 9:46 AM , Anonymous Rance said...

The New Wineskins was mentioned. They have a "discussion web site" that would work great is called "Quick Topic (instant discussion space). Please take a look at I have participated on another primarily Presbyterian site under Quick Topic and it works very nicely.

Rance Hixson
Hiawatha, KS

At 12:20 PM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

Next week I will be looking into how we can begin the transformation of the PCUSA. New Wineskins does have a lot to offer.

See you Monday!!

May our worship this weekend bring a smile to God's face!

At 2:43 PM , Blogger PJ said...

Lance, your comments about presbyter professionals and office staff remind me of a former PCUS minister in my old presbytery. He used to comment (or grouse, depending on the intensity of his mood) about how PCUS presbyteries were run by volunteers not paid staff. Everything the presybytery did was done by someone whose primary focus was in parish ministry. And everything the presbytery did was done by someone who had to be prepared to explain what was done to a local congregation. I'm sure there was a certain amount of rose-tinting in the lenses of his glasses, but if even half of what he said was true, the large, professionally-staffed presbytery of modern experience is a significant step backward in ministry.

Though there are important theological reasons why pastors are members of presbytery, not the local church...

At 5:47 PM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

I would love to hear your theological reasons.

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