Failure is an Option

            It has been a very exciting, and a very long couple of  weeks in the life of the Synod of Mid-America.  In the last two weeks, we have held our GPS gathering, as well as undertaken the herculean task of relocating our offices.   I have to admit that after these two weeks, even this extravert is out of energy.  As I sit here typing, I am thinking about how tired I am- about how hard it is to find the right words to share.  In fact, I am worried that this might be the worst blog post ever written.

            How many times in our life and our work, do we find ourselves asking this same question?    This might be the worst sermon/presentation/bible study ever?  We all want to make good and beautiful art, but we live in fear of only creating chaotic dissonance.   We want to paint our own Picasso, but we're scared that we would end up with only stick figures and scribble.  We are afraid to make mistakes, we are afraid to fail.

            One of my mentors told me that success is important, but what really defines us is our ability to fail well.  I think that this holds especially true for those of us working in the church.  We only become successful by taking risks, by making big mistakes, by failing, and then learning from these experiences.   Good ministry and good art (whatever its form) only comes from practice.

            On Monday, Seth Godin wrote an excellent post, in which he talked about the importance of epic failure.  Godin said,

  "Just about anything worth doing is worth doing better, which means, of course, that (at least at first) there will be failure. That's not a problem (in the long run), it's merely a step along the way.  If you're not willing to get your 'worst one ever' out of the way, how will you possibly do better than that?"

            Godin is right.  How different would things be if as community called the church, we all learned to fail, and fail well?  How much more creative and free would we be if we accepted that failure is a cornerstone of  learning and progress ?

             I am not sure that it would make everything better, but it sure would make it more interesting.  Maybe then as a church, we would stop looking at our failure as something to lament, and we would see them as places to practice our art and live into God's grace a little bit more.  

Do you know your "Why"?

Simon Sinek is a genius, as far as I'm concerned. He didn't invent the idea of "Why", but he sure did go a long way in making it an idea that should be first and formost in every leader's minds. 

According to Sinek, great leaders inspire action because they understand that  

People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it...What you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe.

Now, in the Church World, we're not really about "buying and selling" and I know that language makes some people queazy. I'm certainly queazy about it, which is why I devoted a lot of time to dismantling the "Church should be run like a Business" mentality in Open Source Church. But Sinek's point is not about commerce, it's about inspiration.

Take a look at this TED talk that he gave a few years ago (embedded below), and pay close attention, starting around 15:15. He begins to share about Dr. MLK, Jr. The money quote? 

And, by the way, he gave the "I Have a Dream" speech, not the "I Have a Plan" speech. 

At the SoMA, here's what we believe: Presbyterians in the Midwest want to do a lot of amazing and risky things for the sake of the Kingdom. We want to help them do it.

That's our "Why." That's why we get up every day and do what we do.

Do you know your why? 

 

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

We are excited to announce that as of Wednesday, June 12, the Synod of Mid-America office will move to our new location at the Heartland Camp and Conference Center.   We spent the previous couple of years in the Red Door building of Leawood Presbyterian Church.   Our old office served us well, and we made great memories (Landon and I will always cherish our one and only epic ping-pong match) but we could not be more excited about our new space. 

The new office is located inside the camp offices at the Heartland Center.  The folks at the camp completely renovated the new office space with carpet, paint, and a new sink.  We are excited to be located at the camp, since many of the synod retreats and meeting are held here.   We are excited about the hustle and bustle that will be happening outside our windows and all of the great folks who will be visiting the camp, and who will be dropping by to visit with us at the new location.

It has been an exciting two years for the synod and we look at this new location as the start of another chapter in our history.  We are still working on being settled in and adding artwork to the walls, but we are incredibly excited to be in the new space.  The synod's mailing address will be changing, but all of our other contact information will remain the same.  We will still have the same telephone number and web address.  The new address for the synod will be 16965 NW 45 Hwy, Parkville Missouri 64152. 

Thanks for everyone's support through the years and with the move.  We want to give a special thank you to the folks at Leawood Presbyterian Church.  They have been an amazing host and partner in ministry for the synod the last couple of years.   We also would like to give a shout out to the facility staff at the camp that did a phenomenal job quickly decking out the new space.  Landon would also like to extend his thanks to the furniture folks for making him some "awesome" new furniture.   We hope to post some pictures of the new space as soon as we are settled.   In the meantime, check back for updates and take some time to click here to check out the camp website and learn about all the cool things going on at the Heartland Center.  

Presbyterian: A Brand in Crisis

So, last week the GA Stated Clerk released a summary of the 2012 Annual Statistics. The release of the Annual Statistics is historically a day of much kvetching. We wring our hands and accuse each other of being the kinds of Christians that are running everyone off.

 And, honestly, there's not a lot to get excited over.

The total membership of the PC(USA) at the end of 2012 was 1,849,496, compared to 1,952,287 in 2011, which is a decline of 102,791 members.
Thirteen new churches were organized in 2012. Eighty-six churches were dissolved, compared to 75 in 2011. One hundred ten congregations were dismissed to other denominations, 89 more than the previous year.

But what gives me courage to go on is related to a quote from our dear Clerk at the end of the article:

“The fact that fewer Americans say they have a religious identity does not necessarily mean there has been an overall decrease in spirituality in America,” Parsons said. “The 2012 statistics challenge us as Presbyterians to connect with the ever-growing number of those with no religious affiliation.”

Bingo.

So our numbers are going down. So what? According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's recent study, "Nones on the Rise," these folks that are leaving our folds are not anti-God . Not even remotely. What they are uninterested in us.   

Parsons is right: what our stats challenge us to, is the work of re-understanding ourselves. I've written about this before on my personal blog, and I maintain that Christianity is a "Brand in Crisis." 

Presbyterians are not exempt from this, and I, for one, am ready to start the rebranding process.

 

GPS v. 3.0

The Lilly Foundation Endowment had this to say about pastoral ministry:

"The Endowment is convinced that many congregations in the nation, in a variety of settings and within a multiplicity of faith traditions, are being served by excellent pastoral leaders. These leaders and the work they do are of inestimable value. The quality of pastoral leadership is key to vital congregational life. When churches and parishes are led by spiritually strong, thoughtful, able, and imaginative pastors, congregations tend to thrive."

In response to this challenge, the Synod of Mid-America created the Gathering for Pastoral Sustenance (GPS) program.  The GPS program offers spiritual formation, practical education, and collegial support to pastors who are serving in the first 5 years of ministry. GPS focuses on key areas identified in the Lilly Endowment's work on Sustaining Pastoral Excellence:

Each GPS cohort gathers five times over a two-year period. During each three-day session, participants will have unique access to Guest Teachers. Some of these teachers include:  

• Reverend Eileen Campbell-Reed, co-director of the  Learning Pastoral Imagination (LPI) Project at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

• Reverend John Wimberly author of The Business of the Church: The Uncomfortable Truth that Faithful Ministry Requires Effective Management

• Reverend Dr. Andrew root Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary and author of The Relational Pastor.

In addition, the group will spend quality time in prayer, group spiritual direction, group process work, and experiential learning. Between sessions, the SoMA provides each participant an appointment with a spiritual director. GPS engages a pastor's whole being in prayer, relationships, play, and learning very practical skills to support them in their call. Spiritual and relational vitality is our goal as we create each session for your growth, challenge, and learning.

 SoMA is proud to announce that on Monday, June 3 we will start the third GPS cohort.  The new cohort consists of six teaching elders, all within the first five years of ordained ministry. The session will focus on ways for teaching elders to explore, develop, and enrich both personal and professional spiritual practices.  The guest teacher for this session is the Reverend Marjorie Thompson.

The SoMA, and hopefully you too, are excited about this program and our cohort.  We ask that you join us in this ministry by joining with us in prayer as partners in this ministry.   If you would like more information about the GPS program, or its instructors, check out the GPS link on the synod webpage.    

Campus Ministry is a Doorway, not a Refuge

Earlier today, I was privileged to attend the annual retreat of the Campus Ministers and College Chaplains of the SoMA. Along with one of the members of the SoMA's Committee on Life and Mission, Rev. Mary Newberg Gale, we were welcomed into their space for the morning to discuss the contours of campus ministry, and what they each are doing at their respective institutions to further the mission of God and help young adults become creative, dynamic, and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Even though, when I was in seminary, I cut my ministry teeth on a college campus, I am almost a bit ashamed to tell you that my take away from this morning's discussion is this:

Ministry to college students is NOT glorified Youth Group.

Again, I am embarrassed that this is what I thought. But I wonder if that's what a lot of us think.

As Mary and I sat and listened and pushed and prodded and questioned what became abundantly clear is the degree to which these ministers and chaplains understand that they are providing a space through which young adults can experience the church you and I know and love. Indeed, they shared with us that, rather than being a "refuge for those who have been hurt or disappointed" by the Church, they experience their ministry more as a "doorway" into healthy Church life.

I'd say we need more of that.

Many folks wonder and question why the SoMA would involve itself in supporting and funding Campus Ministry and the best answer I have is found in one of the documents we send to them as part of our funding application process. We stole it from our sister synod, the Synod of the Trinity, and I offer it for your edification:

Why The SoMA Should Be Connected: A Rationale For Campus Ministry

Every time that we pour the baptismal waters, we make a covenant to nurture the faith of the newly baptized. Campus ministry provides a valuable resource to the church as we live out that covenant with college-aged students.  

In an age of decline in church participation and at a stage of life where most people leave the church, we would not only provide a turn around strategy for the sake of the church but also we would live into the promises we make as congregations to each of these individuals.  At baptism, congregations promise, on behalf of the whole Christian Church, to guide and nurture those being baptized by word and deed, with love and prayer, and encourage them to know and follow Christ Jesus, as faithful members of Christ’s church.  This responsibility does not cease at confirmation or graduation from high school but is life-long.  Thus, in order to fulfill our baptismal covenants with young adults, we are compelled to support campus ministries in the context of higher education within the Synod of Mid-America.

Young adults experience many transitions and are maturing through these experiences.  Aware of this, it is essential for the church to be present and provide nurture along with opportunities to engage in deep questions of life and faith, provide vibrant worship and a welcome to community.  The church is called to model Christ's example to meet people where they are on their life long journey of faith.

While in college, young adults are taught to think critically.  Simultaneously, they attempt to make meaning of faith and all of life.  Often they are found transitioning between a conventional faith into a critical-systemic faith, which then can evolve into a mature adult faith that can hold both conviction and paradox.[1] It is critical during this time of meaning making the church accompany young adults as they are faced with questions that challenge what they have known, as doubts are raised and they discern what they believe.  We believe in the call to mentor and empower these young adults as they develop their faith for themselves.

W-2.3013 The congregation as a whole, on behalf of the Church universal, assumes responsibility for nurturing the baptized person in the Christian life.

W-2.3012 e.   Making certain that those baptized are nurtured in understanding the meaning of their Baptism, of the Lord’s Supper, and of their interrelation, and that they are surrounded by Christian encouragement and support.

[1] Sharon Daloz Parks, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams ©2000 p. 13

What's Going on God?

From storms ravaging the plain states, to flooding in the east, to the devastating EF-5 tornado that leveled Moore, Oklahoma, it feels like with each passing week this spring there has been news of another natural disaster.   

Each of these tragedies is full of stories that reflect both the best and the worst aspects of God's people.  The best comes in what Mr. Rodgers termed “the helpers” – those who respond by doing what they can to offer help, solace, love, comfort, and assistance in times of trial.  The worst comes when people begin to place blame on others for causing these events, which are out of human control.  The pain of these tragedies becomes exacerbated when people   use these tragedies as political or theological platforms to attack other people.   These incredible demonstrations of nature’s power have left many of us feeling a myriad of emotions and asking some difficult questions, such as where is God in all of this?

I have read many different articles and reflections this week, concerning God’s role in tragedy and the call to respond.   I have found that one of the most thought provoking reflections for me comes   from Reverend MaryAnn McKibben Dana, in her recent blog post entitled When Bad Theology Happens to Good People.  I recommend that you give it a read.  MaryAnn’s reflection is certainly not the only person to have tackled this issue over the last week.  What blogs and/or reflections have you read that continue the conversation? 

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program (PDA), is one of the best programs helping with disaster assistance in Oklahoma, and around the worlds is the.    For more information on the PDA, program click here

Impatiently Waiting

Last week I awoke to the lovely sound of what seemed like every person in my neighborhood mowing his or her grass.  This week, for the first time in a very long time the sun had come out, and the weather felt a lot more like spring than the 83rd day of February.  (It was snowing here just two short weeks ago)

The welcome change in the weather and the subsequent sounds of lawn equipment running reminded me that it was time for me to get out into the yard.  I decided this year that I would fill in the bare spots of the lawn and finally get around to planting that flowerbed outside the front window of the house.

As I spent most of the day digging, raking, pulling weeds, and planting things, I began to get excited about the prospect of what this new flower garden would look like.  I imagined an idyllic scene sitting on my front porch and looking over to see a beautifully manicured flowerbed, full of colorful plants and flowers.  I dreamed of rolling around my lush green lawn and feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment. 

A few days later, I decided to check the progress of all that hard work.  Much to my chagrin, the yard looked more like a project getting started than something out of Better Homes & Gardens. The grass had not grown full and green, the plants had not flowered, and everything was a mess.  I felt neither joy or nor a sense accomplishment looking over my landscape. Instead, I felt angry and frustrated- I felt like I had failed. I had worked hard to get them going.  I did everything the directions said to do to make these things grow- and here they were barely begging to sprout. I wanted those plants to grow, and I wanted them to grow today!

I find that in the church, like my yard, I have little patience for waiting.  I worked hard today, and I want results tomorrow.   I want to see flowers and green grass, but I forget all the hard work it takes to get there.  Perhaps, many of you feel the same is true for you.  We spend hours of time preparing the ground, pulling the weeds, planting, and watering- and sometimes things just do not grow the way that we want them to. We work hard, but it is easy to get frustrated with the slow pace of growth, and the ever present amount of hard work needed to simply keep things growing. We become frustrated when we do not see big and bold results.  We lose hope or become despondent when the yard that does appear is not the yard we wanted to appear.

Sunday is Pentecost, a stark reminder that our hard work as a church is not quite over.  When the Holy Spirit is the gardener, the results do not always look the way we might want- but there is always something going on, something growing and being nurtured.   Even a yard of half-planted flowers and a few weeds can be precious in God's sight. 

It is often hard for us to remember, but our role is to let go and enjoy the process.  We also need to trust and appreciate that all that hard work will indeed pay off.  Keeping the ground fertile for the movement of God’s Spirit is no easy task.  Nevertheless, those moments of backbreaking labor and hands swollen with blisters all seem insignificant when God brings something new into the world. 

 So church friends, how do you feel about your spiritual yard? What do you do to help things grow?  What keeps you motivated?  What frustrates you?

   

Rev. James Gale joins the Synod staff

Friends of the SoMA, It is with great excitement that I write to tell you that, beginning February 6, 2013, Rev. James Gale will be joining the synod staff as Director of Operations and Program Assistant.

Rev. Gale has been a Teaching Elder in the PC(USA) since 2004, and has served in a variety of ways during his ministry. In addition to pastorates at Rivermont Presbyterian Church (Kinston, NC, New Hope Presbytery) and Shawnee Presbyterian Church (Shawnee, KS, Heartland Presbytery), he has served as a Young Adult Volunteer in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as a member of New Church Development, Evangelism, and Stewardship (as chair) committees in the New Hope and Heartland Presbyteries, and has been a faithful and instrumental member of our synod's Church Development Corporation's Board of Directors since 2010.

This is an exciting time in the SoMA's work. With the Commissioners' establishment of the Missional Priorities in October, Rev. Gale sees the great potential for mission and ministry in our region:

“In a time in which many see the future of Synods as uncertain and challenging, I am excited to join the staff of the SoMA. I believe this is a time of great opportunity and innovation, and I’m confident that we will be at the forefront of that work. Our synod has the opportunity to be a pioneer and principle innovator for the future of the PC(USA), and I am excited to join in that process.”

In his work, Rev. Gale will oversee many of the SoMA's day to day operations, filling the very big shoes of our former colleague, Kerry Lancaster, who retired last March after 35 years. However, due to his skills, passion, and creativity, the SoMA will also benefit from Rev. Gale's assistance in fulfilling our Missional Priorities through program support.

During the first part of the year, I will introduce you to Rev. Gale at the stated meetings of our presbyteries. I look forward to you getting to know him.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Landon Whitsitt, Executive & Stated Clerk

GA Commissioner Training with the synods of Lincoln Trails and Lakes and Praries

AN INVITATION COMMISSIONER ORIENTATION FOR COMMISSIONERS TO THE 220TH GENERAL ASSEMBLYFrom the Presbyteries of The Synods of Lincoln Trails, Mid-America and Lakes and Prairies

WHO:

Executive and General Presbyters of the Synods of Lincoln Trails, Mid-America, and Lakes and Prairies Stated Clerks of the Synods’ Presbyteries

WHAT:

A Day of Orientation – to prepare for participation in the 220th General Assembly To meet and converse with commissioners from your own, and all, of our presbyteries

Leadership will be provided by Carol McDonald, Executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails and by Landon Whitsitt, Executive of the Synod of Mid-America and Vice Moderator of the 219th General Assembly.  In addition, a cast of “thousands” will be present by video interview!

WHEN:

Saturday, May 12, 2012 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. CDT Or Saturday, May 19, 2012 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. CDT (Live Streaming will be available at http://www.livestream.com/synodofmidamerica)

WHERE:

May 12:  Hilton Garden Inn – Merrillville, IN Just East of I-65 and just north of US-30 at Exit 253 of I-65

May 19:  Southminster Presbyterian Church 6306 Roe Avenue, Prairie Village, KS 66208

WHY:

Learning…preparation…conversation…partnership…communication…

PLEASE RSVP to Kristi Miller – kristi@lincolntrails.org by Friday, May 4, 2012, for the May 12 event.  Reply by Friday, May 10, for the May 19 event.  When you respond, please let her know if you have any particular “food issues” – allergies, vegetarian, etc.  It will also be helpful to have an estimate of how many folks might be interested in the live streaming option.

Lunch will be provided.  We hope your presbytery will assist with your travel expenses.  After you register, we will send a schedule for the day and a map to help you locate the Hilton Garden Inn or Southminster Presbyterian Church.

The Holiness of the Church

F-1.0302b address the Holiness of the Church.

Holiness is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. Through the love of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God takes away the sin of the world. The holiness of the Church comes from Christ who sets it apart to bear witness to his love, and not from the purity of its doctrine or the righteousness of its actions.

Regardless of anything else we can, may, or do say about "holiness," this the most important concept is this: The Church has no holiness apart from Christ. We are holy only because Christ is holy. The Body is holy because the head is holy. We have no holiness in and of ourselves. It is because of the love of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that our sins are taken away. End of discussion.

And what does it mean for us to "be holy"? It is not the connotations that we usually drum up about being "better than thou." Rather, when Christians talk of "holiness" they are speaking of being set apart, specifically, being "set apart to bear witness to [Christ's] love." To be holy is to be different. To be holy means we get caught up in the ways that Christ directs us, not the ways of the world (false dichotomy accepted). When Jesus is instructing his disciples in Mark 10:35-35 about servant leadership and says "But it is not so among you," he is talking about their holiness.

Our holiness does not come from our ability to believe or act correctly. To be sure, we should still give care to our beliefs and actions, but all too often we are concerned to build a "firewall fo orthodoxy" as if that is the reason God has set us apart. If we have been set apart to bear witness to love, then our doctrines and actions should flow from that calling. However, we typically based our understanding of the Church's calling on whatever doctrines seem to reflect the actions we have already taken.

Because in Christ the Church is holy, the Church, its members, and those in its ordered ministries strive to lead lives worthy of the Gospel we proclaim. In gratitude for Christ’s work of redemption, we rely upon the work of God’s Spirit through Scripture and the means of grace (W-5.5001) to form every believer and every community for this holy living. We confess the persistence of sin in our corporate and individual lives. At the same time, we also confess that we are forgiven by Christ and called again and yet again to strive for the purity, righteousness, and truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ and prom- ised to all people in God’s new creation.

To be set apart is to be formed, but formed how? We know for what - we are formed to bear witness to Christ's love. Yet, how is this accomplished? This paragraph references "The Directory  for Worship" (DFW) and the "means of grace" listed there. These means are:

  1. participation in public worship
  2. acts of service, witness, and compassion
  3. rest and re-creation
These, the DFW says, should be what gives shape to the life of the believer. We should come together with other disciples, proclaim that it is Christ's love who sets us free from our bondage, service and minister to those yearning to be set free from bondage, and then (this is my favorite) practice being free by taking sabbath. This truth is so convicting to me.
We do not demonstrate the freedom of Christ's love by mouthing off about our "more true" beliefs or actions. We demonstrate the freedom of Christ's love by not getting caught up in all the crap that the rest of the world gets caught up in.
We have not changed since the days of the People being led out of Egypt. They were so used to being slaves that God had to mandate a new way of being and behaving that allowed them to practice their freedom. We still have the problem of being held captive to all sorts of issues that do not encourage us to (as Philippians says) "treat others as better than ourselves."
The "pursuit" is not what God is about. "Rest" is what God is about. We we rest, we acknowledge that there is nothing requiring our striving. As the Psalmist says, "Why do you get up early and stay up late? Why do you eat the bread of anxious toil?" (Psalm 127)
To be holy is to be set apart and bear witness to the fact that Christ's love does not require anxious toil. Christ requires that we rest and ensure the rest of others.

Congregational Leadership Training Curriculum - TAKE 2

Thank God for social media. Yesterday was quite fun for a guy like me as I threw out an idea and got some great feedback. Let's do it again, shall we? As I reflected on comments, a few things began coming clear to me:

  1. Ruling Elders and Deacons are not Teaching Elders. This might be a "duh" statement for you, but I was operating under the assumption that REs and Ds would (across the board) want the kind of sustained education TEs get. Some might, but not all. As such, many (most?) REs and Ds see themselves (and rightly so) as members who are serving a particular function for a while. The kind of education they need may not be extensive theological education, but weighted heavier towards the practical kinds of education.
  2. Ruling Elders and Deacons are called to a deeper level of reflection, given the nature of their calling. While they are still primarily "members" they have been called to a position of responsible servanthood that requires more reflection than they have previously employed. For instance, the Book of Order gives responsibility to the Session to shepherd the church in accordance within the parameters of Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity. The Session needs to be conversant in these parameters.
  3. Congregation members expect that their elected leaders are already "qualified" to serve.  We elect persons to serve our communities because we expect them to have the gifts and skill necessary to do so. Ostensibly, Nominating Committees are looking for person that already exhibit the qualities of Christian discipleship.

Here's the new assumption I would like to test:

Persons should be more intentionally taught the basics of "being Presbyterian" when they join a local congregation. Jesus was clear that one should know what they're getting into ("No one who puts their hand to the plow..."), so we should place a renewed emphasis on basic understandings and competencies needed to simply be a member. From that foundation one can engage specific kinds of information needed to serve a congregation.

If you buy that assumption (along with the previous assumptions about lack of time to adequately train leaders, video formet, etc.), I propose a three tiered education track to address the challenge.

(And, of course, the market department would need to "sexy up" the language.)

Tier 1: Foundations of Presbyterian Discipleship

Persons who request membership in a Presbyterian congregation are asked to affirm the following questions:

a.     Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?

b.     Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?

c.      Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?

d.     Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill your calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

In order to confidently and sincerely affirm their intention to keep these vows, persons must have a working knowledge of how Presbyterians and the Reformed movement understand some basic concepts and ideas. To that end:

  • An “Introduction to Reformed Theology and its History” will offer foundational understandings of sin, evil, and their renunciation in response to Christ’s grace and love. (questions a, b & c)
  • An “Introduction to the Old and New Testaments” will offer foundational understandings of the Word of God (Jesus Christ), as witnessed to by the word of God (Scripture). (question c)
  • An “Introduction to the Mission of the Church” will offer foundational understandings of discipleship as it is lived out in a congregational setting, including reflection on spiritual practice, stewardship, continued education, and missional participation. (question d)

Tier 2: Preparation for Ordered Ministry

Persons who are elected to service through Ordered Ministry are asked to affirm the following questions:

 a.   Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

b.   Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?

c.   Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

d.   Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

e.   Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline?

f.    Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit? Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?

g.   Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?

h.   Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

i.    (For ruling elder) Will you be a faithful ruling elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture, and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in councils of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ? (For deacon) Will you be a faithful deacon, teaching charity, urging concern, and directing the people’s help to the friendless and those in need, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

In order to confidently and sincerely affirm their intention to keep these vows, persons serving in ordered ministry must have a foundational understanding of how Presbyterians view our corporate life. To that end, courses of study in:

  • “Basic Ecclesiology” will inform the ordered minister’s understanding of the nature and relationship of the Church, universal and particular. (questions a, b, & g)
  • “Presbyterian Polity and Governance” will inform the ordered minister’s understanding of the covenantal particularities of the PC(USA), and the processes used to effectively facilitate it. (questions e & i)
  • “Presbyterian Confessions” will inform the ordered minister’s understanding of the nature of the confessional theology of the PC(USA). (questions c & d)
  • “Personal and Interpersonal Awareness” will inform the ordered minister’s understanding of the gifts and skills God has given them and how to live in a community with other unique children of God. (questions f & h)
  • “Reformed Worship” will inform the ordered minister’s understanding of a congregation’s primary corporate spiritual practice. (question i)
  • “Gifts and Qualifications for Ordered Ministry” will inform the ordered minister’s understanding of the particular functions they have been called to fulfill for the sake of the church.

Tier 3: Preparation for Service as a Commissioned Ruling Elder

The Book of Order allows a presbytery to commission Ruling Elders to limited pastoral service. These individuals can be granted permission to moderate a Session, administer sacraments, and officiate at marriages.  These persons are asked to affirm the following question (in addition to the questions for ordination/installation):

Will you be a faithful ruling elder in this commission, serving the people by proclaiming the good news, teaching faith and caring for the people, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

In order to confidently and sincerely affirm their intention to keep these vows, Commissioned Ruling Elders (CREs) must be equipped to perform basic pastoral functions. To that end, courses of study in:

  • “Group Moderation" will equip CREs to understand and lead groups in discernment and decision-making. This will include basics of parliamentary procedure along with various strategies used to effectively facilitate the work of a small group.
  • “Leading Reformed Worship” will equip CREs to confidently plan and lead worship services, and to understand the various elements of worship (including the sacraments) and how they translate to the ongoing life of a congregation and its members.
  • “Basic Proclamation” will equip CREs to confidently prepare and deliver sermons and to create and lead Christian Education experiences.
  • “Basic Pastoral Care” will equip CREs to confidently care for their fellow disciples.
Okay... Have at it.

A curriculum for training congregational leaders

UPDATE: Based on feedback here (and elsewhere) I've refined the following idea and posted it here. I want to throw something against the wall and see if it sticks.

For quite sometime now, I (Landon) have been a part of a national conversation about leadership for the church of the future. Many of us have come to believe that the crisis we are experiencing is one of leadership: Do we have the leaders we need to follow God into the future? Even though the future of the church is going to be increasingly flat in structure and egalitarian in ethos (I call that "open source"), those of us in this conversation believe that Mature Christian Leadership will be the thing that will get us through to the other side.

And, lest we get confused, we do not mean simply pastors. Quite the contrary. At least in the Presbyterian world, it is no longer tenable for our congregations to rely solely on the pastors and assume that they will be what I call the “local resident church expert.” The way forward is for us to again lift up and celebrate the different orders of ministry we believe God has given us: Deacons, Ruling Elders, and Teaching Elders. When we say “Mature Christian Leaders” we must stop assuming that we are referring solely to pastors.

Yet here is the problem: How do we ensure that our Ruling Elders and Deacons are formed into Mature Christian Leaders? As a Teaching Elder, I was required to attend one of the finest theological institutions in the world (our 10 Presbyterian seminaries consistently rank among the best theological institutions in industry survey after survey), but what about my sisters and brothers who are not called to be a Teaching Elder? They are also called to Mature Christian Leadership. How are they to be trained?

Usually, it is by their local pastor. Here’s a secret: Your local pastor often feels very ill equipped to train the other leaders of the church. There are a number of reasons for this. Let me highlight two.

  1. A pastor fresh from seminary may not feel that she has the credentials required to train her Ruling Elders and Deacons in the same manner, and to the same depth that she was trained. Not the least of which, she has a lot of other duties that keep her from preparing to the level she would like to. This is not true for every pastor. Some of us have very healthy egos, but we should totally watch out for that.
  2. Unlike most pastors, Ruling Elders and Deacons have real jobs. The “pilgrimage” model of theological formation (pick up and move across the country for seminary) that Teaching Elders experienced will just not work for them. How does one train well when time is in short supply?

Here are the hypotheses I’d like to test:

Pastors would love some sort of basic curriculum of “Church leader training”, outlining a trustworthy path they can lead the leaders they serve down. This basic curriculum needs to be modular, with topics stripped down to their essence and treated as “building blocks.” These building blocks can be used as stand alone discussion resources or strung together for a fuller “educational experience.” The end goal of the curriculum would be to lead people to a place where they feel comfortable answering the “Constitutional questions” of ordination/installation (W-4.4003) in the affirmative, and also to a place of relative comfort with the process and procedure of accomplishing the work they’ve been given.

To accomplish this, here’s what I’m gathering would be helpful:

  • A curriculum that covers the following areas (corresponding to the Constitutional questions): Bible, PCUSA polity and structure, Parliamentary procedure, Mission of the Church, Reformed History and Theology, Personal and Interpersonal awareness, Gifts and Skills assessment, Spiritual practice, Reformed Worship.
  • A curriculum that is video based, featuring presenters acknowledged to have expertise in their discipline. 8-10 minutes (no more than 15) of “information download” in a dynamic, engaging style from the presenter.
  • A curriculum that builds on video presentation by sparking relevant and timely discussion. (Perhaps open ended discussion starters in the vein of the standard ordination exams)
  • A curriculum that provides different syllabi configurations.

Feedback? Do you buy the premise? Do you buy the solution?

The Unity of the Church

The section on "The Unity of the Church" explores the first of the four "Marks of the Church": oneness (the other marks are holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity - say those three times fast).

Because in Christ the Church is one, it strives to be one.

Although this should be evident, the BOO makes clear that the Church as the Body of Christ cannot be separately related to the Christ, its head. The Body is one, the church is one.

To be one with Christ is to be joined with all those whom Christ calls into relationship with him. To be thus joined with one another is to become priests for one another, praying for the world and for one another and sharing the various gifts God has given to each Christian for the benefit of the whole community.

Echoing Paul's exposition of the Body of Christ, the BOO reminds us that we are knit together with those we may not otherwise want to be in relationship with. Christ calls all into a relationship, so we are called to serve one another as Christ serves us.

Division into different denominations obscures but does not destroy unity in Christ. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), affirming its historical continuity with the whole Church of Jesus Christ, is committed to the reduction of that obscurity, and is willing to seek and to deepen communion with all other churches within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

This is the meat of the section, in my opinion, for this is the question everyone is asking themselves. Especially in the PC(USA), where roughly every decade a group arises which threatens to split the numbers of our denomination, this is an important statement to make. We are not able to do anything to destroy the unity of the people whom God has called, but we do obscure it. When we separate, we make it harder to see the fact that Christ has called us all. Therefore, Presbyterians are called to reduce the obscurity. We have affirmed that we are the people who are committed to making it easier to see that Christ has called us all. We should not allow ourselves to consciously do anything which would communicate the opposite.

Implicit in this is the reality that we may profess with our lips that others are called to Christ, but we do not functionally believe it. We try to justify splitting ourselves off from others, but, truly, we have no ground to stand upon. As we try to make the case that we are having a "crisis of conscience" and are simply "looking for a place to stand" what we are really saying is that we do not trust Christ enough to be willing to stand next to others. It's not a "crisis of conscience" that plagues us, but a gag reflex at the thought that we are called to be priests for those other people. May God have mercy on our unbelief.

Sign up now for KS Pastors and Educators Seminar

Dates have been set for the 2012 Kansas Pastors and Church Educators Seminar. The upcoming event will be held January 9-12, 2012 at the Cross Winds conference Center near Hesston, KS and will feature Dr. MArtha Moore-Keish leading sessions on "Following Christ in a World of Religious Pluralism" and Rev. Dr. James Ayers leading sessions on "Matthew's Handbook on Discipleship." Tuition is $350 for the conference, meals and a single room, $300 for a double room, and $180 for commuters.

Download the linked brochure for more details and the registration form.

2012 KPES Brochure FINAL

The Church, the Body of Christ

Following on the heels of the last section, where it is made clear that Christ is the Head of the Church, section F-1.03 elucidates the “Calling of the Church” beginning with a discussion of the Church as “the Body of Christ” (F-1.0301). The logic is clear here: If Christ is the Head, which directs the activity of the Body, what is the direction the body is given? If the Body serves to carry out the intentions of the head, then what are those intentions? One thing is made clear in this subsection: Everything the Church has is a gift from Christ. We do not have to figure out how to be the Body, we are the Body and we have what we need. Our only job is to be faithful and intentional about the ways we demonstrate these gifts – faith, hope, love, witness.*

Before we look at each of the gifts, I am struck by the truth the BOO offers us here. Frankly, it is insulting to my self-centered, modern, western mind that we do not have to do anything to be the Church. We already are the Church. We already have the gifts to be the Church Christ intended. Our only job is one of demonstrating it. In my mind, this realization is similar to the argument we have over “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda.” Some of us love to remind the rest of us that the most faithful translation is “the church reformed, and always being reformed” (these folks are correct, they’re just usually a little arrogant about it is all). The action is not ours, but God’s. We are passive, not active. We are not a reforming people, but a people constantly and continually being reformed.

In the same way, we have these gifts from God that we must be faithful to demonstrate. Truly, these gifts are who we are. These gifts are the “true self” of the Church. As such, our first job might to be similar to what we we do in therapy – get in touch with our “true self” and learn to let the world see that self, not the false one we have created.

So what are the gifts from God that constitute our true self?

Faith

The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.

To be a community of faith means that we entrust ourselves to God alone. This is one of those truths that we reflexively acknowledge, but rarely live. We entrust ourselves to many, many things other than God. However, I like Paul Tillich’s statement about who it is that Christians should worship: We should only worship the one who determines our existence. No one else deserves worship.

We trust a good many things other than our God, amen? (It’s okay to respond to that out loud.) You and I could both offer the typical laundry list, and we would be correct, if not predictable. But it would be a predictable list because it is a true list, yes?

When it comes down to it, the ultimate question is Do you truly believe that God is the one who holds you in life and death? I’m going to give us the benefit of the doubt and say that, yes, we do believe that. Then a secondary question is How do we demonstrate this faith? It is, of course, pursuing the mission of God even at risk of losing life (my favorite phrase in the BOO).

What does it mean for the Church to lose its life? Christ’s “first body” lost its life. Are we as obedient?

Hope

The Church lives in the present on the strength of that promised new creation.

From the outset, let us affirm that there is a counter-narrative in the Scripture that makes clear that life is not all sunshine and butterflies. I think the writer of Ecclesiastes would agree that, sometimes, life just sucks. I know this to be true. A few years ago, I officiated the Service of Witness to the Resurrection for my father-in-law who took his own life. If I ever believed life was sunshine and butterflies, I stopped that day. And yet…

And yet… To me, this is what “hope” means. We can affirm that life is often not all that we want it to be, and that it is actually quite bad for a good many of God’s children, but, once we have acknowledged that, we turn and say and yet God is still up to something. God will not let this be the last word.

I have little patience for self-professed faithful Christian leaders who believe their present situation to be beyond God’s redemption. The Scripture is clear that we will appear as fools for trusting in redemption. Holding out hope that God is creating all things new makes us look like head in the sand Ostriches. We need to make peace with that.

What does it mean for the Church to believe the truth of “resurrection”?

Love

The Church is to be a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is accomplished, and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down.

And another “Well, duh” statement, yes? Again, this is something we know, but the challenge the BOO sets before us is whether we actually live it.

The phrase that jumps at me is “reconciliation is accomplished.” We are to accomplish reconciliation. We are to be the people where it is unacceptable to say, “I’m done with you.” To be sure, there is something to say for healthy boundaries, etc., but I don’t think the BOO specifically has abusive relationships in mind here. Even so, the establishment of healthy boundaries – teaching people how to treat you – is a way that right relationships are restored.

We could spin this a dozen different ways, but how is the Church accomplishing reconciliation?

Witness

The Church is to be a community of witness, pointing beyond itself through word and work to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord.

It is not enough to acknowledge to ourselves that God is the one who is transforming us, but we are to make it clear to all of creation. We are to live in a way that says, “We worship only our God, because it is only through the grace of our God that we can look forward to wholeness and reconciliation.”

In my opinion, this is evangelism. To not publicly proclaim Christ as the one who redeems our lives is to claim the credit. Evangelism is not about “winning” but being humble about our place before God.

How can the Church make clear to the world that it is God who is doing this amazing work?

*The Bible geek in me loves the fact that these are the characteristics that Paul lists in his first letter to the Thessalonians, the oldest book of the New Testament. Once, I tried in earnest to read 1 Thessalonians as if I had never read the Gospels, just to see what it might have been like to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ before the “Gospels.” I have been deeply affected ever since, that the first proclamations of the Gospel consisted of faith, hope, and love. Truly, this is what it means to be a Christian people.