Raising up Leaders

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?

Your small church could also have a full time pastor!

I am sitting at the Fall meeting of the Committee on Theological Education, and we were just showed a video of a fantastic program, For Such a Time as This.

For Such a Time as This: A Small Church Residency — Growing Leaders, Growing Churches is a timely and innovative program that pairs small, underserved congregations with recent seminary graduates in a two-year pastoral residency relationship during which they are supported and guided by a network of pastor/mentors, presbytery, seminary, and national church leaders.

One of our member presbyteries, Heartland Presbytery, is already significantly invested in this new venture, with two different pastors participating. One of those, Rev. Jason Ku, is serving First Presbyterian in Holden, MO. The Holden church has seen significant success in growing Christ's church both deep and wide.

Click here to watch the promotional video (featuring both Rev. Ku and Heartland's Executive Presbyter, Rev. Charles Spencer).

If you or your church is interested in either participating in or giving to the program visit the For Such a Time as This website.