Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Humbly Requesting that the Church's Natural Leaders Serve the Church, Despite the Aggro

I received a comment on yesterday's post from Alex, who I know speaks for many:
Perhaps if the PC(USA) got rid of its "affirmative action" policies o the 60s era, the "tall steeple pastors" would feel more welcome to serve as part of the leadership of the denomination. But my question is: Why would a tall steeple pastor like Vic Pentz WANT to serve as a leader in the denomination on the national level? Churches like Peachtree Pres, quite frankly, don't need the structures/organization that the PCUSA provides, because they already have the available personnel, money, resources, capital etc to do their own programming exactly the way they want to without help from the Presbytery/Synod/GA.
I agree completely.

The big successful churches, who produce most of the growth and carry out most of the local programs of the denomination, need the Presbyterian Church (USA) less than other congregations do. But the denomination needs them. The pastors of tall steeple churches are not the best pastors in the church -- fine pastors are found in all kinds of congregations, and each kind of congregation needs a different kind of pastor. My point is that the denomination needs tall steeple pastors, and their equivalents among the Ruling Elders, to bring their leadership and expertize to help run the denominational structures, too.

So how do we get tall steeple pastors and leading elders to want to invest their precious time and energy in leading the PC(USA)? We honor their leadership. In sociological terms, we pay them in status. We thank them for the wise work they have done, and ask them, nicely, to take on further tasks for the larger church even though that takes them away from their main job, which is running a major local congregation.

The successful leaders of our major congregations, both ministers and elders, are the core of that great collective resource of the church, its Establishment. Of course there are ministers and elders who are not in tall steeple churches who should be in that Establishment, too. We should honor them and ask them nicely to serve the whole denomination, even though they, too, have more pressing local matters to attend to.

The big difference is that we used to honor the people we wanted to be our Establishment because we knew they had better things to do. Now we treat them with suspicion. Not surprisingly, they skip the denominational structure and go about the business of being church. Sometimes, in frustration, they create parallel denomination-like structures so that they can get on with it already, without all the politics and aggravation.

We need to honor the Establishment precisely because being the Establishment is a costly sacrifice.


Clay Allard said...

One of the most dangerous things about words is that two people can use the same word, mean different things by it, and not know that there is a miscommunication.
Now that I understand what establishment means in your context, have we not done this before-- destroy a whole infrastructure that the PC(USA) had built, and send it spinning off into independence-- with the PC(USA) colleges? Wasn't that when the tall steeple guys were still in control, back in the early '60's?
I don't know, I'm just asking questions. Perhaps this latest disintegration is just the continuation of a long process. Just wondering.

Gruntled said...

It seems to me that if a church spins off its colleges (or hospitals, or radio stations, or a hundred other tools) that might be an acceptable evolution. On the other hand, if a church "spins off" its congregations -- and its largest, most active, most dynamic ones at that -- that is not evolution; that is disintegration.

Monte Johnston said...

I have read your proposal and saw your interview with Moderator. I have to say that your proposal really resonates with what I have seen at presbytery.

The counsel of our presbytery is filled with elders and ministers from smaller churches. Well-intentioned as they are, they do not have the experience of dealing organizational issues at that level. I am thinking of a budget over a million dollars, a dozen staff, and thousands of constituents. Whereas, the tall steeple pastors do. The result is that the presbytery staff controls the agenda. A contributing factor is that the members of the counsel do not feel that they have the power to stand up the staff, where a pastor from one of the largest contributing congregations would. The tall-steeples pastors cannot check the influence of the staff, because they are outside of the process.

The end result is that all of us feel disempowered.

Clay Allard said...

My point in looking at the disintegration of the colleges and the PC(USA) in the time that the establishment functioned was to say that perhaps the problem is not in the structure.
It's hard to look at the current situation with the colleges and not say that the actions taken were not the best course; they were short-sighted and money-driven.
Dumb decisions are made by tall steeples and short ones. You question the decisions of the current leaders, but the leadership which you long for made very similar unwise decisions. Perhaps the problem is not in who is making the decisions as the vision/theology/worldview that is driving the decision-makers.
And Monte has his finger on the real danger in front of us-- not a vacumum of establishment, but the increasing power and lack of accountability of presbytery staff.

Gruntled said...

The church is staff-drive because it does not have an Establishment of ministers and elders with independent authority.

José Solano said...

Sounds like we've got a new form of the antidisestablishmentarianism debate. I'm with the antidisestablishmentarians, though I'm not a Presbyterian.

I don't know much about Presbyterian Church politics. I'm a Mennonite but I attend a very small Presbyterian Church of about 40 active members in my community because the nearest Mennonite Church is far away.

Dwindling membership forced the closing of one of the two small Presbyterian churches in the same small county. There was considerable animosity exchanged in this process. One of the buildings was sold and with the money they considered adding two rooms to the remaining very old structure.

When I started attending this church the ruling elders—truly elders in their seventies and eighties—were engaged in endless quarrels and contradictions in their meetings, making motions and forgetting what they had decided and then either repeating the motions a couple of weeks later or overturning them, on and on. Attending sessions seemed as if I was entering a nursing home of senior citizens.

Through great patience, perseverance and much encouragement from my wife, I worked with them. I persuaded them to build a new sanctuary on a large empty lot they had right in front of the main road of our rapidly growing village on the Pacific Coast rather that adding to the hidden away old structure. I designed the building and I was made chairman of the building committee and construction manager. I steered them through the entire building process, gaining permits, subcontracting, etc.

The pastor, also in his eighties, was supportive of constructing the new building but he eventually was justifiably sacked since he was never involved in the community and the congregation was getting smaller and couldn't afford his salary. I advised them to just go with visiting pastors that were much cheaper and better preachers anyway.

Though very few wanted any part in the initial construction process after they saw that it was really coming to fruition they suddenly began to take over and control the finishing. They no longer wanted to hear anything I, the non-Presbyterian, would suggest so I stepped aside and let them finish their own building. I was also a pacifist among a very militaristic congregation.

It worked out great because they then dug into their deep pockets and found money for all sorts of things they never before wanted to invest in. The desire to take over after all the hard work was done prompted them to put in expensive finishing touches, though ignoring more important elements such as putting in a stairway to a second floor that I had already had framed and finished. They also bought a $60,000 organ which the music director could barely play.

They do have as of October a very lovely church building that another generation may wisely use.

The project helped a congregation that was constantly bickering and yelling at each other come together and work towards a common goal: finishing the building and taking over my leadership position as project manager and congregation energizer to raise funds and complete the project. My mission was nevertheless accomplished with about 95% success.

This group of elders would grab just about anyone who might join and vote him/her in as elder. You mentioned something about "establishment memory" being lost. In this case it's just lost memory and there is no establishment. On the positive side these octogenarians are hard workers. For instance, they decided to cut down all the lovely healthy trees on the side of the new building because they feared they may fall on the building. Very hard workers.

Members of the synod would come down, talk to them and were very supportive of what I was doing but they would go away and things would go back to the usual. They could use a lot more direction from an establishment.

But this has been merely a material question, that is, a building project. Because they are quite old they have retained by rote some of the essential teachings of the Scriptures and I fear that higher disestablishment church members might eventually bring to them homosexualist propaganda to add to the pro-abortion teaching the Presbyterians already endorse. These old timers, in their yearning to be young and modern would quickly fall for this delusion.

Let me just add a final thought. In my own Mennonite Church we have a problem similar to what you have identified in your essay. Although it is not codified in quotas they certainly seek to have representation from varied groups rather than seeking those who are firmly grounded in Scripture and can make learned teachers of sound doctrine. They select people because they may be charming, play well with children, are young or are women.

As with most churches these days there is also an articulate homosexualist cohort, fortunately still well in the minority, but they did try to stack the body of elders with heretics. The pastor and a number of pillars of the church held off the coup. In that sense it may be said that we have an "establishment" that follows both Scripture and our written Confession of Faith.

I just wanted to share this. I hope I've provided some interesting reading, though somewhat lengthy for a comment.

Keep up your good work Beau.

Many blessings.

Jared said...

I've been reading your paper and listening to the interview several times.

I need to take time to sit down (again) and pen my thoughts (again) - because it is certainly the case that allowing these thoughts to percolate over time has changed my opinions (in some places) and helped me to articulate my previously-held opinions (in other places.) I have lost more sleep than I care to admit to laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and pondering this conversation. For the conversation, I am grateful.

That being said, a quick question...

One of the proposals you make is the elimination of the YAD (or YAAD) program as it exists today, and the replacement of it with a "leadership development program."

I would be really interested to hear whether you have looked at other organizations who do this kind of thing well, and given any thought to how that may or may not apply to this case.

Let me explain briefly where this comes from.

I was listening to an interview on the radio the other day. The interviewee was a higher-up in the Republican party. He told the story of a young man who ran for the presidency of the College Republicans.

The young man almost lost the election - but won, thanks to a heated fight over the recount. In the process, the young man was noticed by then-President Elect George Herbert Walker Bush (George the elder, not George the younger.) Bush recruited him to join his staff, and we now know that man as Karl Rove (of course, that was his name all along, but we didn't know it back then.)

Now, no matter what you think of the U.S. political landscape, and no matter what kind of emotion (positive or negative) you are overcome by when you hear the name "Karl Rove," I think we would be hard pressed to argue that Rove has not become a key, integral member of the Republican Party establishment. And, clearly, discovering new talent for the party's benefit is one of the purposes for the party's support of College Republicans.

So....my question is...

What do organizations that do that kind of long-term leadership incubation do similarly? If we're going to talk about reforming the YAAD program, what do we need to learn from those other structures?

(As an aside, I believe you and I would disagree a bit on some of the finer points of the theological necessity of involving youth and young adults in the leadership of the Church - but I'm not trying to tackle that in this question...that is for another post.)

Thanks for any response you can provide.

Gruntled said...

There are some leadership development programs for youth in the Presbyterian Church already. I think the one that could be most readily adapted to use at the national level would be Celtic Cross. But other models could be developed, too. The seminary students have a significant role as assistants at the GA. I don't know if the GA could absorb all the YAADs as helperss, but some compromise could be worked out.