Monthly Archives: October 2011

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

Don’t forget about OASIS, a Christian Education event sponsored by Mid-Central APCE, Heartland Presbytery, and the SoMA. Held at the Elms Hotel and Resort in Excelsior Springs, MO on October 23-25, you can still register for $189. This year’s speaker is Mark Devries and worship is led by David Gambrell. This is not an event to be missed!