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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.