Caller: I’m calling to ask permission to give our pastor a $5000 bonus. She’s done a really good job during a difficult situation. Who do I have to talk with to give her this money?
Me: You can just give her the money.
Caller: No, you don’t understand. This extra $5000 is not in her regular Terms of Call. Aren’t we doing something out of order?
Me: No really. Just give her the money.
Caller: Don’t we need the Presbytery’s permission to give her this extra income?
Me: Nope. She’ll need to report it to the IRS, but – really – you can just give her the money.
Presbyterians are law-abiding people. We have rules. We know the “shalls” from the “mays” in our constitution, and we increasingly love the word “ordinarily” because it infers a loop hole.
I find that many life-long church people have been programmed not to do what might be great for the church because it’s never seemed possible according to widely accepted rules. Examples:
- Worship can happen on Thursday nights. Or Tuesday mornings. Or whenever you wish. There is no rule that worship has to be on Sunday mornings. (Our Roman Catholic siblings get this.)
- Bible Study can happen in Denny’s. Or on a playground. Or in a circus tent – if that space is available and convenient.
- You can greet church guests in the parking lot. You don’t have to wait until they get inside the building.
- You don’t have to pass an offering plate during worship. You could have a box at the exits. You could invite people to mail it in. If offering time is when your choir sings an anthem, you can actually pick a different time for them to sing the anthem.
- You can give your pastor a $5000 bonus. That would be fine.
If all these ideas are obvious to you, that’s reassuring. My hope is that this means your congregation is indeed doing some of these things.
The job of denominational “Middle Judicatories” (e.g. Presbyteries, Synods, Districts, Associations, Regions, Dioceses) is not to be permission-givers but to resource, equip, and entrust ministry to our congregations. At least this is true in traditions without bishops.
So, get out there and do something wacky like offer Sunday School on Saturdays, or offer Bible Study in a bar. God has given us all permission, especially when shaking things up enhances our ministry.