My life’s work is often associated with everything from The Death Star to “The (oppressive) Man.”
So . . . I was grateful to witness a recent conversation in which The Presbytery (for you institutional church geeks, that’s the Middle Judicatory of my denomination) was actually credited – not blamed – for something good. In reviewing a particular church’s history at a church meeting, someone who didn’t know what he was talking about had blamed The Presbytery for the way a previous pastor had been treated. But a sage of the congregation said that – actually – it was The Presbytery who had helped the elders resolve a difficult situation while respecting the wishes of the pastor. (He had left his parish abruptly because he was sick with AIDS. It was the late 1980s.)
I find that it’s easy and common for congregations and individuals in our congregations to blame The Presbytery for everything from why it takes so long to be ordained to why they can’t call the pastor they really want, even if the desired pastor is a (take your pick:) trouble-maker, serial adulterer, criminal, bully. Trust is at a new low, and yet, I’d like to share some of “the secrets” of the Presbytery (and why we are considered mean/out-of-touch/untrustworthy.)
- The Presbytery won’t let a church begin the process to call a new pastor. Perceived reason why: We “want their building.” We “can make money off of them by putting condos on their land.” We don’t care about them. We want their church to die. Real reason why: They don’t have enough money to pay their utility bills much less pay for a pastor. Or They have serious issues that need to be resolved before bringing a new pastor in.
- The Presbytery is asking a candidate for ordination to slow down his/her ordination process. Perceived reason why: They were essentially hazed during their own processes, so now they are hazing me. They are bullies. They are inferior pastors/elders themselves misusing their power to control my life. They are nit-pickers. Real reasons why: You turned your papers in late/with numerous typos/after obviously writing them on a bus on the way to the meeting. You act like you are unteachable and all pastors must be life-long learners. You have issues after your family of origin died in a fiery crash and you have avoided counseling. You roll your eyes at us when we ask honest questions about theology. You act defensive as if we are challenging your theology when we are actually making sure you can articulate what you believe clearly – because some day a ten year old might ask you what The Trinity is all about.
- The Presbytery won’t give money to help us. Perceived reasons why: Because you are a conservative congregation/a liberal congregation/a small congregation/ a rural congregation/ an urban congregation. Because The Presbytery pays big bucks to support their staff. Real reasons why: Several of our partner churches give zero money to shared mission giving and so we don’t have the funds to help you as we would like. It’s up to churches to at least try to raise most of the money for their own mission and building projects. You want to use the money to install a new church sign and a new sign won’t change the culture of your congregation – which is what’s really needed.
I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that some of our churches and church leaders refuse to dance with the ones who brought them along. When a suspicious elder recently asked me, “What are your intentions for our church?” I said, “We want you to make disciples of every person in this neighborhood. We want you to thrive and grow and help broken people. We want you to be a haven of hope in this community.”
We also want:
- The best trained, healthiest pastors on the planet.
- The best equipped disciples possible, so that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.
- Lively, thriving, faithfully mature congregations that bless the city and beyond.
Sometimes this is not what our congregations and leaders seem to want in their heart of hearts.