Sunday, September 17, 2006

Presbytery Transformation: Permission Giving

In Wednesday's post I spoke about the Presbytery's transformation team's initial paper. Markus Watson and I have agreed to blog our way through it (see his post here)

The three main points are to become Mission Shaped, Permission Giving, and Outcome oriented. And by way of interacting with Markus' comments, I'm going to focus on Permission Giving. Unfortunately, the document is not yet on the presbytery website, so I'll reproduce the Permission giving info here:

Can we be honest? Most presbyteries are low on permission-giving and high on process, regulation and control. A non-technical definition of permission-giving might be: if someone has a good idea that will move God's mission forward, they ought to be able just to do it without securing a bunch of permissions from multi-layered, overly-processed governing bodies. Many fine leaders avoid presbytery committees because it takes too much work to accomplish so little that matters. A permission giving presbytery will receive, more than decide upon, and participate in, more than implement.

Paradoxically, the two keys to creating a permission-giving culture are 1) building trust among ourselves so that we will say "no" to bad and non-missional ideas, and 2) building trust so that we will hold people and groups accountable for their behavior and their outcomes. That kind of mutual trust in a Presbytery will mean considerable change for most, and lots of risk. Yet the missional call to follow Jesus Christ is always a risk.

What made me think of this topic was Markus's writing:
See, I know why I'm a Christian--because Jesus loves me. I know why I'm a pastor--because I want others to know this love of Jesus. But I don't really know why I'm a Presbyterian. I come from a family of Presbyterians and have always attended Presbyterian churches, but that's only because my dad is also a Presbyterian pastor. So I'm basically a Presbyterian by default. When I met with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry here in Cincinnati as part of the call-process to Union Presbyterian Church, I was asked what excites me about the PCUSA. And I couldn't answer that question. What excites me is ministry! What excites me is my relationship with Jesus Christ! What excites me is seeing others discover Christ's love for them! But there's really nothing about the PCUSA that excites me.

I've shared some frustrations -- often times, while serving on presbytery committees, I felt as though I were fodder being used in executing someone else's dream. I had signed on to the committee and suddenly discovered that there was a whole slew of work that I wasn't terribly interested in, but still assigned to that committee anyway because "somebody had to do it". And since the somebodies who cared about that work were forced to rotate off after 6 years of service, it was expected that someone else would just rise up to fill the positions.

Can we be honest -- this is one of the reasons of disengagement. It is much easier for me to go off and ad hoc partner with a few churches on things that we really care about than it is for me to try to make a sales pitch to a presbytery committee, wait for their meeting to come around, and then see what they decide. That, I think, is what the transformation team's proposal is about.

In the bullet points that flesh out the idea of permission giving, the ones that really caught my eye had to do with the disestablishing all presbytery committees (except those required by the Book of Order) and encouraging the formation of ad hoc ministry teams that had to have a clear vision, recruit their own members, and could apply for presbytery funding. This idea will cause a hue and cry -- the warriors will brandish their swords and blow the dust of their muskets to save their precious committees.

I understand -- for people have invested their lives, their passions, and their interests in these committees. They've worked very hard to build structures that could be a witness to their faithfulness. It will be gut wrenching to watch what they worked for for decades cease to exist. However, I suggest that if they took the time to invest in people who also cared for their pet ministry -- and they could gather a few of those around, then they would be in better shape than before.

Imagine if people who cared about New Church Development could just run off and fly doing new church development without being bogged down listening to reports on congregational renewal grants. And the people who cared about congregational renewal could work together without hearing boring reports about the presbytery website and advertising efforts. etc etc etc. The Small church committee would continue to thrive because there are people who really care about small churches. The Mission Committee would sub-divide into about five working groups, each promoting specific mission projects all through the presbytery.

We'll be faster and more nimble in creation of new ministries -- but Council will also have to be more ready to tell a ministry that it's time to fold up shop (and I hope they will do so pastorally and have a really great party for that ministry).

I do have one concern -- nowhere do I see any definitions of boundaries except that we're united in Christ. I know that this is a big tent denomination -- but sometimes that works against us. For instance, consider the abortion issue. I'm pretty darn pro life and frankly it offends me that our denomination for so long has taken the most radical stand (until this past General Assembly) on the abortion issue -- basically advocating abortion on demand, no parental notification or anything (again, this was modified by some very wise actions at this past GA). However there are Presbyterians who see this issue very differently -- and they belive that my stances are oppressive and patriarchal. I recognize that they have every right to hold those beliefs, but when it comes to denominational policy, we can't both get our way. These differences are rooted not just in gut reactions, but also in theology, hermeneutics and understanding of the nature of biblical authority. My point being -- how does a permission giving presbytery operate in such an environment? What will Council do when the abortion on demand group submits a proposal for a particular ministry of political activism and then the restrict abortion access group submits a counter-proposal? Do we fund both? Do we decide that neither in this case? Do we make a policy that we don't fund political activism? And then there are a host of other similar issues (consider the current Israel/Palestine flap -- bioethics -- sexual wholeness -- evangelism -- interfaith relations -- the list goes on and on). Simply put, our understanding of the Missio Dei is deeply rooted in our theology and our approach to biblical authority.

I suggest that we'll need more than structures to help us through these waters -- we'll need habits of being. Council will have to be disciplined and fair. We may have to say "no" to a lot more than we think we do, if nothing else, for the sake of keeping the peace. Pastor Lance of FullCourtPresby had this to say on Markus' blog:
I hope that this exciting development in your presbytery actually takes root. Demand it. Fight for it. Do not settle for going back to the “way things have always been.” I served on my presbytery’s long range planning committee while it developed a similar strategy for the Presbytery of Olympia. After several years and many changes the plan was adopted. Within a few years the presbytery had thrown out most of the changes and went back to doing things the “way they had always been done.” Don’t let that happen in your presbytery!

The work will only be 25% completed when the changes are implemented—and that is the easiest part of the work. It will take a long time for the changes to become a part of the culture of the presbytery. Sailboats have a rudder that is used to change the course the boat is traveling. The rudder is ineffective while the boat is stationary. As the boat gains speed the rudder becomes very effective. DO NOT let up until the presbytery has completed the change in course and those changes have become a part of the fabric of the presbytery’s ethos.

Well said.

We shall see....
Soli Deo Gloria