27 March 2009

THE ADVENTURES OF GRAYING PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: You can lead an elder to water, but can you make him think?

“OK. We’ve got elder training covered. How about the deacons,” Rex asked?

“That’s not as hard as you might imagine,” Red responded. “Back in the Winter of ’77, George Washington had the same problem over at Valley Forge. Baron von Steuben had the answer, He trained a cadre—two representatives from each Regiment—who then went back to teach their respective parent Regiments. Our elders, once trained, will examine and train the deacons.”

Rex nodded. “I think the harder part will be convincing some of our elders that they need to be trained. And expect some to resist the expectation that they become spiritual leaders and overseers rather than bean counters.”

"You’re right, Pastor. Those who really are not called to be ruling elders will be the toughest to deal with. We know the difficulty that the Nominating Committee has had in getting folks to stand for election as an elder or deacon. In their desperation, they have taken anyone who will volunteer, and the session has failed in its duty to examine the candidates. So, the process of educating the elders and deacons will not necessarily be a one-shot deal.”

Red continued, “My First Sergeant used to say that ‘The best time to plant a tree is 25 years ago. The next best time is today.’ We need to at least start the process. The good news is that the denomination has created a wonderful resource for us.”

Rex picked up the phone and called Ellen Klass. After explaining the discussion he and Red had just completed, he asked “Would you be willing to join Red in asking me to call a special meeting of the session to discuss elder training?”

“Gladly. Can we do it as a Sunday School class so more folks can attend?”

And so it begins. Will the session balk? Will anyone resign? Can they get the Leadership Training Manuals from GA in time for the first class? Join us next time for answers as we follow the adventures of Graying Pres.

25 March 2009

THE ADVENTURES OF GRAYING PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: “Hey, guys, do we have a neat trip planned or what?”

“But how do we begin,” Red asked? Rex frowned and tiredly shook his head.

Red continued. “Rhetorical question, Pastor; just kidding. We start by training the session and the deacons. And the best way to do that is to get involved with the “Penn’s Woods Ministry Network.” A friend of mine is an elder at Frog’s Neck. He told me that PWMN is planning a joint leadership training weekend for the sessions and candidates for election as ruling elders of all three churches in a couple of weeks. I know that we would be welcomed into the Network and it would give our elders an opportunity to meet with, work with, and fellowship with some pretty astute church leaders.”

“Will that work?”

“Yeah, it will. The Kansas-Missouri Ministry Network recently did the same thing. I have friends at all four churches out there in God’s country, including a pastor who went through the war with me. The elders have all reported that it was one of the best ‘leadership’ events they have ever attended.”

“But will it work here?”

“Why not? The elders out in the plains went on to say that the content was very informative and useful, but it was the joint worship and fellowship with other believers that really excited them.”

Rex sighed. “Well, that sounds great, but how do we get our folks to agree? They see themselves as corporate officers, and they seem to think they have that down pat.”

“Yup, they do and they do. That is why they need the training. They need help in recognizing that they are not just bean counters. Anyone can “manage” the “business” of the congregation. But ordained leaders are charged with the spiritual nurture, development, and discipline of the congregation—and that takes training that most laymen do not have.”

“And you have the advantage there,” Red continued. “Use your pastoral prestige to remind them of their office and the responsibilities that come with it. Challenge them, and declare your expectations. This session respects you and your office. This is a time to use it for the benefit of Graying Pres.”

“All right, I’ll add that to the docket for next month’s meeting.”

"Sure, you can do that, but I think you will be wasting a grand opportunity. The training session at PWMN is scheduled in two weeks—before our session meeting. Why not call a special meeting of the session to get direction to join PWMN. Then hit them with your expectation that they will attend the training. Having agreed to join, they will be hard pressed to turn around and avoid using one benefit of membership.”

“And, by the way,” Red added. “This will give you membership in the Pastor’s Covenant Group. Just what you need, brother.”

“Darn, Red, but you do make it sound so easy.”

“Leadership doesn’t have to be hard. Enthusiasm is the key. If you demonstrate excitement and enthusiasm, they will pick up on it. When I was a Lieutenant at TBS, my small group discussion leader was the Staff Judge Advocate. He was a former infantry officer. One of his maxims was ‘Leadership is the art of telling people that we are going to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.’ You’ll be advertising a much more enjoyable adventure, don’tcha think?”

Well! Can Rex do it? Will the session agree? Will the Graying Pres leadership wake up to their responsibilities, setting off a blizzard in Hades? Join us next time for answers as we follow the adventures of Graying Pres.

09 March 2009

THE ADVENTURES OF GRAYING PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: The Further Adventures Of Spin And Marty, er, Rex And Red *

Red continued, “You know, Rex, you are being a little hard on yourself, undeservedly so. Heaven (actually) knows that you are not perfect. No offense.”

“None taken,” Rex replied drily.

“Well, you are acting as if you are perfect and that everything you touch should turn to gold. As my Gunny once told me, ‘There was only one perfect man in history----and we couldn’t stand it, so we hung him on a cross!’”

“Who is your writer,” Rex chuckled? He had obviously never met a seasoned non-commissioned officer.

Ignoring him, Red went on. “You have strengths and you have other areas that are less strong. You may remember that I was on the Search Committee that identified you as God’s choice for this call. It was my first exposure to congregational leadership. When we interviewed you, you told us that your moderatorial skills were not your strongest suit. We agreed to take that into consideration. Earl Regis and Paul Peters were on that Committee. They promised to support you if and when the session ever got too rambunctious. Have you ever held them to that promise?”

“What do you mean?”

“You were just beating yourself up ‘cause you ‘lost control’ of Monday’s meeting. Now I think you have a stronger will than you seem to think, and that you could have gotten control. But the fact is that neither Paul nor Earl stepped in to help you regain control. That is something you need to take up with them in light of their promise, and I’ll go with you, if you need me to.”

“At the same time, I think you have ignored the fact that you are the pastor. Assume control and you will be surprised how people react to the fact that the pastor is speaking. Take charge, man! You literally have a bully pulpit. Use it when appropriate.”

Rex’s eyes were a bit wider, and Red realized that he had begun to use his parade ground voice.

“Too much,” he asked?

“No, I’m just a little surprised. I have never liked confrontation, but that is what I hear you suggesting.”

“Wrongamundo, Pastor-san. I am saying that there is a time to confront people when they are wrong. Look at Jesus when he confronted the money lenders in the temple. He had a reason for kicking over a few tables when what they were doing was wrong. That is appropriate. On the other hand, confrontation for confrontation’s sake is just another form of bullying. Just be aware of the difference.”

“One last thing. A church like Graying Pres is sort of like a wild horse that has been running free on the range. If you jerk him up hard the very first time you mount him, you may be able to get control. But if you give him his head and he runs on you, it is going to take balance, anticipation and steady, increasing pressure on the reins to get him to respond.”

“This congregation has been given its head over a number of years. It will not be an easy ride. So, what do you do? Well, balance can be achieved by getting the session on board. Start with Paul and Earl. If you have their ears and their aid, you can begin to get your balance, especially because they know where all the bodies are buried in this congregation. They know the feuds that have smoldered for decades and can help you anticipate the tricky moves that may come as you stay on top of that ol’ horse. Then, as other elders are educated and begin to act like elders of the church and not just bean counters, they can help re-instill discipline in the body. It won’t happen overnight, and you may “get throwed” a couple of times, but you’ll just get back on, and in the end, the wild horse can be tamed and put to the work of the Kingdom. What do you say?”

Rex grinned. “Yippee ki yo ki yay!”

Well! Where can you find a 20X hat in Pennsylvania? Will Rex really wear boots to church tomorrow? Can he lasso this wild gray beast? Who will play the part of Annette in this little saga? Tune in next time for the continuing adventures of Graying Pres.

* Historical note: For those of you who are still just kids, and thus ignorant of the really important events in US history, we who were fortunate enough to see the original Mickey Mouse Club as a first run event know that Spin and Marty were the heroes of a serial about a couple of boys at a summer camp on a dude ranch. When the girl's ranch, complete with the likes of Annette Funicello, was added in the second season, the dreams of every adolescent American boy of the 1950s were just about complete.

06 March 2009


At 6:00 am on Saturday morning, Red picked up Larry Matthews and drove to Men’s Bible Study at the Lion’s Mane Grill.

The “usual suspects” were all there, Larry and Red being the youngest. Pastor Rex led their continued study of Romans, concentrating this week on Romans 13.

After the study ended, the group enjoyed their usual breakfast. As they were preparing to leave, Larry motioned to Red that he was leaving with Dave Duncan. Red and Rex turned to each other and said “Do you have….”

Red paused. “Sorry, go ahead.”

Rex replied, “No, please, continue.”

“Well, I was going to ask if you have a few extra minutes.”

“Wow,” the Pastor smiled. “I was going to ask you the same thing. Let’s drive back to the church, OK?”

When they were settled in the pastor’s study, Rex visibly wilted. “Red, I think I’ve had enough. I have been praying about Monday’s session meeting all week. I feel as if I have failed both God and this congregation. God sent me here to care for this congregation and instead, they are still grounded in the world. I lost control of that meeting, and, you know what, I found that I just didn’t care. I have tried to be the leader I think God wants me to be, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough. That was your first session meeting. What were your reactions?”

Red was stunned. He had been dreading this conversation, and now, he and the Pastor were on the same page. After quickly thanking God for this opportunity, Red sat back and smiled.

“This leadership stuff is hard, isn’t it?”

“You’ve got that right. I don’t know what I am doing wrong, but I just seem to have no effect here.”

“Listen, Rex, you have what I call ‘the American illness.’ We are now a ‘59 minute’ society. The problem is introduced in the first two minutes, followed by the opening credits and the first commercial. We expect the problem to be neatly wrapped up for a happy ending by the end of the hour, with plenty of time for commercials. We are no longer capable of taking the long view—the 40 years in the wilderness view.”

“There was a saying in the Marine Corps,” Red continued. “When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is hard to remember that you came here to drain the swamp.”

Rex’s eyes widened, and then he began to chuckle. “That’s gonna be hard to incorporate into a sermon!”

Red nodded. “You know, I have marveled at your ability to respond to the needs of this congregation. You are there for every problem, every tragedy, every need. But let me ask you this, ‘Who is your pastor?’ To whom do you go to unburden yourself. And I don’t mean God. I know you have a healthy prayer life. But who has He sent to you to be your pastor?”

“Oh, I talk to my seminary roommate every month or so.”

“Not enough, pal. You need someone to bounce ideas off of, to vent with, to hold accountable and be held accountable by. What you need is a Ministry Network.”

“Thanks for reminding me. I need to add that to the docket for the next session meeting.”

“Hold on there, Pastor fella. Glad to hear that the session will be talking about that, but we’re talking about you this morning. You know that Frog’s Neck, Conestoga Road and 2d in Lenapi Trail have formed a Ministry Network, right? Why not contact those pastors and see about getting Graying into the Net. I mean, we are done with all that top down, we’re the Bishop and you had better get used to it, we’re gonna ride you like a horse out at Churchill Downs, mentality with the old denomination. These folks have found a new way to be the church, at the lowest level where mission and ministry have always happened. We need to be part of that—and it gives you local support. It gives you a pastor.”

“Let me guess,” Rex said. “You’ve been surfing the net again.”

Red smiled back. “Oh, a little. I like the idea that we can remain traditionally presbyterian, while losing the career bureaucrats and corporate business model of management. A Ministry Network ‘is a relational connection between congregations and their leaders who ordinarily share a common geographic proximity. The Ministry Network does not exist for itself but to serve its constituent congregations in their respective works of ministry and mission. Congregations will be healthier when their spiritual leaders are joined in close friendships of mutual support, trust and encouragement and accountability. Such relationships create a natural opportunity for sharing resources, fostering spiritual growth, offering encouragement, and providing theological, moral and missional accountability. Congregations will also be healthier when they are able to link together in some form of common mission: sharing strengths to compensate for weaknesses, sharing wisdom to offset ignorance, and sharing in collaboration to offset individualism.’”

“But for our conversation this morning, the real value of the Ministry Network lies in the Pastors’ Covenant Group. Made up of all pastors, pastoral candidates, parish associates, visitation pastors, commissioned lay pastors and commissioned lay pastor candidates in active ministry in a congregation, and retired pastors, it meets at least once per quarter [and in many instances, once per month or even once a week] for worship, prayer, study, mutual support, accountability, and ministry planning. . . . It is what the presbytery used to be before it got bogged down in the worship of polity and Roberts.”

“But I already have too many meetings as it is,” Pastor Rex sighed.

“There are meetings and then there are meetings. That’s what I wanted to discuss with you. You often allow the session to avoid the hard work of leadership that is theirs to perform. Ruling Elders and the Teaching Elder are equals. At best, you are primer inter pares because you are designated as moderator and you have certain specifically assigned duties that the session cannot usurp. But when you let the session treat you like a hired hand, foisting off on you their responsibility, you are bound to wear yourself out.”

“No, Pastor, being part of a Ministry Network may be the grease that reduces the friction in your professional and spiritual life.”

Well! How will Pastor Rex react? What will the session say when they hear what Red has said? Has anyone at Graying other than Red actually read the Book of Order? What is a Ministry Network and from where did it come? Tune in next time for the continuing adventures of Graying Pres.