New Brunswick State of the Presbytery (part 5)
When we talk about change in the presbytery we need to talk both about specific actions and the cultural changes that will enable them to happen. These are the guiding principles that should guide our decisions about direction and new initiatives as we move forward. These are the changes each one of us will need to keep in mind as we change the attitude and the culture of who we are.
1. Bold Faith and Action
To be bold is to be courageous. To step up and to step out. We all heard the old adage, “you can’t walk on water, if we don’t step out of the boat.” This is a step of faith founded in trust of each other and trust of God. Peter, we know, had the chutzpah to step out of the boat when Jesus asked him to follow, but when he saw that he was doing was dangerous, when he realized he couldn’t rely on only his own resources, he faltered. Acting boldly is something that will be required of each one of us as we move forward into a new way of being presbytery. Each of us will be challenged, each of us will find ourselves in precarious territory, each of us will be upheld by the Spirit.
This is a particularly hard principle for this presbytery to get behind. Church people and academics are not known for taking risks. When we introduced the new mission/vision statement to the leaders of the presbytery, there was discomfort around the word risk. Risk, after-all, seems best avoided. And risk for the sake of risk is, well, foolish. But what if, in addition to being a presbytery known for our knowledge and education, we were also known for our ability to explore new ideas, experiment with new ways of being church, experience new ways of responding missionally to our communities? Before we venture in experiments, we need to be grounded in community, we need to have prepared ourselves the best we know how (need to have done our homework), and we need to keep our mission and vision central to what we try.
But when we experiment we also need to be ready for the reality that sometimes we will “fail.” Sometimes ideas will need to be tweaked. Sometimes we’ll just need to learn from our mistakes. This is how we learn. We will need to build in an expectation of some failure in the decision to take risks. It’s ok, if we trust that the Spirit is in it all with us.
Dwayne and I agreed that we didn’t want to be the kind of parent who said “no” to their children before even hearing them out. And so, we strived to say “yes” when Kate asked us to do something or try something. However, we didn’t say indiscriminately. We discussed and asked questions, sometimes we compromised, and sometimes we said, “no.”
Being a permission-giving organization is not that we never say “no” but that we strive to say “yes.” We listen, we work out differences, we come up with new ideas, we keep the decision-making among the people who best know — the ones who are engaged in the ministry. We don’t need to re-hash every decision at the committee level. We don’t need to micro-manage committees, teams, task forces, or sessions. We don’t need to ask “does our polity allow us to (fill in the black)? but, instead, we ask, “what is it that we/you are trying to do?” and find the guidance in our polity that will best support it. How can this be done intelligently and faithfully?
Our new Form of Government is a permission-giving document. We as a presbytery will need to grow into that by building the trust needed and the shared mission/vision to enable us to live with the responsibility of permission-giving.
We’ve heard of “down-sizing” and it always sounds like a step backwards, not a step forward. We down-size our denominational staff, we down-size our houses … the term always leaves me with a sense of loss. What we should really be about is “Right-Sizing.” Many of our congregations can be healthy and vital if they “right-size” their building/space, budgets, staffs, and structures. One of the most vital congregations I worked with was only 28 members strong … but they’re building wasn’t a monument to their past or a hope for the future, it was a tool for ministry … it was the right size for the mission and ministry that congregation was called and equipped to do.