Monmouth Presbytery — Keep It 100 or Weak Tea?

Using the illustration of Larry Wilmore again, I gave a variation of this talk to the Presbytery of Monmouth at the February 24th meeting:

Larry Wilmore began his late night comedy program by introducing the concept of “Keeping it 100.”  Keeping it Real, Keeping it Authentic, Keeping it Honest.  He plays a game with his guests that he claims is just like Truth or Dare, but there is no dare.  He asks a difficult and sometimes embarrassing question and challenges the guests to answer 100% honestly.  teabagsIf the studio audience thinks they’re telling the truth, the guest receives a large “keeping it 100” button; if the audience suspects they are not being 100% authentically real, Wilmore tosses them a bunch of “weak tea” bags.

It’s time for us, the presbytery of Monmouth to Keep it 100.  I challenge us to keep it real, honest and 100% as we move ahead, not just in our per capita giving, but in our relating with each other, our faith, and our mission.  I propose we keep it 100 in three ways this year:

  1. 100% of congregations giving something towards per capita
  2. Be 100% real about why you give (or don’t give) full per capita
  3. “Step it up” in support of the presbytery

It seems easier to run away from the hard stuff, to tell people what they want to hear, or to deny the reality that’s staring us in the face.  We are facing hard times in the church and in this presbytery.  We just made some very difficult cut to our staff in hours and pay.  We are facing financial and membership decline, sure.  But I’m not afraid of what God is up to among us.  I know that God, who keeps it 100 with us, is always ultimately up to something good.  That’s the Good News, no?  So why should we do anything but keep it 100 with each other.

Almost half of our congregations are not paying their full per capita assessment in this presbytery.  And according to the surveys the moderator sent out in the past month, all of the congregations indicated the reason for not remitting 100% is financial concerns.  There are NO congregations withholding money to this presbytery because of political or theological ideological differences or because of the actions of the General Assembly. (Weak tea or Keeping It 100 button?)

I actually don’t see any indication that congregations are withholding because of GA decisions (button), however, I don’t think we’re 100% real about the other reasons.  When we make difficult decision about our spending, we often claim “financial” reasons when, in fact, their is a deeper lack of trust, value, or importance that is informing the spending priorities.  That’s not to say there aren’t congregations who are deciding between cutting staff and paying per capita.  But, if that goes on for more than a year or two, then we need to face the future with a bit more honesty and practicality and intentionality.  Keep it 100.

Let’s challenge each congregation to give SOMETHING toward’s per capita.  If you can’t afford the full assessment, I understand, but let’s put something in the budget to say to ourselves and to the presbytery … we’re keeping it 100 with ourselves and with our sister congregations.  I want to be able to stand up here the beginning of 2016 and report that we have NO congregations who have given $0 to the presbytery.  That’s the first challenge.

The second is that we be 100% real with ourselves and the presbytery leadership about why or why we don’t give 100%.  If you feel the presbytery is not relevant at all to the work and mission of your congregation, let us know, so we can attempt to change that.  If you have been hurt by me or someone in my position in the past, please let me or your council know, so that we can do what we can to make amends and to heal our relationship.  If you are angered or disgusted by the decisions of the presbytery, synod or synod, please call us or write to us or invite us in, so we can discuss the issues and decide how best to move forward together.  If you really, honestly, can’t afford to pay your per capita assessment, let’s be real and face the reality together of making hard choices and allowing God to lead us to a place of resurrection and life together.

The third is a challenge to “step it up.”  If you’re one of the many congregations who gives less than 100%, there are other ways to challenge yourself to step up your support.  I distributed a handout that offers a checklist of ways to step up to keeping it 100:

  • Welcome the Mission Council’s Stewardship Working Group to your session to discuss your congregation’s support of the presbytery.  Let’s begin the discussion.
  • Put a line item in your budget for support of the presbytery and make monthly or quarterly payments.  If you’re one of the congregations that only passes on to the presbytery what you collect from your congregation in a special “per capita” envelope or offering, let’s get real.  You will NEVER be remitting 100% of your per capita with this method.  This is a fine way of educating your members in the connectional nature of our denomination, but the likelihood of more than a third of your membership participating is very low.  What’s more, the congregational priority on connectionism is not a member per member decision, it’s a session decision.  To expect members to decide this priority is abrogating your responsibility as elders.  The decision about how to participate and support the work of our presbytery is an ELDER responsibility, not a members.  So step it up.  Put a line item in the budget and supplement that base support with a congregational offering to interpret our presbyterianism.
  • If you cannot pay the full $35.30 per person … then you may consider placing at least the Synod ($4.00) or GA ($7.07) portion in the budget.  As a presbytery, we are paying that assessment for your congregation if you don’t remit.
  • If you don’t think the per capita assessment is fair or an appropriate way to garner support for the work of the Presbytery, Synod and GA, consider tithing a % of your budget to your assessment and mission giving.  When we considered this change last year, our calculations showed that support of 3-3.5% (of congregational budget or receipts) would be enough to cover the administrative and operational expenses of the presbytery including our per capita assessment to Synod and GA.  If your congregation tithed 5% or 10%, the additional support would enable the mission hand of the Synod, GA, and local mission.

And some non-financial ways of keeping it 100 …

  • Keep your membership statistics up to date and report them annually to the GA
  • Commit to Stewardship education for your congregation and session
  • Participate in a leadership transformation program for your congregation with other congregations in the presbytery (examples: The Future Story Project, New Beginnings, the Center for Parish Development, Acts 16:5, etc.)
  • Suggest elders from your congregation to serve on Presbytery committees and working groups
  • Encourage your pastor to serve on a Presbytery committee or working group
  • Pray for the presbytery and sister congregations during Sunday worship at least monthly

There are other ways, too … will you and your congregation keep it 100 this year?

Keep It 100 checklist

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