Affirming the recommendations of the Mid Councils Commission

{ OUTLOOK FORUM }

The Mid Councils Commission report and recommendations for “flattening” the hierarchy of the PC(USA) argue that young, emerging leaders will have more room to thrive and invent in the more fluid structures proposed. I agree.

There are two favorable perspectives — one historical and one biblical — that we may take on these recommendations.

 

The historical perspective

Not long ago, our family and friends were our neighbors. When children married, they usually located nearby. In that culture, friends, family and neighbors comprised congregations. Presbyteries usually formed according to accessibility, synods according to states. It made sense to locate “parishes” and “dioceses” by assuming geographical determination of affinity. Most Presbyterians never thought about the matter, even when they divided over social or theological issues.

Today we still have neighbors, and some are friends. But we drive a car or catch a plane to be with other friends and family members. We “Skype” across continents and oceans. The tech-savvy among us locate “friends” in social networks throughout the world. Studies show most Presbyterians pass several churches to “belong” to one, and most come from other professions of faith. Boundaries for congregations have changed radically, but presbyteries and synods still adhere to geographical proximity — with some accommodations for ethnic minorities. With nuances, the report makes this observation in “Geography Isn’t What It Used to Be” (p. 30).

The recommendations leave in place the vital ingredients of Presbyterian life — local congregations, relationships in presbyteries among churches that support and benefit from life together, and the connectional responsibilities of the General Assembly.

Granted, adopting the commission’s recommendations, especially the one for nongeographical presbyteries, will tax the creativity and flexibility of Presbyterian leaders. But reconceiving structures for our life together, already begun in the “New Form of Government,” may afford us new insights and possibilities for witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We may find faith development more fully attained among Presbyterian “friends and family” than among Presbyterian “neighbors.”

 

The biblical perspective

Are you not struck by how often we cite the mantra, “All things should be done decently and in order”? We hear that sound bite as the epitome of our Presbyterian culture. “Decently and in order” was just the second part of Paul’s admonition to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. Paul’s complex argument regarding church life offered two conclusions, just as the church came to a compromise at the Council in Jerusalem. Paul’s actual conclusion to Chapter 14 of I Corinthians reads: “So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.”

Paul’s wisdom, and that of the early church leaders, suggests that “both-and,” rather than “either-or,” should inform our thinking about flattening the structures, allowing affinity-style presbyteries within limits and providing new resources for congregations and racial-ethnic ministries. Give permission, as we stick to some rules.

 

So…..

The recommendations may seem quite radical, until we look carefully at our context for witness and mission. Most Presbyterians care little for our connectional structures, except when they impinge on the sensibilities within a congregation. More radical changes already determine our faith development, our worship and work as congregations and our moral life together.

We should express our appreciation to the members of the commission and adopt their recommendations.

 

LOUIS B. WEEKS is president emeritus of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

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