Recently, a pastor was on social media asking for feedback about what is essential about Presbyterianism. In other words, “Without [fill in the blank], we wouldn’t be Presbyterian.” Several people responded that we are a connectional church. If that’s the case, why is it that it doesn’t often feel that way?
I can attest to having lots of Presbyterians in my Facebook and Twitter feed. And I love connecting with Presbyterians all over the world as I sit it my office or living room. But what I’m talking about here is intentionally making “connectional” a priority in how we do ministry and decision-making together.
Now, don’t get me wrong. In formal polity, we are connectional. General Assembly is this summer and we’ll see the “connectional” body gather and make decisions. But I wonder how our priorities and the way we work together would change if we really took seriously our tenet about being the connectional church.
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR THE REGULATORY FUNCTIONS OF OUR PRESBYTERIES?
What if the CPM relationship were more than reports and hoops? What if our CPMs made supportive relationships with inquirers and candidates the priority? What if our seminary students were having monthly conversations with their liaisons about life, coursework, vocational discernment, joys, and challenges? Wouldn’t that connect students and presbyters in powerful, life-chaging ways?
What if presbytery staffs and COMs made it a point to have a conversation over coffee with every pastor and planter in the presbytery to hear about the joys and challenges of their ministry? Wouldn’t that connect judicatory leaders and local church leaders in powerful, life-changing ways?
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR OUR SESSIONS?
What if serving on session were one of the most engaging, life-giving, connectional opportunities that a church member could conceive? What if the opportunity to disciple others to grow in their faith and serve the body and the community were what it meant to be an elder in a local church? How might that change the nomination process and the experience of church governance?
What would it mean if pastors made it a priority to intentionally connect with and disciple church leaders regularly? To pour themselves into relationship with leaders, so those leaders can be more effectively connecting to and ministering with the larger congregation?
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR OUR CHURCHES?
What if our worship services fostered deeper connection than a frenzied passing of the peace? What if churches communicated small groups as not just another opportunity at the buffet of church programs offered, but rather an integral way that Christians grow as well as support, encourage and challenge one another through the ups and downs of life?
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR RELATIONSHIPS ACROSS THE THEOLOGICAL DIVIDE?
What if we were intentional about making connections, not only with those who think like us but also with those who don’t think like us? Are we connectional only with those with whom we share affinity so that we can tear down or politically organize against the other “camp,” or do we celebrate the diversity of the body of Christ by crossing boundaries and getting to know the “other”?
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR SOME OF THE MOST DIVISIVE ISSUES OF OUR DENOMINATION?
What if we radically changed how we do General Assembly and chose the top three issues that needed discernment and decision and actually dug in for meaningful and deep conversation (not constantly stilted by Robert’s Rules of Order) every two years? It would require a wholesale change to how we deal with decisions that don’t make it to the top three. But many of us look at the current system of our connectional engagement and wonder how long this can go on. Can commissioners really make deep, informed decisions about all the decisions coming at them in one week? Is our current system really the best way to be connectional?
I love that we define ourselves as a connectional church. I just want us to embrace that identity more deeply in all of our ministry and governance. And I think that the One who calls us to love God and to neighbor wants that for us too.
Shannon Kiser is the director of the East Coast Presbyterian Center of New Church Innovation. She is field staff for the Office of Church Growth, and parish associate at Riverside Presbyterian Church, a church planting church in Sterling, Virginia.