Tuesday, June 28, 2005

“The system” and some solutions

The gist of the problem: grassroots organization in the PCA leads to no substantive leadership in the transition process for candidate-churches or candidate-pastors.

In the corporate world, a similar problem is solved by folks colloquially referred to as “headhunters”: someone who serves as an agent of sorts for potential employees, even offering advice on the job market and salary package fairness. Such a function serves to bring back the balance that I so often refer to, in a world where the big corporations otherwise hold all the cards.

How can we solve it in the church world? I think there are three levels of work to be done.

First, as a denomination the PCA needs to re-examine how good it is to be so thoroughly “grassroots.” In many ways, this plays out practically as not simply “grassroots” but “congregational” in governmental form. (I sometimes hear this as a complaint about the EPC--that they are too congregational; shouldn't we look at the log in our own eyes first?) Maybe there is a middle-ground between the top-down near-papacy that the PCA fathers feared and the reactionary grassroots emphasis that the PCA today embodies. How would that look? See number two for a suggestion...

Second, Presbyteries need to get involved. If the denomination would allow it at the Assembly level, then Presbyteries could play a more active role: one that is only advisory, but still one that is mandatory. (The nature of the role as “advisory” would provide the middle ground without forcing a compromise on the avoidance of authoritarianism that the founders of the PCA so wanted.) In other words, a Presbytery's approval of a “dissolution of call” (officially dissolving the relationship between a pastor and church) would automatically be accompanied by appointment of an individual or small committee who would work with that church and any candidates that they may seriously consider to advise and encourage them through the process. Churches could partially bypass this step (though not the part about the committee advising candidate-pastors) by attaching to the request for dissolution a notice of what consulting group they will be working with (and Presbytery would have the authority to advise against that particular consulting group if they knew of reasonable grounds to do so).

So third, churches and pastors would have help along the way-- and their part would be to accept that help. That's a taller order than many realize, because both Search Committees and pastors tend to struggle with pride and too much self-confidence, just like everyone else.

That is all working under the assumption that the pastors, churches, Presbyteries, and Assembly of the PCA would each take those steps to achieve middle ground. Until then, I think churches should, if at all possible, look for someone outside of their congregation to help. There are many excellent consultants who are doing this kind of work. Candidate-pastors ought to seek out advice, as well-- from friends and peers, from former seminary professors, from ministry mentors. Even from sources as humble as this blog.

And both candidate-churches and candidate-pastors could utilize loose organizations such as the network I work with: the Pastoral Ministry Placement Network. We occasionally work with churches and pastors in our denomination to help them toward finding a good “fit” in ministry placement. You could think of us as the “headhunters” of the PCA-- though it is not nearly so grand an enterprise as that. (See my sidebar for contact information.)

I think this problem can be overcome. It is up to those of us who are in the denomination to overcome it.

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