I’ve been gone for a few days of conferences, and now I’ve got a couple of deadlines looming, so I can’t write much.

As many of you Presbyterians know, Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment has gotten a lot of discussion going. Now I’m part of a group of people who are responding to it for the Office of Worship and Theology of the Presbyterian Church.

How would you respond? What do you think about it?


24 thoughts on “Working…

  1. My response:
    1. One word: Ugh
    2. Two words: paradigm shift
    3. Three words: Get over yourself
    4. Four words: Jesus loves us all.
    5. Five words: Think about the next generation.

  2. As I’ve already responded, this paper is simply an attempt to re-institute the old boys’ network of the 1950’s or earlier. I am particularly upset with the blanket condemnation of the leadership abilities of youth.

    We do not need to concentrate power in the hands of a few again. The world has long passed that point.

  3. I’m not Presbyterian, but ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), an anti-establishment church that didn’t actually organize into an officially structured (established?) denomination until 1968. Yet the trajectory of our church has been pretty similar to the Presbyterians and other mainline churches. I didn’t read the whole paper, but from what I did read, I’m not remotely convinced that dismantling the establishment was actually the problem, and my gut tells me that re-establishing it is not only ineffective, but likely impossible.

  4. I’m (just) a lay member for maybe 20 years now that has and continues to resist becoming a church officer because of my perception of it being ineffective and potentially constraining. I have two thoughts from the grass roots.

    The first is expressed in this Christmas devotional we had: Presbyterian Crossroads(
    “PCUSA is at the crossroad of trying to figure out how to soften the barriers that keep folks from getting to the solid core; Christ.

    The typical worldly response to trouble is to tighten up to regain control. But that can have negative effects. The internet is full of folks talking about splitting off of PCUSA. It’s also full of folks that are committed to the PCUSA but see the need for changes in focus. I believe much of the Missional church movement comes as a response to this. And we’ve seen this issue in our own congregation.

    The most biblical response to being at a crossroad is to pray. Pray for discernment of God’s will for PCUSA and Faith church. Pray for the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit in these times of transition. Pray for a church that embraces action as an expression of Christ’s compassion.”

    The second is related to this report of our study on the emerging culture (still being reviewed by our Session, maybe?):

    Our report reaffirms the Presbyterian structure of government and leadership! But it does suggest more latitude in its implementation. Rather than a Session that seems to have to approve every little thing, the report suggests that defining the boundaries for the church’s activities to operate within offers a more “emergent friendly” environment. From our report, “Further guidelines and boundaries for team formation need to be developed to empower the emergence of teams and free Session and Diaconate to discern, architect, and guide the overall spiritual direction, mission, and nurture of Faith Church and its members.” Of course the Session retains the responsibility of oversight and the right of “course correction” as needed. Of course mistakes will be made, but too much rigor also risks the loss of opportunity. Leadership is an important and difficult balancing act.

  5. I have worked a little with Beau in another context and respect him both as a sociologist and as a churchman (that “man” was intentional) but I disagree with his analysis. I think his analysis has at best been conducted while looking through rose colored glasses and at worst has been conducted from the unacknowledged position of a well educated, older, white, heterosexual male who has fully enjoyed his privileged position of power and dominance.

    With respect to especially one of his proposals, that of doing away with the Committee on Representation, I have personally seen abuses in the southern stream of the church that even the Presbytery CORA could not address because it was as entrenched as the Presbytery. Committee Chairs, Moderators, etc were not necessarily chosen or elected because of their experience or qualifications but because of who they knew, who their parents were, what church they were from, where they went to college or where they went to seminary.

    The Presbyterian Establishment does not need rebuilt. It needs to be reexamined, rethought, and redesigned from the bottom up and from the outside in.

  6. It’s an interesting paper, but not because it turns back the clock to 1950. Rather, it’s because it is arguing for conformity to the contemporary ethos in the American Christian church. By that, I don’t mean the PC(USA).

    Mainstream evangelical Christianity embraces a corporate structure, in which individuals move into positions of leadership through the hierarchical filters of culture. “Big Steeple” churches…or, rather, “Big Parking Lot” churches…still dominate the faith landscape. Even though they are nondenominational, their internal structures are almost exactly what Weston describes. They just aren’t part of the oldline.

    If our goal is to mirror the culturally-mediated success of the megachurches, then this proposal might work. If our goal is to be a church that reflects the values of a generation of young adults who are rejecting the corporate model as inauthentic and oppressive, we should consider taking another approach.

  7. It’s interesting, and helpful, that this discussion is taking place during the same timeframe that the P.C. (U.S.A.)’s Form of Government Task Force is seeking input and comments on our study proposal for a new Form of Government. The study proposal can be found at:

    The focus of the proposed new Form of Government, as directed by the General Assembly in 2006, is to provide a structure that enables and empowers congregations to become, and be, missional communities, while still preserving the presbytery as the central governmental unit. Changing our polity won’t necessarily change the way we operate; but it can provide an important context and structure as we struggle with how to effectively proclaim the Gospel in the 21st century. The Task Force covets input and comment from across the church on whether changing our polity in the way we have proposed will in fact help in that struggle. Comments can be submitted at the Web site noted above. Cindy Bolbach, Co-Moderator, Form of Government Task Force

  8. “Big Parking Lot” churches is one of the most brilliant labels I’ve seen applied to anything in a long time.

    Really, I feel a little guilty saying it, but if this stratgey will keep our denomination from going extinct then I support it. But, we can’t know if it would do that unless it is implemented. So I don’t know.

    Also, I totally disagree with the downplaying of youth. That was the thing I disagreed with most. The part about going back to the 50s doesn’t bother me as much. I’m sure it would though if my demographic was different than it is.

  9. Well, as I drive around on my Segway and think of my history of growing up in this church. I think of our mission history in Korea, Navajo Nation (million dollar mission), and Congo. I think of our seminaries. And i think of my home church. It leads me to think that the word Re-build is the word to use but Re-claim. How can we as Christian Re-claim God’s word in our lives and live sacrimental lives. Then how do we reflect that as a denomination and encourage its’ growth. As a teacher and Christian educator I see that listlessness in the pews, and it screams, “Who are we?”. What a wonderful time to Re-claim the promises of Christ. Like Isaiah 2:4 says “Beat your iPods into hugs and handshakes,member will not ignore member anymore” or something like that.

  10. This is a great document. Smaller presbyteries and getting rid of inter-state synods are two foresighted ideas.

    I’ve sent a copy of the pdf link to the Session and staff that I work with.

    Prophetic voices are sometimes hard to hear and accept.

  11. I am currently a PC(USA) member, but I have a long history with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. As I read this document, I was surprised by the similarities between the demographics of the Presbyterian “Establishment” as the author defined it and the leaders in that denomination. If the solution to our growth problems is to return to having such an “Establishment” of leaders, why then does that denomination’s numbers continue to shrink?

    I believe this particular style of leadership worked for the time it was used, but now it’s time to move on. It’s time to have a leadership that’s accessible by, and representative of, all members of our church.

  12. I agree with many of the things he outlines with fixes – stushie mentioned two of them. And getting rid of Youth Elders makes a ton of sense.

    The problem is that his overarching understanding of what is broken and what it will take to fix things is completely wrong for this time and place. David Williams summarizes my views better than I could have ever written. Creating this establishment could make the denomination more harmonious but at best it would likely shrink things overall and at worst kill congregations because the focus is at the wrong place.

  13. Thank you all for your insights. I’m sorry I haven’t been around to respond. It’s been a day full of phone calls and meetings… I’m off to another meeting right now. But I look forward to thinking about this further.

  14. The idea of giving more power to big-church pastors is breathtakingly shortsighted. It’s not 1956 anymore. It will never be 1956 again. And that’s a good thing. We need to look forward.

  15. When I first read the document I spun into a crippling depression that lasted for days. Then I had a vision from God in still small voice that said, “You are not alone.” I realized that someday since I was a white heterosexual male I might be a part of the vanguard of power. Like any oligarchs we could squash controversy by our powerful iron fists (I hate conflict because it is bad for business). Our prophet the sociologist has spoken! All of you questioning his word will not be a part of our inner circle anyway. So, enjoy this moment of democracy.

  16. Beg to differ that this is a prophetic voice. As I argue, I think most of the essay is rooted in faulty and unsubstantiated assumptions. If you start with an incorrectly conceived problem, the result will follow suit. Just finished another book today that argues with very compelling data analyses that the mainline issue with decline has to do with how relatively affluent and existentially secure people in mainline churches tend to be. This explains a lot of other studies – all of which do not support in any way shape or form Weston’s thesis.

    A prophetic voice is also one that speaks truth to power, not what one wants to hear. If the truth is not in this document, then it cannot be characterized as prophetic.

  17. Interesting. I read the paper and I didn’t feel that Weston was calling for the return of the old school until I got to the part about large churches controlling the Presbytery. What I first read was that a new generation of people WILL NOT let the denominiation return to 1950’s OR 1960’s status quo.

    Since I’m 65, this could very well be a generational thing. I saw the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the baby boomers revolution of the 60’s change so many things and that was going against the grain of the good old boy system in government. I understand the ability and power of ordinary people who are passionate changing things.

    Even greater,I also haven’t forgotten the Jesus Movement that made tremendous changes in the church. Perhaps it’s normal but historians don’t even take into account the fact that many of the Jesus People are now pretty powerful folks in government.

    Perhaps Weston should look into the cause and effect regarding the decline of the denominational church in regard to the rise of a religious movement that had no visible leader, only a bunch of kids on fire for Jesus.

  18. I read Weston’s paper this weekend and have mixed feelings about it. I wasn’t raised Presbyterian (raised Christian Reformed), but just having been in the denomiantion for three years I have a sense that the PCUSA wishes it was 1959 again. That said, there are people at our church who are thrilled with the challenges facing the church in 2009, which is what we need to address.

    As a spouse of a Presbyterian pastor who works at one of these large steeple churches, I can say that Weston’s thesis is right. True, big steeple churches pastors have a lot of experience managing multi-staff settings and are skilled at offering programing for folks who often want the church to give a sense of community. However, just being a big-steeple church doesn’t mean that you are automatically talented-I’ve seen or heard from friends how big-steeple churches have unqiue challenges and problems facing it. Thus, I don’t think the revival of big-steeple leadership will necessarily make for an effective PCUSA establishment.

    That said, I do think that some of Weston’s propsals have some merit. I have never understood the purpose of synods, and the reduction of staffers and overhead costs on the local and GA level would be very useful. I think that Weston’s key point, and rightfully so, is that GA has become a paralyzed herd of commissioners that spend more time debating hot-button issues and rehashing the same old, same old, again and again, while leaving the vision and leadership of the denomintation to the staffers in Louisville. I don’t want to sound like a raging Layman reader-I’m not, and I strongly support a number of positions that advocacy groups in the denomination have pushed forward. However, much of GA, in my opnion, has very little to do with the local church, that are often small, aging, and need desperately the full attention and support of the denomination’s leadership. So, while I am skeptical of Weston’s argument that at new PCUSA will work, I’m in agreemnt with a lot of his administrative slicing.

    And as a receiptent of an honorary M.Div (which I gave to myself in honor of both editing my wife’s papers while she was at seminary and living in substandard housing for two years), I really think it would be interesting to have a class or seminar at every PCUSA seminary that would bring leaders of the denomination in for dialgoue with the next generation of church leadership. Just my .02.

  19. Despite Weston’s self-supporting prophecy that those who have historically held leadership roles hold them because they are the ones who should hold them, I have seen people who have long been pushed to the corners called by God to leadership roles where they have soared.

    Despite Weston’s bizarre gender essentialist ideas about leadership, I have seen amazing ministries led by people of every gender presentation on earth.

    Despite the idea that the rich and powerful should lead the church because they always have, Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers, told us to be servants to one another, to serve the least among us, and that the first shall be last and the last first.

    Why should we expect God’s call to be based on earthly signs of wealth and power?

    Brothers and Sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before God. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.

  20. I had never heard of, or at least didn’t given any energy to knowing anything about Beau Weston’s paper.

    What I like about it was the idea of bringing some direction to the PC(USA). Having attended a General Assembly (granted it was 1998) my sense of the event was that it was a bit rudderless and highly politicized with about the only sense of God coming in daily worship away from the plenary and committee sessions.

    That being said, I’m not sure that Weston’s ideas about a largely white male establishment would do anything more than make the plenary and committee sessions of General Assembly anything but more important. As a white male myself, albeit under 40 and so not part of the establishment, I have seen my white male colleagues roll their eyes at the prospect of bringing more Godly concepts like consensus or spirituality into the process. That and as one other post cited, just because someone has attained a tall steeple church does not mean that they have the skills and gifts to help navigate the wider church forward. My experience of some (but not all) tall steeple church pastors is that they are simply good at getting their own way–that they are good at looking out for number one without stepping in number two!

    To end on a positive note, I think perhaps Weston’s paper could (and as the comments on this post show) lead us all into a healthy conversation about what is the best way for our denomination to move into God’s future. How will we continue to work on our connectional relationships to the benefit of the will of God?

  21. My initial response is to question the notion that the Presbyterian Church (USA) is in the midst of an “endemic crisis” in which our denomination “has been fighting internally, declining steadily, losing its place in society, and equivocating as an evangelist for Jesus Christ for the past forty years.” Sure, membership has been declining since the 1960s, but so has membership in secular social organizations (Eagles, Rotary Club, PTA membership, bowling leagues, etc.). This is more reflective of generational shifts in American society and is hardly endemic to the PC(USA). The generation that came through the Great Depression and World War II sought more formal membership in social groups than did earlier or later generations. The 1950s and 1960s saw a peak in membership after decades of growth; the decades do not represent a “baseline” we should use to measure decline.

    Additionally, the fundamentalist/modernist controversy of the 1920s (which the author mentions) was hardly an example of effective conflict resolution by the “old establishment” because it led to the fracturing of the denomination rather than cooperative dialogue between those who exist on opposite ends of “the bell curve of theological positions” (fundamentalists/modernists then, conservatives/liberals today). It should be noted that the trend was towards denominational splits during the “old establishment” and towards union and reunion in the decades that followed.

    Aside from questioning whether this “endemic crisis” actually exists, I think the author fails to recognize that ensuring diversity of gender, ethnicity, and age in the decision-making process of the church is not just a good in itself. These differences affect not just how we experience the world, but how we experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. Ensuring that governing bodies represent these differences makes it hard for our demographic blinders to prevent us from following where the Spirit guides us.

    More than that, ensuring that these differences are represented at all levels of church governance is a statement of the degree to which we as a community of believers are committed to ministering to all of God’s children. Because our gender, ethnicity, and age affect how we experience the world, they produce different spiritual needs. For example, a congregation in which young adults are not part of the decision-making process, or in which their ideas are dismissed as naïve or in experienced, sends an implicit message that the spiritual growth of young adults is unimportant. Similar things happen when gender and ethnic diversity is unrepresented. We cannot expect people to become involved in a community that minimizes the importance of their needs!

    I think it’s also arguable that rebuilding the old Presbyterian Establishment will not lead to the exclusion of differences in the absence of active efforts towards inclusion. It’s in the nature of groups to preserve their own homogeneity, even in areas in which the differences are unrelated to the group’s identity. Working to ensure that our congregations (in general) and our governing bodies (in particular) reflect the diversity of the Body of Christ ensures that we are ministering to the whole of Creation rather than picking and choosing.

    Finally, I disagree with the idea that the PC(USA) needs an authoritative structure to resolve conflict. I reject the notion that theological debate, even heated and passionate debate about how we are to live our faith in the world, is such a malignant force that all controversies need resolution. One of the best things about being Christians in the Reformed tradition is that we do not need to march in theological lockstep with one another. The central tenets of the Reformed faith ought to preserved, but it is healthy to have greater degrees of liberty of conscience the further our debate moves from the core doctrines.

    We might not like the theology of the person next to whom we worship or sit on a committee, but we need to recognize that just as the Spirit calls us to be a part of the Body of Christ, so too did the Spirit call those with whom we disagree. How can we in good conscience reject those whom the Spirit calls?

  22. What wonderful responses. Who says deep discussion is not happening on blogs? I just wish that my response was half as insightful as all of these comments.

    I’ll make sure that to send a note to the office of Theology and Worship, so that they can see what you all have to say.

    Joel, very insightful points. You have a lot there that I’ve never thought about, especially concerning our disagreements.

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