Thursday, December 18, 2008

Talking about Sessions .....

In my little screed about a Session meeting previously, I mentioned a few issues I have with the Session I serve on at Stodgy Presbyterian.

It seems that I'm not the only one who feels that more and more Sessions have become executive boards, rather than Sessions. They're more worried about the business side of a church (and lets face it, a church has a business side), than the spiritual well being of the Congregation.

So I throw out a question, could this be due to the fact that the PCUSA did away with the original titles for elders of Ruling and Teaching Elders?

Update: 20081220.00:48 I guess no one had any good answers to that question. So, I'll just throw it out for thoughts: why are Sessions changing from the courts of the church, to the Board of Directors ??


  1. This is a great question...I don't have an answer now, but I'll be reflecting upon it!

  2. RC:
    I am going to combine a couple of responses—first to your final posts re: your blog entitled “An Interesting Session Meeting.” (I wrote three really great responses last week, all of which disappeared into the ether. The computer seems to be working, so it must be the nut behind the keyboard that needs work. I’ll try again.)

    And because, sadly, the responses to this crucial question are lacking, I’ll tie up some of your space, if you will let me. If I am taking up too much space, feel free to remove this and I will link it to "HE SAID WHAT?" 8>)

    In response to “Interesting Session Meeting,” I had vented about the Session at “old-Graying” Pres, which spent hours arguing about transferring a few bucks within the pastor’s terms of call. I suggested that many elders seem to think that we can still pay our pastors in poultry and pickles.

    I’ve combined your two replies:
    “That sounds very familiar. Why did they move out of the PCUSA anyway, doesn't seem like there's any change in the way they're doing things from before.

    Oh wait, now they don't have to hire a woman pastor when the time comes and the current pastor decides he's had enough.

    Hmmm ... that last comment of mine sounded snarky, and it is. Putting up with the 7 last words of a dying congregation (We've Never Done It That Way Before) all the time does make it hard to keep one's cool.”

    OK, here we go—4th time’s a charm!

    Not snarky—just another example of what a lot of us feel when the Church becomes the church and loses sight of what we are supposed to be about.

    The elders at “Old-Graying” are, to some extent, afflicted with the 7 last words, partly because of their experience with the bureaucracy of the PC(USA), which has adopted that mantra in spades. “Send the money up to Louisville, let the trained professionals decide what ‘missions’ are important, and stay out of our way as we become the envy of the world’s liberal establishment.” [As a result, the folks in the pews are leaving in droves. Unfortunately for the PC(USA), the bureaucracy simply shrugs and says, “oh, those poor folks who are incapable of seeing the needs that we see.” They should be saying, “Who are those people? Where are they going? We should be with them, for we are their leaders!”]

    The familiarity of the meeting is because no matter where we are assigned to work in the Master’s Vineyard by the Great Foreman, we are still and always sinners saved only by grace. We cannot stop being sinners, although we can aspire to living more like the Gentle Master taught us. So, we’ll keep doing stupid stuff at the expense of the Master’s plan.

    The rest of the problem really relates to “Talking About Sessions,” but the one disconnect in your second reply needs to be addressed, simply because it incorrectly adopts the propaganda line emanating from Louisville.

    You intimated that Old-Graying’s move from the PC(USA) to the EPC ought to have changed the sinful nature of the elders and that the ONLY reason for the move was to avoid mandatory quotas for ordination and calling of women pastors.

    Sorry, buddy, but that one was so far off target that some poor soul behind the firing line is wondering where it came from.
    Old-Graying had been frustrated by the PC(USA)s leftward slide for nearly 20 years. It began withholding GA per capita in 1992 over the denomination’s sponsorship of abortion on demand. When it became clear that Old-Graying’s presbytery was ignoring that withholding, and forwarding full payment of GA per capita IN OLD-GRAYING’S NAME, O-G began to withhold all per capita.

    The “Re-imagining God” dust-up, followed by “What’s The Big Deal About Jesus” and the GA’s inability—in two separate attempts—to explain that Jesus IS the big deal, brought things to a boil.
    Ultimately, O-G was called by God to labor in another part of His vineyard. Throughout the years of discernment of that call, faithful, strong, Scripturally knowledgeable elders talked and prayed and prayed some more. Some of those elders were women, although, as O-G gets older and grayer, there are more women than men in the congregation. As a result, the Nominating Commission ends up with more women than men. Most of the women in that congregation happen to be opposed, on Biblical grounds, to ordaining women elders. As they say in Philly, “Go figure.”

    But the decision to leave the PC(USA) had nothing to do with answering God’s call if and when he sends a women pastor their way.

    It was the refusal of the PC(USA) to say to the world “There are some things that are non-negotiable when it comes to our Reformed faith. The sovereignty of God. The authority of Scripture. The atoning cross and its willing victim who is the ONLY way to the Father. The bodily resurrection of Jesus and His second coming."

    "This is what we believe. This is who we are. We want you to know the Good News of Jesus Christ, but understand—this is who we are. We cannot and will not change to suit your desires. Since Eden, that is what has gotten us into this trouble."

    "We love you, we pray for you, but if you expect us to water down those core beliefs in exchange for getting you as a 'member,' sorry. Nevah hatchee! Can’t do it. Won’t do it. But we are still here and we will be here for you when that irresistible grace finally takes hold.”

    The PC(USA) refuses to do that—standing on the promises of God may offend someone. And O-G and others like it have had enough. That’s why they followed God’s call and moved to the new part of the Vineyard that He appointed for them.

    It might be more fun for the PC(USA) if it had been only about a non-essential such as the ordination of women, but it wasn’t.

    Now, to the second question, posed in “Talking About Sessions. . . . .” You asked “why are Sessions changing from the courts of the church, to the Board of Directors ??”

    Well, the PC(USA) no longer wants that. Courts decide things according to a set list of principles.

    In the temporal setting, one party to a law suit always walks away dissatisfied, because the court said, “You are wrong.” Wrong. Sin. Evil. Those are concepts that the career bureaucracy in the PC(USA) rejects. It is so hard to say to someone, “You are wrong. Our basic core foundation says that what you want to do is sinful. Repent. Ask foregiveness. Make every effort to avoid “sin and the near occasion of sin” (Yeah, I’m recovering, too).”

    Better to say, “Well, your beliefs and mine are equally valid. I believe in the sovereignty of God and you think there is no God, both that’s OK, ‘cause you are a good person. I believe that, as Scripture teaches, Christ rose bodily from the dead, and you think that his decomposed corpse is dust.” And the list goes on.

    For 20 years, the PC(USA) has not wanted Ruling Elders with a knowledge of Scripture who seriously take on the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the congregation, the development of the children and new members of the congregation, and to watch for moral failures and the duty to reclaim those who have strayed.

    If Ruling Elders are transformed into a Board of Directors of a subsidiary corporation, and their duties are directed away from the welfare of the congregation and toward the welfare (especially the monetary welfare) of the denomination, all the better. No more pesky questions about the Commandments, both Great and numbered, and the Great Commission.

    They are not changing—they have changed, and it is what the bureaucrats want.

    So, while the Ruling Elders of Old-Graying are still infected with sin, especially the virus of the last 25 years in the PC(USA), they are in a new ward, where they are being exposed to the real duties, responsibilities and obligations of the Ruling Elder.

    The prognosis for recovery is excellent.

  3. Well, my response doesn't have near the breadth and depth of Mac's, but here is what's been going through my mind.

    Somehwere along the line, we've forgotten about the role of elder in Scripture and in the Reformed tradition.

    I wonder if it begins with a failure in officer training and education on the part of pastors as to the office of ruling elder & teaching elder, a failure on the part of nominating committees to discuss the call of elders to be spiritual leaders of the congregation, and a failure on the part of pastors to understand the corporate nature of government.

    Wow, that's alot of failure! :)

    In my reflecting, I can only refer to my personal experience. In reading ord exams two years in a row, I am always surprised (especially in polity & worship & sacraments) how many papers fail to appropriately lift up the role of Session in the ministry of the church. I've thought, "there's going to be a whole lot of new pastors who will be surprised to discover that Session is responsible for a whole lot more in the church than these new pastors think they are." Yet I saw some of that at my current call. When I arrived, there were plenty of comments of "It's Kim's church now, let her decide how she wants things." Yikes! It's taken some time to turn that around, and it still hasn't completely.

    I also wonder if nominating committees, when calling new elders, properly instruct as to the spiritual nature of the call. In other words, to get people to say yes, they say "it's not a big deal. Just a business meeting for about 90 minutes once a month." Maybe the nom com's don't fully understand themselves. And with people's schedules, they say yes because they want to help the church, but don't fully embrace the call, or feel inadequate to lead spiritually. Deciding budgetary, organizational, and matters such as snow removal and a new furnace are easier than discerning how to most faithfully respond to God. When I added a time of Bible study to our Session meeting - which is a BoO requirement, one elder's response was, "can we do that at the end so that those of us who have other things to do can leave?" There was a lack of understanding that we needed to immerse ourselves in the Word.

    Perhaps elders not fully embracing their call is also related to pastors who believe that they and they alone have the vision, and elders all too happy to be relieved of the responsibility. A friend of mine is having some difficulties with her pastor. She's talked to the pastor directly, but feels dismissed. From what she's told me, and I'm only hearing her side of the story, I can understand where's she's coming from. I encouraged her to, following Scripture, to take an elder with her to talk to the pastor. Her response? "The Session feels so bullied by him that they won't stand up to him for fear of being yelled at." So she will be looking elsewhere for a church.

    Another pastor I know is dealing with an elder who is due to come back on Session, who just generated a conflict in the church by over-reacting to a perceived slight. Instead of talking with this person about the inappropriateness of the reaction, the Session is already beginning to backpedal, saying things like, "Jesus would include everybody. Jesus never got mad." Well, yeah, he did, and the Gospel writers tell us about it. I wondered aloud to Dave when it was that Session and elders lost - or abdicated - their disciplinary role in the church.

    Mac, in one of his previous responses about his Session meeting, did an excellent job of lifting up the office of elder.

    I wonder if, in this 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth, we wouldn't be well-served by pulling out our Institutes and reading what he had to say about the offices of the church in providing spiritual leadership to the congregation.

    Thanks for the opportunity to reflect upon this. I will continue to do so - you sure got my juices flowing on this one, or as much as they can be Christmas week!


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