What Might a Missional Presbytery Look Like?

What Might a Missional Presbytery Look Like?

Some people have begun imagining what it might look like if we developed more formal and ongoing relationships of congregations that wanted to gather around how they could be more missional in their communities.  What would it look like if we could create some missional presbyteries?  What would that experience be like and how could it help our local congregations?  We believe that the basic unit of mission is the congregation and that presbyteries exist to encourage missional churches.  How could this happen?

This could happen if the presbytery leadership came together to focus its time and energy on cultivating an environment that was spiritual, missional, and relational.  Spiritually, the presbytery would gather to engage in the historic spiritual disciplines of the church – prayer, dwelling in the Word, fasting, solitude, quiet reflection, Sabbath, etc.  A primary purpose of the presbytery would be to help people grow in their relationship with the Trinity through a renewed engagement with the narratives of the Scriptures.  Missionally, the presbytery would gather to learn about the context where God had placed them.  They would listen to stories of experiments of hospitality and welcoming the stranger in their neighborhood.  They would discuss where they had seen God at work and what they were learning from that.  Relationally, the presbytery would gather to build up one another in the Body of Christ.

Ministry is inherently relational.  It has always been about the relationships.  But, sometimes we unconsciously move away from relationships and into programs and quick fixes.  The presbytery is made up of people who make a commitment of time to develop the relationships with their colleagues in ministry, so that together they may participate in the kingdom of God.  The time commitment and the right attitude within these relationships can lead to the development of an authentic, covenantal community, which is more important than learning the latest tips and techniques of the trade.

A missional presbytery is one that cultivates certain kinds of conversations.  A missional presbytery emphasizes the importance of listening – listening to God, listening to the community, and listening to one another within the church.  A missional presbytery brings people together for discussions around questions like:

  • What is God up to? What does God want to do?
  • Where is God inviting us to join the Trinity in mission?
  • Who is our neighbor?
  • Who do we discern the answers to these questions?
  • Who can help us with this?
  • Who can we partner with?

A missional presbytery is one that cultivates a culture of experiments, pilot projects, creativity, and innovation.  A missional presbytery never starts a new event by calling it “The First Annual…”  A missional presbytery does not presume it will be successful with its initial attempts.  A missional presbytery knows that we learn by doing.

We learn by failing.  We learn by trial and error.  We step out in faith, trusting Christ to teach us as we go.  We have an attitude of humility, knowing that we may have discerned the moving of the Spirit incorrectly.  But, we don’t allow that to keep us from doing anything at all.

A missional presbytery encourages people to fail.  It is not wrong to fail.  It is wrong to try something and not learn anything from it.  As long as we are part of a learning covenantal community, we can begin to act our ways into new ways of being, as we discover new habits, attitudes, and behaviors that God is leading us into.

A missional presbytery takes Luke 10 seriously, where Jesus sends out the 70 disciples into every town and place where He Himself intended to go.  We are a sent people.  We are intended to be in motion, not stationary.  We were intended to be in peoples’ homes, breaking bread together, receiving their hospitality, and announcing the coming of the kingdom of God.

A missional presbytery takes Jeremiah 29 seriously, where the prophet tells the Israelites in Babylon, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.”  If God loves our communities, what would God want us to do to show this love to our communities?  If we could bless our communities without asking for anything in return, what would our communities most need from us?  A missional presbytery would ask these questions.

A missional presbytery does not begin with the needs of the institution.  The missional presbytery begins with God.  It begins with the nature of God.  It begins with the mission of God.   Everything else flows from that.  Our presbyteries can develop a new culture, a new flavor, and a new tone.  They can become a place that helps to advance the mission of God and the Kingdom of God for the whole world of God.

8 Responses

  1. Karen Ballard says:

    Yes! This is who our congregation strives to be. It would be wonderful to be united with like minds for encouragement and challenge. Sometimes our presbytery tastes like this but other times not. Definitions will be important as we move forward. I am so excited to see what God will do!!! Thanks to those of you who haved moved and shaken this event into being.

  2. John Patton says:

    This is wonderful and refreshing. This reorients our perspective from a focus on ourselves and our programs to a focus on God and God’s work in the world. Our prayers can now ask God to open our eyes and ears to see where and how God wants to use us in His work. I would re-phase “A missional presbytery encourages people to fail” to “A missional presbytery encourages people to take risks to participate in God’s work and be willing to accommodate failure by using failure as a learning experience to better align us with God plan and direction for us.” This missional approach allows us to always be spiritually discerning in our decision making and allocation of resources.

    I realize at this time a missional presbytery may be the most practical way forward, but I would challenge our thinking to consider a Missional Presbyterian denomination. Can PCUSA become this or would it require a new denomination to be formed? Addressing this question from a missional perspective may allow us to see the truth from God as we discern our future direction.

  3. George Dakin says:

    I would highly recommend the paper entitled “The Travail of the Presbytery” written by Joseph D. Small, from the Office of Theology and Worship. The paper is actually an essay from “A Collegial Bishop” by Alan Janssen and Leon Van den Brocke, published through Erdmans in 2010. While it doesn’t deal with the missional concept, it does give a great historical sketch of what a Presbytery was meant to be and is quite convicting along those lines.

  4. Joe Yaeger says:

    While this concept has philosophical merit, I am not sure that the nFOG is going to allow new councils (read missional presbytery) to determine their own “mission”. As I read nFOG each higher council will have review authority over the lower councils and at the same time have the responsibility to see that the lower councils mission statements and activities are in line with the GA definition of our church mission. I think it may be time to go our own way–together and in His name.

  5. Jake Horner says:

    Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute….

    We can do what you are describing above with or without the Fellowship–PCUSA. We can do that in a denomination that ordains practicing homosexuals. Why go through all these political/financial/theological contortions? Why the need for something different?


  6. John Gilman says:

    Eleven paragraphs, but no definitive proposal of an organizational structure, theology, rules, etc.

    The Gathering happens in less than a month. Our church is investing a noticeable sum to send representatives there. They will be looking for actual, concrete alternatives. It would be very helpful to have much more specificity by then.

  7. Frank Kinkead says:

    Mark 16:15
    And he said to them, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

    Surely this command is the clear command of our Lord. We can not do this with integrity if we do not honor Christ and the Scriptures. That, I thought, was the reason the Fellowship was formed and to reorganize the denomination into a Christ honoring organization which endevors to renew it’s faith in the Scriptures as the Holy Word of God.
    This will never happen as long as 10A stands or as long as we seek unity with those who seek to creat a new kind of “Modern” Christianity, misguided by political correctness. That is why I pray that the Fellowship not rule out complete seperation from PCUSA. It may turn out to be the only way our actions honor our Lord Jesus the Christ.
    Many would have left the denomination already but are looking to what comes out of the meeting in Minneapolis before they prayerfully make their decision to leave or stay.
    Then we will have the freedom to be a Missional Denomination once again honoring Christ’s charge to the church as stated in Mark 16:15

    May God bless these efforts.

    Frank Kinkead, Elder
    Grand Lakes Presbyterian Church, Katy, TX

  8. Bob Gohlke says:

    For about the last 60 years I have listened to, wrestled with, and tried to make sense of the relentless march and progression of the idea of the “church” in this world as being the primary agent of the spread of Christ’s simple message, by being adorned with all of the tools and “resources” of this world, as absolutely necessary to really energize that pitifully simple message that our Lord Jesus Christ continues to spread: “go into all the world (wherever you are, or may be sent) and preach the gospel to all nations”[1], and (depending on your calling and gifting,) it may be as simple as being “ready to give an account of the hope that is in you”[2], to anyone you are conversant with, who may ask you why you believe so deeply in the Sovereign Love and Fellowship and Forgiveness and Salvation given freely by His Living Presence and Spirit to those who seek Him.

    Then, those who are bound together by the Love of Christ will be busy ministering to each other, each according to their ability and each according to their need, as a member of the Spirit enabled Body of Christ, which is organically and vitally alive, as each member is joined with Christ as being grafted into the living stem of the vine as co-inheritors of the promises given to Abraham and his descendants. And I believe that is how we will be transported with Christ to His kingdom, which he declares “…is not founded on this world…”[3].

    It seems as if so many people are worried about those who refuse to believe what they hear and to understand what they are being promised, and we fail to seek or see those who really want to know, and yearn to have their hearts filled with, the joy of the Spirit. Might we not be as, or more, effective, if we followed the path of “each one tell one”?

    Well, I am truly without credentials, and I hope that I may be forgiven for being presumptuous, and probably a poor editor, but in this time and place, it seems that lifting up the Love and Presence of Christ may not be out of place. Blessings on all who seek the Truth.

    Parentheses () mine.
    1. from Mark 16:15
    2. from 1 Peter 3:15
    3. from John 18:36

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