Mid Councils Newsletter | April 18, 2016
By the time you receive this newsletter, some of your colleagues will have spent some time in St. Louis for a Respite Retreat for Presbytery Leaders. They are people who are leaders in presbyteries—whether employed, elected, or otherwise chosen to lead through some of the rough waters of the recent years. They are from presbyteries that have dismissed congregations to other denominations or that have experienced a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance deployment. Mostly the retreat is just that—time to rest and reflect and share conversations with people from across the country. There also is a little content. This year we talked about resilience.
Here are a few of the questions we considered while we were together. You might be able to use these as you lead a group in your mid council through the days ahead.
One of the key questions to answer for any organization going through change is this: “How much change can be absorbed by your organization after which (or during which) the organization can still retain its integrity and purpose?” Sometimes we confuse our organizational outline with our purpose. Or we confuse the “way we have always done things” with our purpose. How does your mid council define its purpose? I have met people from presbyteries or synods where the purpose is defined by a particular mission. If the funding for that mission decreased to the point that it would have to end, would the mid council still have a purpose? There are other mid councils that might, if they were honest, say that their purpose is to maintain itself. Would a total reorganization mean that it had lost its purpose, or does it actually have a deeper purpose than self-preservation? Resilience means that we can retain our core purpose even in the face of great disruption.
Here is another concept you might consider: Good is the enemy of the great. You might have heard this expressed as “We need to fail faster.” The idea is that we do not really learn anything from our successes. We learn from our failures and discover something new about ourselves. How does your mid council handle failures? Does it try to hide them? Try to blame them on someone or something outside of itself? Or does it learn from them?
One more idea, this one from a book I have used a lot called, The Art of Possibility. That author suggests that when we experience a failure we should say “How fascinating” and move on, learning from it. This is connected, I think, to the idea in resilience that some organizations are robust yet fragile. That is, they can absorb anticipated threats, but not unanticipated ones. Your mid council may be good at shrinking a little bit every year and making minor adjustments. We all need to learn how to do that. But what if something you have never faced before comes along? How will you react? This is how losing congregations has seemed to some presbyteries. They thought the pastors of those churches were their friends and that they would never leave. I talk to people sometimes in presbyteries where they have lost a sizable number of churches and now think of themselves as too small to carry on. Sometimes I point out to them that they are now the median size of presbyteries. What seems (and is) a disaster to them could be defined in other ways.
When I was just starting out in ministry, there was a wise old sage (probably younger then than I am now ☺) on the committee on ministry who said his best advice was “fly the plane.” No matter what happens in the cabin, no matter what happened before take-off, even if one engine goes out, the pilot’s job is to fly the plane. He meant that pastors should not get distracted by all of the “noise” of congregational life. It is good advice for mid council leaders as well. Your mid council has a purpose. Your job as a leader is to help them fulfill that purpose no matter what other distractions intrude. Fly the plane, find your own resilience, and you will be better equipped to help the organization become resilient as well.
The Presbyterian Study Grant is PC(USA)’s financial aid program for students planning careers in the church. Please share the application with anyone who may be interested. The deadline for applying is May 15, 2016.
Every year, Presbyterians celebrate Heritage Sunday, a day to reflect upon and learn more about the long and rich history of the Presbyterian church in America
Be sure to mark your calendars and share these dates with others in your mid council. All of these events will be in Louisville.
Moderators Conference: October 28–30.
Association of Mid Council Leaders (AMCL) and Association of Stated Clerks (ASC): October 28–30. (If you need more information about these organizations or would like to join, please contact Jeff Hutcheson in San Francisco about AMCL and Doska Ross in the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii about the ASC.)
Stated Clerk’s Polity Conference: October 30–31. This conference will end the evening of October 31.
Also PLEASE TAKE NOTE. If you have attended the Polity Conference before then you know that there is a price break for the first two people from a mid council who attend. In the past, this was assumed to be the stated clerk and the executive/general presbyter. With all of the changes in the way presbyteries are organized, there were some questions about this last year. This summer all mid council stated clerks will receive a request to let the Office of the General Assembly know who will be the two people designated to receive this invitation.