Presbytery Friends,

I first learned how to read a map as a Scout. I learned to read the rising and falling of the terrain and to identify landmarks. I learned the difference between different kinds of roads and how to measure distances. Finally, I learned that every map has a legend to provide a description or explanation that permits a better understanding and interpretation of the map.

The Book of Order and the NJ Missional Invitation documents are the legends I am using to gain a better understanding of our new map. One of the key markers of our polity is the council. G-3.01 provides a wonderful description of the role and function of councils in the PC(USA). But it also reminded me that we often confuse a congregation’s council (the session) with a presbytery’s council (all the minister members and congregations in a particular region.) In other words, the whole presbytery is the council (but you already knew that).

The reason people get confused is because many presbyteries have a “council” that is elected to help coordinate and manage the work of the presbytery. These “councils” might include the moderator and vice-moderator along with the chairs of all standing committees, some at-large members, and staff. The “council” may even serve as the Board of Trustees. I’ve even heard people refer to these “councils” as “the presbytery’s session” – but that is not in line with our polity. In order to be less confusing, some presbyteries have renamed their “councils” as coordinating cabinets or leadership teams – although their function remains largely unchanged.

The purpose of councils at all levels of the church are “to help congregations and the church as a whole to be more faithful participants in the mission of Christ.” [G-3.0101] This is actually a good definition of what it means to be missional. Indeed, our missional invitation quotes Paul Hooker who states:

Mission is not an item on the “to do” list of the Church; the mission of God is the reason for the Church. Congregations in particular and the Church as a whole do not exist to serve their own aims or even to guarantee their own survival. We exist solely to participate with Christ in expressing the love of God to the world, a love that “empties itself” for the sake of the world, even to the point of death.

One of the challenges ahead of us is emptying ourselves of how we think a presbytery has to be organized in order to function “properly.” Again, that is why I like the image of using a map. It provides us with a different perspective of reality and allows us to see the relationship between points on the map that we may not otherwise notice from our own perspective.

As I mentioned last week, the focus on collaboration and relationships over institutional maintenance is what will guide us towards becoming a missional presbytery – a presbytery that supports and sustains one another as we are engaged in Christ’s mission. As we continue our foundational work, let us remember that our primary role as a presbytery is to help each other “be more faithful participants in the mission of Christ.” As we begin to fill in the map, we will strive to find a healthy balance between resourcing and governance.

Steve Huston
Organizing Co-Leader & Resource Presbyter