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The changing role of elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Dissertation
Author: Joyce Martin Emery
Abstract:
This paper examines the changing role of elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) This research attempts to locate the role of elder in the Judeo-Christian tradition and explore the changes down through the centuries. Fred J. Holper and Jack Rogers provide historical perspectives that highlight the emphasis on various kinds of governance based on events, cultural movements and decisions. The changes made in the Book of Order to the role of elder and session will be documented across 100 years in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and predecessor denominations. The majority of two chapters will be dedicated to the theological and social/behavioral conversation partners. Using the work of William J. Abraham a case is made for a systematic theology called "canonical theism." Presbyterians have adopted a set of doctrines. Presbyterians embrace a Book of Confessions that reflect a time and place when the people of faith dialogued with those doctrines. We must embrace the doctrines of our Reformed faith and engage in a dialogue with the tradition in this time and place. Edgar Schein describes the authority and power of leadership to actually manage culture change. A robust leadership core is able to articulate shared assumptions, manage boundaries, adjust to new information, and bring on new people whose gifts support and enhance the current business. What leaders focus upon in their daily work really matters. Therefore we will make the leap to embrace the idea that new elders will help effect healthy culture change. Training and ritual will focus on imprinting the basic assumptions. Rituals and cultural artifacts will be explored. A cohort group of four moderators of session participated in the project by reflecting upon the research. The project includes a summary of what these pastors are doing to train up new elders in the local congregation. The research attempts to provide a foundation to reflect on the current role of elders today in the 21 st Century. The faculty advisor for this project was Dr. Darrell Guder.

Table of Contents Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Introduction with Context, Rationale, and Research Methodology The Historical Role of Elder Specific Changes in the Book of Order Theological Partners Social/Behavior Partners Description of Cohort Group and the Research Applications Appendix A A Longitudinal Review of the Changes in the Book of Order "of ruling elders." Appendix B A Longitudinal Review of the Changes in the Book of Order "of the session." Appendix C Lesson Plans for Each of the Four Cohort Sessions Appendix D Cohort group notes Lesson One: Introductions, Nominating Process, Training 1 10 30 45 69 88 110 125 129 137 143 Bibliography 154 V

Chapter One - Introduction with Context, Rational and Research Methodology The Research Project This research project attempts to locate the role of elder in the Judeo- Christian tradition and explore the changes down through the centuries. The changes made in the Book of Order to the role of elder and session will be documented across 100 years in the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.) and predecessor denominations. The majority of two chapters will be dedicated to the theological and social/behavioral conversation partners. A cohort group of four moderators of session participated in the project by reflecting upon the research. The project includes a summary of what these pastors are doing to train up new elders in the local congregations. This first chapter outlines the reason for this research, the context, the challenges and the scope of the ethnographic study. Context I am serving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as the Transitional Synod Executive in the Synod of Alaska Northwest. The Synod of Alaska Northwest encompasses the two presbyteries that span the State of Alaska and the five presbyteries in Washington State and the Northern panhandle of Idaho. There are 269 congregations, 11 new church developments and approximately 57,512 members. The seven executive presbyters are key leaders in their respective presbyteries. The executives and I work with elders and ministers who are elected to serve on presbytery, Synod, General Assembly committees and 1

2 councils. These committees and councils are assigned the responsibility of setting our shared mission goals. "Synod is the intermediate governmental unit responsible for the mission of the church throughout its region."1 I help the leadership of the Synod direct personnel and financial resources to support congregations who are working to implement mission projects and ministry strategies. Women and men, ministers and elders, elected by congregations constitute the majority of the decision makers. The impetus for this research project began while I was serving as an Associate and Executive Presbyter within the bounds of the Presbytery of New Brunswick. I was directed to resuscitate a long tradition of training new elders in the presbytery. I can see now that the ethos that prompted that training was rooted in the translocal2 model of governance. All the leaders who participated in the training could clearly articulate that it was essential for a new elder to understand that he or she was joining a band of faithful leaders who ultimately would never be alone in governance and in fact were a part of a regional ministry. It was essential for elders to know this right at the beginning of their term of service. Moderators of session expected the presbytery leaders (who 1 G-12.0102. Book of Order: The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part II, 2007/2009. (Louisville, Kentucky, Office of the General Assembly). 2 "Translocal" is an important concept in this project. It will be defined more fully in Chapter 2. G-4.0102 in the Book of Order states: "Since this whole company cannot meet together in one place to worship and to serve, it is reasonable that it should be divided into particular congregations. The particular church is, therefore, understood as a local expression of the universal Church." And then from G-4.0104 "Each particular church...shall fulfill its responsibilities as the local unit of mission for the service of all people, for the upbuilding of the whole church, and for the glory of God." A judicatory that draws several particular churches together would have a translocal perspective.

3 were usually themselves) to review the responsibilities of the elders and provide a "tool box" full of additional resources. As time marched on and evaluations were reviewed, modules were added such as spiritual discernment for congregational leaders, tapping spiritual gifts, and biblical decision-making. Case studies were also written annually by our pastors to be used in the training context. The Doctor of Ministry program seemed to provide the perfect opportunity to study how the role of elders was changing in congregations that seemed to be re-ordering the role of the elder. These congregations were moving away from the institutional management design and working with elders to be the ones who made disciples and empowered disciples for new leadership and ministry. The scope and focus of a doctor of ministry project changed over the years because of a change in my call. The basic question still remains. What is the role of an elder in the Presbyterian Church today? Problematic Area of Ministry Can churches in the 21s t Century be run by a group of people, a session, who are not trained? The answer is "no." But, how do we train elders for faithful ministry today? What should be the content of that training? Who will carry the primary responsibility? At one time the denomination had an entire eco-system3 of support that equipped future leaders. Remnants of that system still remain in 3 Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, Louis B. Weeks. The Re-Forming Tradition: Presbyterians and Mainstream Protestantism. (Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), Chapter 7, "The Ecology for Nurturing Faith: Education, Disciplines, and Programs for Faith Development." The authors describe the role of the family and Sabbath, the Sunday school, congregational worship, higher education, theological education, and denominational programs of nurture which all provided a system of support for raising up faithful disciples and leaders.

4 the Synod of Alaska Northwest. In the Seattle area, strong elders worked as a "force" with the Rev. Mark Matthews to establish over 24 congregations in the greater Seattle area in the first three decades of the 20th Century.4 The elders were provided inspiration and training. Strong accountability procedures were implemented. Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska once trained cadres of elders who became the backbone of the congregational, educational and corporate structures across the entire State of Alaska. The memories of these days are dimming. I want to discover and to describe where we are today in light of the past. A very meaningful role for me as a parish pastor, and as a presbytery executive, was new elder training. I am totally committed to new elders, experienced elders and the minister moderators of session, joining together to initiate and train the new elders. Elder training is a proactive ministry strategy that requires careful preparation and implementation. As a pastor I needed support from the presbytery to provide supplemental training for the new elders. I saw the benefits everywhere as a presbytery executive when presbyters were committed to training elders. Herein lies the challenge. Congregations are complex organizations whether they are small or large. The synod executive is responsible to support the executive presbyters in each of the presbyteries. Most of the energy of the presbyters is consumed by what is termed, "fire-fighting." When the leaders of a congregation find themselves in a crisis it is appropriate to look to the presbytery 4 Dale Soden, The Reverend Mark Matthews: An Activist in the Progressive Era. (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2001).

5 to come and help solve the problem. Oftentimes the executive presbyters find sessions that are not prepared to govern their own congregations. Somehow they did not understand nor learn the responsibilities of a ruling elder as outlined in the Book of Order, or maybe it does not have an answer for the specific setting. Congregations join together to form a presbytery. Presbyteries join together to form synods. A presbytery is only as strong as the member congregations. The same applies to synods. The carrying out of the mission of presbyteries and synods is influenced by sessions being faithful to the call of the gospel. Presbyteries and synods cannot exist without elders who are calling people to discipleship. Presbyteries and synods cannot exist without elders who honor their vows and roles described in the Book of Order. There may have been another time when the role of the elder could have been learned by observation. When elders were elected to serve for life, a life long elder may have personified the role. With the inception of active and in active elders, limiting terms of active service by classes of elders rotating off the session, the core values and responsibilities of elders and sessions were lodged in the Book of Order.5 These changes to terms of service were made over the years to prevent abuses of power. Parity of representation between the ministers 5 G-14.0222 Terms. The office of elders is still perpetual as described in G-14.0210. "Elders shall be entitled to be commissioners to presbytery from the particular church of which they are members if appointed by its session and to serve as commissioner to the synod or the General Assembly when duly elected, whether or not they are in active service on the session." Herein lies one of the greatest challenges facing judicatories. Elders elected to serve on judicatories are often far removed from the work of their sessions. Thus, there is little connection.

6 and elders became a shared value when elected to serve at presbytery, synod and General Assembly levels. The Research Question Therefore the question for this research project has become: What is the central role of elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) today? The search to answer this question begins with a historical review of the changing role of elders across the centuries. Fred J. Hoi per identifies two very different historical views of the role of elder that clashed as the Presbyterians gained influence in the American colonies. The first view had the elder working on behalf of the teaching presbyter, the pastor. Here the ruling elders assembled around the presbyter in a collegium known as a session, making decisions, but respecting the power of the teaching presbyter. The elders focused on the life of a specific congregation. The other historical model had elders and ministers elected to govern the life of each congregation across a region on behalf of the Church universal. Here the presbyteries, elders and ministers elected to govern as presbyters, struggled to truly engage in translocal strategies to support changing congregations, plant new congregations, and develop a shared mission strategy. It will be necessary to understand these clashing views because they give some insight into the preponderance of management directives that elders are required to fulfill today. A longitudinal reading of the changes in the Book of Order will provide specific duties that are added to the role of elder at a certain

7 time in history. Those duties are often institutionalized based on the results of a movement, or a shift in society. Edgar Schein's work is so helpful as he describes the authority and power of leadership to actually manage culture change. A robust leadership core is able to articulate shared assumptions, manage boundaries, adjust to new information, and bring on new people whose gifts support and enhance the current business. What leaders focus upon in their daily work really matters. Therefore we will make the leap to embrace the idea that new elders will help effect healthy culture change. Training and ritual will focus on imprinting the basic assumptions. Rituals and cultural artifacts will be explored. Fred Holper and Joe Small will open up the door to the difference between governing and adjudicating. Governance focuses on the maintenance of an institution. Judicatories provide the space to ponder the big questions. William J. Abraham will bring us back to the basic doctrines of the Presbyterian tradition. We will see that the doctrines are embedded in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The challenge will come when we realize that basic doctrine is sitting right next to theological reflection and a "manual of operations." It will be painful to realize that the process and practice of scriptural interpretation is often granted more credence than a basic doctrinal stance. Ruling and teaching elders will be challenged to begin to draw on the wealth of our tradition, the canons of our faith that God has worked through across the ages, and learn to dialogue with them to find meaning for life and ministry today. Ruling elders will be practicing theologians who can articulate the

8 basic doctrines of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and live and lead in faithfulness as guided by the Holy Spirit. Instead of focusing on how we train personnel committees, or clerks of session, we might begin to share and celebrate the rituals, the liturgies that shape our life as Christians and pass the faith on to the next generation of disciples in the wealth of the depth and breadth of our faith tradition. The Ethnographic Project The project has three components. The first is a historical overview of the role of elder. The second is a longitudinal reading of the related sections of the Book of Order through the years. I read looking for any content changes that were made from year to year. The changes were noted and now have been recorded on the charts in Appendices A and B. The temptation was always to reflect on why those changes were made in light of the issues facing church and culture. I wrote Chapter Three and discussed it with the moderators of session. The third part of the project was a four-part session, requiring seventeen contact hours of meeting with four moderators of session. The four lessons (Appendix C) provided an opportunity for the moderators to share their current context and training practices. They had an opportunity to reflect with me on the information that I had gleaned from my research of the Book of Order materials as alluded to above, and my theological and social/behavioral partners. The participants agreed to participate when invited. Each of them was highly recommended by peers and their executive presbyters as moderators of

9 session who take seriously the training of new elders. Moderators granted me permission to use their names. Doug Waltar serves as the pastor at the Presbyterian Church in Post Falls, Idaho. Robin Hagan serves as the head of staff at the First Presbyterian Church of Kennewick, Washington. Rob completed his Doctor of Ministry at San Francisco Seminary on the topic of "Testimony: Teaching Elders to Preach." Jeffrey Schulz serves as the co-pastor with his wife at the Seattle First Presbyterian Church. Patrick Wrisley was called as the head of staff and teaching elder at the University Place Presbyterian Church in University Place, Washington, adjacent to Tacoma two years ago. I have gotten to know Doug, Rob and Jeff through my work as Synod Transitional Executive. Patrick and I had met previously when he was the organizing pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration, Florida. Response to the Research The research project will provide information to advise current Synod leadership as they move to develop ongoing elder training modules across the Synod. The Cohort group will empower four pastors who have already been doing a great job to step up and lead an elder training effort with other pastors in their presbytery. Finally, various changes to The Book of Order over the years have been prompted by a governing body that saw merit in adding more responsibilities to the role of elder. If a Book of Order change were to be proposed in this decade, what would be the essence of that change? The cohort group reflected with me on that question.

Chapter Two: The Historical Role of Elder This chapter will outline the biblical and historical roots of the role of elder. I will draw heavily upon the doctoral dissertation of Fred Holper1 to trace the various practices of elders across the last millennium. The role of elder has evolved over the years and I would like to propose that the role is in the midst of another transformation today. The idea of shared governance has been refined and reformed over the years. John Calvin first observed the shared governance model in Strasbourg during his welcome exile from Geneva. Martin Bucer was exploring the service of deacons and elders. Calvin exegeted Numbers 11-16 and Deuteronomy 31:92 and put the concerns of law and discipline of the people on the shoulders of the elders. John Knox saw the elders as responsible for discipline.3 The Reformers developed different models of church governance in the various countries where they had the freedom to practice. Subsequent books of discipline ordained the elder on the behalf of the Universal church for all times. Later they were ordained to govern at other levels besides the local congregation. The streams of all these 1 James Frederick Holper, Presbyterian Office and Ordination in American Presbyterianism: A Liturgical-Historical Study. A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate School of the University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Indiana: April 1988). 2 "And Moses wrote this law, and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel." 3 Jack Rogers and Deborah Felmister Mullen, Ordination: Past, Present, Future. Chapter Two - "The Elder Ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) by Wolfe, Marianne Leas (Louisville, Kentucky: Presbyterian Publishing, 1990), 62. The First Book of Discipline was written in 1560 in Scotland. "[John] Knox conceived of the elder as a 'short-term' office bearer. These elders were responsible for the discipline of the church in its broadest sense. Elders were not necessarily present at the General Assemblies." 10

11 thoughts and practices converge today into the role of elder as outlined in the Book of Orderfor Presbyterians (U.S.A.). The Biblical Role of Elder The elders of Israel4 in Egypt were called together by Moses to announce the fact that God wished to deliver them from the bondage of slavery. (Exodus 3:10-18). Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came to him in the wilderness and insisted that Moses choose able leaders to share the burden of leadership. (Exodus 18:10-23) God instructed Moses to gather seventy men of the elders of Israel to help share the burden of leadership again. (Numbers 11:17)5 God gifted them with God's Spirit. There are at least one hundred references to the role of elder in the Old Testament.6 The term presbyter came from the organization of the Jewish synagogue. Any ten men could band together to form a Jewish synagogue. The board of presbyters saw that the law was observed, administered taxes, and represented the synagogue in relations with pagan authorities. In their hands was the right of excommunication. Presiding over public worship fell to a different official - the ruler of the synagogue. This was not a priest of the Aaronic line, but another key man, elected to the office. The elders in the Gospels of the New Testament seem to have many of the same functions of the Old Testament elders. The elders seemed to know their local communities and provided guidance for keeping the rules/practices of 4 Old men. 5 The passage provides the basis for the Israelite Sanhedrin, the order of elders. The same term for order of elders is used in Luke 22:66 and I Timothy 4:14. 6 Jack Rogers and Deborah Felmister Mullen, Ordination: Past, Present, Future, 56.

12 their religious society. (Mark 7:5-7, Luke 7:3) They kept people connected to the traditions on a daily basis. The Jewish elders did not seem concerned much with keeping people connected to God. That job must have belonged to the Pharisees and the priests. Jesus seemed to have little use for the Jewish elders who were managing the details of a religious life.7 He recruited his own band of twelve plus disciples. Jesus taught, healed and modeled a different kind of faith community. Then Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to practice being apostles (Mark 6:1-13). Ultimately they were commissioned to go as Christ ascended into heaven and gifted to go as the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost. Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles give us insight into just how far these apostles actually went to share the good news of the whole Gospel and the reality of the Reign of God. The apostles seemed to duplicate the model as elders were chosen to rule in each church. (Acts 14:23) In the New Testament the believers were the ones who presided at the fellowship dinners and the sacraments, not the elders. Leading public worship and celebrating the sacraments was never once attributed to the minister in the New Testament. There were no priests, but rather apostles who came and shared with the Christian communities. Any person could contribute to worship in an orderly manner as described in I Corinthians 14. The apostles seemed to be wandering or itinerate evangelists. Michael Green8 states that the teaching (didache) function (Ephesians 4:8-13) may have been the main purpose of the early Christian ministry. It was 7 Matthew 15:2, 16:21, 21:23, 26:47. 8 Michael Green. Called to Serve: Ministry and Ministers in the Church.

13 essential to equip the people for their service in the world. There are no clergy and laity in the New Testament. We do find ordination in Acts 14:23 with the laying on of hands. Pentecost had brought growth through the power of the Holy Spirit using believers of every race and creed. Biblical scholars have a difficult time nailing down how all of these leadership roles fit together in the New Testament church. So as the search for the marks of eldership begins in the Old Testament and sweeps into the New. We still struggle today. Luke/Acts and the Epistles give us a window into communities that had been transformed by a relationship with Jesus the Christ and found unspeakable power with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ who had been called and prepared for service. His life was transformed through this relationship with God in Christ. Paul has been an exemplary witness to the power of God to transform lives. He moved through-out Asia-Minor representing what God was doing in Christ, and he was accountable to God through Christ, the Council of Jerusalem and the various churches he had helped start across the Gentile world. Paul instructs Titus (Titus 1:5-7) to appoint elders in every town. The Reformers Struggle with the Role of Elder James Frederick Holper provides a very helpful review of Presbyterian office and ordination in his doctoral dissertation. He outlines three basic types of standards that have guided Presbyterians in regards to ordination. The three types of standards are: doctrinal, liturgical and disciplinary-governmental. Holper (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964.)

14 states that the disciplinary-governmental standard, which is really a political standard, has most influenced the overall understanding of office and ordination to this day. The first Constitution adopted by the General Synod of New York and Philadelphia in May of 1788 sewed together the three separate types of standards: doctrinal, liturgical, and disciplinary-governmental. To understand each of these type of standards we must go back to the thoughts and practices before the development of the Westminster Confession. The historical journey of discovery could pursue the traditions of the French Huguenot, Scots, Scots-Irish, English Puritan, Dutch, German and Welsh. We will touch briefly on three traditions. John Calvin's thought and praxis developed a Calvinist Reformed model of church ministry. Calvin "expanded what appears to be a 'pastoral-liturgical' norm for church office into a more collegial model in which particular functions of the pastoral office are shared by the pastor with three other kinds of officers." 9 For Calvin all those engaged in the ministry of Word and Sacrament were presbyters, because the titles of minister, bishop, presbyter and pastor were synonymous in the New Testament. The norm of presbyterial office was liturgical leadership. The liturgical leadership was reserved for the pastor. The elders, who together with the pastor, were engaged in collegial ministry of government and discipline, were also called presbyters. Since these elders could not preach or administer the sacraments, but were given the 9 James Frederick Holper, Presbyterian Office and Ordination in American Presbyterianism: A Liturgical-Historical Study. A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate School of the University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Indiana: April 1988), 43.

15 designation of presbyters, the office of elder did not deal with liturgical leadership but rather government and discipline. Finally the teachers or doctors by Calvin's own definition could neither preach nor administer the sacraments. Nor could they engage in ministries of formal discipline. These doctors were also named as presbyters. The doctors upheld the standards of doctrine. Therefore all three types or standards were addressed in Calvin's thinking and practice. Calvin used Scripture to argue for a public ministry of elders centered in pastoral functions. Persons of good life and witness were to be elected from among the Councils.10 They were to be dispersed and distributed in all the quarters of the City of Geneva, having oversight of the life and government of each of them. If fault was found, it was to be communicated to the ministers, who would then admonish and exhort. This idea was not entirely accepted at first and Calvin was excommunicated for this and other reasons, including a commitment to the weekly celebration of the sacrament of communion. Calvin's model was hierarchical rather than democratic. He set up, with others, a church ruled by church officers who were ordained pastors. Officers J. K. S. Reid, Ed. Calvin: Theological Treatises (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), 63-64. "In the present condition of the Church, it would be good to elect two of the Little Council, four of the Council of Sixty, and six of the Council of Two Hundred, men of good and honest life, without reproach and beyond suspicion, and above all fearing God and possessing spiritual prudence. These should be so elected that there be some in every quarter of the city, to keep an eye on everybody. The best way of electing them seems to be this, that the Little Council suggest the nomination of the best that can be found and the most suitable; and to do this, summon the ministers to confer with them after this they should present those whom they would comment to the Council of Two Hundred, which will approve them. If it find them worthy let them take the special oath... And at the end of the year, let them present themselves to the Seigneury for consideration whether they ought to be continued or changed. It is inexpedient that they be changed often without cause, so long as they discharge their duty faithfully."

Full document contains 165 pages
Abstract: This paper examines the changing role of elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) This research attempts to locate the role of elder in the Judeo-Christian tradition and explore the changes down through the centuries. Fred J. Holper and Jack Rogers provide historical perspectives that highlight the emphasis on various kinds of governance based on events, cultural movements and decisions. The changes made in the Book of Order to the role of elder and session will be documented across 100 years in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and predecessor denominations. The majority of two chapters will be dedicated to the theological and social/behavioral conversation partners. Using the work of William J. Abraham a case is made for a systematic theology called "canonical theism." Presbyterians have adopted a set of doctrines. Presbyterians embrace a Book of Confessions that reflect a time and place when the people of faith dialogued with those doctrines. We must embrace the doctrines of our Reformed faith and engage in a dialogue with the tradition in this time and place. Edgar Schein describes the authority and power of leadership to actually manage culture change. A robust leadership core is able to articulate shared assumptions, manage boundaries, adjust to new information, and bring on new people whose gifts support and enhance the current business. What leaders focus upon in their daily work really matters. Therefore we will make the leap to embrace the idea that new elders will help effect healthy culture change. Training and ritual will focus on imprinting the basic assumptions. Rituals and cultural artifacts will be explored. A cohort group of four moderators of session participated in the project by reflecting upon the research. The project includes a summary of what these pastors are doing to train up new elders in the local congregation. The research attempts to provide a foundation to reflect on the current role of elders today in the 21 st Century. The faculty advisor for this project was Dr. Darrell Guder.