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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Home Churches in a Non-Congregationalist Polity-Here's a Rev. Mike piece from Monday that caught Lee Anne's eye.
Sooooooo ... as I have read many of the fine blogs out there written by "emerging churchers" and their fellow travelers, I have recently found myself wondering how one would do a new church development (NCD in Presbyterianese -- that's church plant for the rest of you) in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), using insights from the emerging church movement. The main idea here is how to do an NCD without ever building the building or paying a full-time staff. However, as I have tried to think this through in terms of Reformed ecclesiology, worship and preaching and good, old fashioned stodgy Presbyterian polity ("decently and in order" taking precedence over sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia on any given day), one question with which I wrestle is how to structure worship in the Reformed tradition if preaching is not the central act of worship.
I'm not an expert in Presbyterian church polity, but I'll step up to the plate and give this a go. I've had to pick up some Presbyterianese to understand Eileen's past as a Christian Ed director. Not having a building is very possible. For instance, my in-laws Presbyterian church burned down in 2001; for almost two years, they used a day-care center for their Sunday services. It should be possible to hold church in rented or borrowed facilities, even if the facility is Joe Parrisioner's family room. If you use lay ministers, you can avoid paying a full-time staff. If you wanted small groups of 15-20, it would get tough to financially support a full-time pastor. The kind of mature leader that might teach a Sunday School class could get recruited to be a lay minister. As I understand the office of lay minister in the Presbyterian church, it's designed for small rural churches that need bivocational ministers. The lay minister, IIRC, can serve fully as a minister in providing the sacraments, but only in his home church; the position isn't mobile. In less structured denomination, you can ordain anyone who has a love of the Lord and enough knowledge of Scripture to be a good pastor. However, a Masters of Divinity seems to be a prereq for ordination in the PCUSA; that will preclude most would-be home group pastors from full ordination, but the lay minister concept would be a way around that. Presbyterian churches are run by a session (church board) of its members. With a small group, the group would effectively be the session. One problem with such a novel concept would be oversight from a local Presbytery (churches report to local presbyteries who report to regional synods who report to the national General Assembly) who may not have a clue as to what these home churches were all about. I remember hearing about one PCUSA church plant in South Carolina that was disbanded after the presbytery officials intervened, changing the music and effectively running off the music team that did the contemporary service at the new church. A way around this would be to allow the home churches to have independence from the local presbytery. There is a precedent for synods to have Korean-language presbyteries that will be independent of the local presbyteries. As long as the home churches had a friend in the synod HQ, they could have like-minded officials look after them at the presbytery level. That should handle the church polity angle, now, let's work on the worship service angle. I don't know how the Vineyard format that I'm used to correlates to the Emerging Church stuff, but I'll use that as my model. The loose liturgical pattern is to have about a half-hour of singing (five or so songs) followed by a sermon followed by "ministry time" where people are prayed for. Announcements and passing the offering plate is slid in between the singing and the sermon. This isn't the Presbyterian paradigm I have seen, where some hymnody is interspersed with prayer and scripture reading, culminating in the sermon and a closing hymn. The prayer focus is on corporate repentance with an interlude for personal reflection. I don't think that Reform theology mandates that model. Presbyterian custom of what "decently and in order" may be challenged, but the theology isn't. A home church may have a different definition of what is decent and what is in order. For instance, the raising of hands in worship might be indecent to old-schooler. Children and adults waiving flags down by the altar would be out of order. However, both are normal at Lakeland Vineyard; such activity would be decently and in order for us. Does a charismatic-oriented service remove preaching from the central act of worship? Sorta. What it does is make God the focus rather than the sermon. Some days, the musical worship will be more impactful than the sermon. Last Sunday, the ministry time was the keynote of the morning and the sermon took second-billing. However, on most Sundays, the sermon is what will stick with the people there. These services are more ad-lib than a standard-issue Presbyterian would be used to. One of the differences, other than the lack of a formal liturgy, is the prayer focus. Instead of corporate prayer, individual prayer is emphasized. Corporate repentance leads to corporate responses; that might point a cause to the PC-USA's economic liberalism. Individual repentance leads to changes in individual lives. While that doesn't run counter to Reformed theology, it is a difference in emphasis from standard-issue Presbyterian thought. Another difference is the emphasis on fellowship. It's a lot easier to be a stealth congregant in a standard Presbyterian church; the idea of altar calls and ministry time is novel in most Presbyterian circles. In a home group, the focus is on fellowship with fellow believers. People will get to know you, pray for your particular concerns and keep you accountable to do the things you need to do. For someone with a casual faith, such in-your-face interaction isn't comfortable. However, people who want to hang on to their casual faith and be a stealth congregant can go to a traditional mainline church where they aren't challenged. If you want fellowship and an active faith, home churches or cell groups within a larger church will be more appealing. You could fit that into a broad Presbyterian box, but it's a snug fit.

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