Nov 16, 2011

Middle Governing Bodies Commission - The Same Ol', Same Ol'

The Middle Governing Bodies Commission was commissioned by 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to look for creative and new ways for the Presbyterian Church to move into our emerging future.

A commission by its very nature has immense power. Within the charter given to the commission, the commission has the authority to act on behalf of the General Assembly. What this means is that the commission has the authority and power of the General Assembly within the parameters of its charter.

That's a huge and an awesome responsibility.

There was so much that the commission could have done to help the PC(USA) find ways to move forward.

However with the latest action reported by the Presbyterian Outlook, the Middle Governing Bodies Commission is not going to offer creative and new solutions for the church to move forward. Instead, we are going to get pretty much the same ol' denomination.

  • The same ol' denomination that is currently losing 50,000-60,000 members a year.
  • The same ol' denomination that will be mired in the same ol' fights and disagreements.
  • The same ol' denomination that will do business in the same ol' way we've always done business.
There was so much the commission could have done.

For guys like me, it's not that we are looking for ways to leave the denomination. If we wanted to, there are plenty of ways to start doing that right now as many churches have already have, and are in the process of doing.

For evangelical presbyterians like me, we are looking for ways to stay. And this is where the Middle Governing Bodies Commission could have given creative solutions to stay presbyterian and reformed while looking for new ways of staying connected. 

But when the church is unwilling to change and face the reality that the landscape of denominationalism has already changed, and is therefore looking for creative ways to be ecclesiologically connected while coming to terms with not only believing the church of Jesus Christ to be bigger than any one denomination, but actually living into that reality, what's a guy like me to do?

We are living in the emerging and fast-approaching post-denominational world, while still living in the last remnants of denominationalism and institutionalism. 

And unless we seek ways to be different than what we have been, we will die with what we have always been.


Tod Bolsinger said...

Just wanted you to know that the Commission isn't done yet. I don't know exactly what we'll get done, but we are still working.

So far, we have stretched the 'canvas' and created a 'frame' for drawing up new models for change... but those are the work in progress.

Moderator of "Same Ol' Commission"

James Kim said...

Tod, appreciate your work with the commission. I know you and others are working hard to create more flexibility and options. I know you are not done with your work. But after reading the article, I have to say I am not holding my breath. The commission has the opportunity to provide the PC(USA) an opportunity to seek out new ways of being church for this new day. If my premise of an emerging post-denominational reality is correct, and our church refuses to change, we will be left behind. More than any other body in the life of the PC(USA), the MGB has the opportunity blaze new trails of what it means to be connectional in a post-denominational reality.

Thanks for your note.

Continue to pray for you and your leadership with the MGB.

James <><

Gregg said...

Hi James,
I wonder if you could give me an example of any national organization (not necessarily religious) that is doing or has done what you seem to be suggesting the MGB Commission could be leading the PCUSA to do. I understand the why you are writing about, I do not get the how. Thanks for your thoughtful blog.
Gregg Neel, one of the pastors at Portland, Westminster

James Kim said...


There are many people dreaming, discerning, discussing about what the future reality might look like. I think the New Reformed Body idea from the Fellowship is a step in this direction. I think the leadership of the Fellowship has been very careful to not call this a New Reformed "Denomination".

I think the greatest swell and movement of ideas is coming from the grassroots as people are blogging, writing, discussing, tweeting, Facebooking, ideas with one another.

Because what we are dealing with is an adaptive change and challenge, thus far, what anyone can say about the emerging future with any certainty is what that future will not be - it will not be like the denominations we have known, it will not be a hierarchical/centralized institution as we have known, etc.

Once the Spirit of God reveals where and he is taking us, I think most of us will be able to recognize the movement and leading of the Spirit.

So to your question, who is doing the type of work I am advocating? Many. We are. You and me and others who continue to write, reflect, dream about who God is calling us to be.

The MGB had an opportunity to take a step in the direction of searching and seeking new ways of understanding what it means to be a connectional church.

Instead, what I read in the article is people who are unwilling to let go of previous paradigms and understandings of connectionism as if that's the only way we can be a connectional church.

What do you think?

James <><

Rev. Mary Holder Naegeli said...

I agree with you, James, that the MGB Commission is discouraging us, but their inaction is not going to deter some of us from at least trying to form a new presbytery with porous boundaries. It is that or we will lose several congregations in my presbytery. We are doing everything we can in good faith to offer creative solutions, but we cannot hold people in a defeating, demoralizing, and obstructionist system forever. So I have high hopes that despite the reticence of the MGB Commission, the 2012 GA will see fit to do the right thing and respond favorably to some of the overtures it will be getting.

pastormattferg said...


You are right on in this post.

Tod, I have read reports on the MGB commission and if the articles in places like The Prsbyterian Outlook are accurate the MGB is missing the opportunities that are there. Very dissapointing.

One great example of wht could be done is the so-called Boston Presbytery Proposal presented at The Fellowship Gathering.

Another is some form of non-geographic presbytery alignment. The EPC denomination has done this. Saying it cannot be done (as some claim) is hogwash---to put it nicely.

Liberals speak words of wanting to keep us together but their actions are shouting so loudly they can no longer be heard. Example: Name one liberal in a leadership position at the GA level OR in the Covenant network who has come out in support of any of the proposals put forward as a possible faithful way forward for us. Their silence is deafening---and very telling.

Matt Ferguson
Hillsboro, IL

James Kim said...

Mary and Matt, I do acknowledge that the vote was fairly close 11-8 on the non-geographic presbytery. And I know that there are good people on the commission. I am sure we all have friends on the commission. Having said all that, I am still frustrated and disappointed by what looks like a lack of imagination for moving the church forward. Our current way of being held bondage to one another by the property clause and pensions is such a horrendous statement of ecclesiology. I know we can move toward a deeper and greater understanding of what it means to be connected with one another. But the folks on the commission must be willing to let go of past paradigms in order to discover new ones. That's what I am frustrated with.

Mary, I pray and hope that the 220th GA will provide meaningful solutions. But you and I have been to enough GA's where you can understand when I say, "I'm not holding my breath."

All in all, God has a plan and purpose. And we will all continue to see God's best.


James <><

John Wimberly said...

In response to Greg, I would point us in the direction of the business community. As often is the case, we are so far behind them when it comes to organizational issues that it is mind-boggling. Corporations have been decentralizing and going horizontal for most of this century. The really successful companies did it toward the end of the 20th century.
These companies realized that top-down structures do not work in a world that has gone horizontal. So they have been devolving decision-making to what used to be the "lower" levels of their companies. The last have become first. Teams in plants have been given authority that used to reside in comfortable corporate offices. The military has done a lot of the same. They increasingly place decision-making authority (mission) in teams in the field.
I agree with Tod that we need to wait before judging his group's final product. Hopefully, the final product will be a thank you to all who served in the large judicatories that have prevailed during my forty years of ministry, followed by a proclamation that, going forward, instead of putting money into Presbytery staff, for example, we will put those funds into paying pastors to start new churches/ministries/missions.

James Kim said...

John, it would be amazing if the MGB came up with something substantive in their final meeting coming up in Dallas. So you are right that there is still work to be done. And God can do anything God pleases. That would be fantastic.

Having said that, we've all worked in enough committee settings that something significant normally doesn't come out of the last meeting. The final meetings are used to wrap up all loose ends and finalize where the commission has been going for the past year and half.

Again, I could be wrong. I hope to be wrong.

The MGB Commission still can act.

Let's hope so.