The Presbytery as an Ecosystem
By Chris Vogel

When asked my dream for the PCA five years from now, I recall the saying that “a man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” Once we cease to dream of what the Lord may do, we have only regret and long for the past. As I consider a bold new future for our denomination, my dreams center around two goals: creating flourishing presbyteries and flourishing pastors. For this to take place, I am not content to just fine tune aspects of our denomination but view it differently.

That difference would be to see the presbytery as an ecosystem, an intertwined living system where the whole depends upon and benefits from each part. By strengthening our presbyteries, we will also improve the health of our pastors and churches.

The first step is determining what constitutes a flourishing presbytery and the resources required to build them. Clearly, prayer and evangelism are core to a presbytery’s work. Also, the degree to which a presbytery seeks engagement of the whole church determines its ability to reach diverse communities. These are the marks of a healthy presbytery that will plant healthy churches and strengthen existing bodies. If, however, we measure vitality solely by the number of new churches, we may well find ourselves replicating the ill health of the past.

When the presbytery is viewed as a system, then our valuable Mission to North America (MNA) ministries should have a presence in every presbytery to bring health. This could be achieved through regionalization — networking presbyteries to support one another in identifying potential leaders — and assessing, training, and placing those leaders into healthy systems.

By treating presbyteries as ecosystems, the PCA will be able to create a new pattern of pastoral development and care.

With this in place MNA’s goals are achievable: planting 100 churches each year, with 40% of those new works reaching a more diverse segment of North America.

By treating presbyteries as ecosystems, the PCA will be able to create a new pattern of pastoral development and care. To reach segments the PCA has historically ignored and undervalued, we must revise our credentialing process, creating new paths to ordination without diminishing pastoral excellence. This would entail revising BCO 21-4 to create a more robust and broad preparatory process for new pastors. Development and care must extend beyond the vital academic preparation to include character formation and the nurturing of soft skills.

We have prided ourselves on our academic standards, but rarely do we evaluate pastors’ emotional intelligence or their ability to engage the culture around them. They are called to lead a church but have never been mentored in their own spiritual development or in leadership skills. Demographic shifts now mean that 50% of pastors are over the age of 55. We must create avenues for seasoned pastors to join the development process and care for our younger fellow servants. Mentored cohorts are the best vehicle for this. While they are increasing, they should be the norm. It is my prayer that in the years to come 40% of those in pastoral formation would be in non-traditional formats, while the traditional platforms continue to prosper. Mentored cohorts can assist not only with acquiring academic tools for ministry but developing soft skills for pastoral longevity. To accomplish this, we must rethink presbytery health as we reframe the presbytery as an ecosystem.

Chris Vogel is director of NXTGEN Pastors, director of On Wisconsin [church planting] network and Wisconsin church development, and director of ecosystem development for Mission to North America.

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