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Thursday, February 24, 2011

some reflections on the mgb commission

If you are wondering, MGB what?  The Middle Governing Bodies Commission is a group established by the 2010 General Assembly to study, evaluate, recommend, and even enact changes to the structure and purpose of our Presbyterian structure of presbyteries, synods, etc...   This is a subject in which I am quite interested.  I wrote about one such re-visioning of the presbytery in a post entitled "Searchlight (Missional) Presbytery?"

In "From the MGB Comm Observation Deck #3" - commission chair, Tod Bolsinger, writes the following:

Second, do we agree that the congregation IS the basic form of mission, and thereby the basic form of church? Do we agree that the congregation in its particular contexts is the foundational and primary place where the MISSION of GOD engages the need of the world? The congregation (and not the denomination nor the individual) is the foundational, first line engagement of God to the world. 
I commented on Tod's blog post and wrote the following... would be interested in feedback or pushback from any readers of my blog.
So I'm tracking with what you have in this post, but find myself wanting a little more nuance on congregations being the basic unit of mission, without better describing the role of the individual. I agree that it is more inaccurate to say that either individual or higher governing body is the basic unit, but would like to see more integration of how the individual is called in and with the community.

I'll also give this more thought (as it's new to me) - but am thinking practically in terms of my own congregation. I think what I'm looking for is a recognition that each member is called to ministry and mission in the world, not disconnected from our local congregation, but as expressions of it. Even as a small congregation, we don't move in the world in a 200-person clump, but in ones and twos (and sometimes more)... perhaps the Pauline metaphor of the body would be helpful. Sometimes there is work that only a hand can do (don't want to try gardening with one's feet)... but the hand doesn't (or should not try to) operate in discontinuity from the body.

All that is to say that I'd look for a more precise way of saying "the basic unit of mission is the congregation"...

Maybe (and just thinking out loud here):

The basic unit of mission is the individual Christian, participating in and with the congregation as a local expression of the Church, related and accountable to other congregations through the service of the higher councils of the church.
I'd welcome feedback (or pushback)...
I would note that Tod offered some more nuance in the post; I'm just trying to enter into the conversation and push a little towards more clarification over the relationship and calling of the individual and the congregation.


Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the basic unit of the body is the middle governing body.
1. Jesus' ministry was made known to others by the changed lives of individuals and proclamation of truth by the community of believers (MGD).
2. As the hand has individual fingers (congregations) and it has parcels thereof (fingernails/individual Christians) and a hand has a palm (a unifying territory/mission), the MGB best determines the mission of the Church in a region. The hand has a grasp on its mission.
3. Ministers are ordained, called by, and retain membership in the presbytery, not a local congregation.
3. The Constitution is changed by majority vote of the presbyteries.

I believe this is the same answer I gave to the Grace Presbytery's COM before my first call to ministry was extended. This is why I am not a Papist, not a congregationalist, but a Presbyterian.

robert austell said...

I had posted what I have here on Tod Bolsinger's blog (linked above). Tod responded in the comments, and I appreciate with what he wrote:


Thanks for the great question. If you'll patiently indulge me, I promise a fuller answer soon, but for today, I'll offer this.

I really want our churches (Ok, especially the church I pastor) to be made up of people who personally live out the mission of God for the whole world. I really want our churches to be filled with people who know that they are all and each called to say "yes" to the invitation to proclaim and demonstrate the reign of God "on earth as it is in heaven". And I delight when we see the church deployed throughout the community and the world like the 'salt of the earth' that liberally spread out of the shaker. But, the church as gathered, called,covenantal community IS primary.

It's really an important distinction, but one that we miss all the time, mostly because our "default" is that the individual (not the community) is the primary. To that end, we tend to think of churches as "collectives" of individuals, as "means to an end", as even "means of grace." But as Emil Brunner pointed out nearly 70 years ago, the "essence of the church" is the "communion" itself.

In the same way that we affirm ONE God in three persons, we affirm that the community of Christ is ONE body with many members. The primacy is both the ONENESS and the RELATIONSHIP between them. (The Cappadocians thought of "relationship" as an "ontologically irreducible category.") The body is ONE, with many members. We are not a collection of body parts... Kind of morbid image, huh?

So, I would tweak your good definition to be more like this:

The basic unit of mission is the congregation, whose members are called to proclaim and demonstrate the reign of God both individually and together as an expression of the Church Universal, related and accountable to other congregations through the service of the higher councils of the church.

What do you think?

robert austell said...

I think, too, the term "basic unit" can be confusing. Does 'basic' mean smallest or most fundamental. I think I was leaning towards 'smallest' in my comments to Tod, but probably 'fundamental' is the more accurate definition of 'basic.'

In any event, I think we both steered toward the congregation as the fundamental unit of mission, noting the role of the individual as parts of the ONE body with Christ at the head.

A next logical question is "What is the role of judicatories/councils/higher governing bodies."

In my comment I avoided calling them "higher governing bodies" because I don't think the most important function is to "govern" but to equip and serve. See my "missional presbytery" post here:


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