After three days Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple,
sitting among the teachers, listening to them
and asking them questions. Luke 2:46
One of the things I will miss in retirement is our annual Officer Training class. In the class I share a lot of information, everyone shares about God’s work within their lives, and most of the time there is a fair amount of banter back and forth, as we ask and try to answer a myriad of questions.
Everyone elected as a deacon or elder in a Presbyterian church is supposed to attend some sort of training like this. It’s not required of members – as members a Presbyterian congregation the vows of membership are simply Christian, focusing on our acknowledgment of Jesus as our Savior and Lord and on our covenant commitment to live out our faith, worshiping, growing and serving, within our specific congregation. However, when we ordain people to become officers, we “up the ante” by addressing additional beliefs and “ways of doing things” that are distinctly Presbyterian. For example:
- About Scripture: Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
- About Presbyterian theology: Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
- About “polity” (the way we govern ourselves): Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?
As a young pastor in San Antonio in the 1980’s I inherited a method of training officers from a former pastor. The course was rigorous, was comprised of at least eight two+-hour sessions, and was focused not just on “how to be an elder” or “how to be a deacon” but on how to understand the foundations and operations of a Presbyterian congregation. I’ve shortened the course over the years, but every elder and deacon that you have elected over the past eleven years has been through this “boot camp” with me!
Years ago, my key objectives were to to share “Presbyterian information.” Want to get a taste of it? You can download our Presbyterian Constitution – the Book of Confessions (click here to download) and the Book of Order (click here to download).
The more I taught the class, however, the more I realized that the relationships created in the class were just as important for faithful leadership and service as the information. Our officers get to know each other in the class, and not just superficially: each one is asked to write a 7-10 minute statement about their faith and to share it with the group. Many of those in the class have never done this before: it can take courage for some to share where God has been at work in their lives in both glorious and dark moments. It’s in the process of writing and sharing that we not only grow closer to God, but to each other: we become a community, servants of each other, a small reflection of what the larger church should be.
And then, along the way, something else happens. As the comfort level grows, questions that have been bothering people for years begin to emerge, and the class gets side-tracked as we look at those questions together. I say “side-tracked” – but I actually should say, “God-tracked,” because it is often in those questions that we find God opening us up to think more deeply and carefully about our faith, and binding us together with others as we express uncertainty and then begin to grow together.
Asking questions – surfacing those things that are bothering us, and doing so in a safe environment is one of the best ways for us to learn. Jesus did it. So can we!
I will miss teaching the class, but I do hope that you will experience some of the same kind of “back and forth banter” on Sunday August 21, when I will be in Stone Hall at 9:45-10:45am, as I seek to address your questions. Time will be short (the hour will go very quickly), and not all questions can be addressed. So, ahead of that time, I would love to know what questions you have in mind . . . Here’s the link for you to submit them to me ahead of time.
So glad to be your pastor,