When my former church, Indian River Presbyterian, was preparing to go into ECO, I had several of our older members say to me, “I feel like we are going back to being the kind of Presbyterian we used to be.”
The church had formally been a PCUS church and had operated in presbytery that was larger geographically but had a smaller number of churches. The feeling was that these churches and pastors cared for one another and were deeply committed to one another’s health. These churches were willing to work through difficult situations with one another cooperatively and with the goal of furthering the health and vitality of each congregation.
To create this type of cooperative environment certainly was, and still is, the goal of ECO. It is expressed in our value of Accountable Community.
We believe guidance is a corporate spiritual experience. We want to connect leaders to one another in healthy relationships of accountability, synergy, and care.
Sometimes people will cringe at the word accountability, not because they think they should do whatever they want, but because they have seen accountability used in punitive, dictatorial, and other unhealthy ways. This is not the kind of accountability that we envision in ECO. Let me unpack, in reverse order, the last three words that describe our value. Explaining each further will hopefully give a more well-rounded picture of the value and ethos we are creating in ECO.
We want to be communities that care for one another. In our pastoral covenant groups (PCGs), our Mission Affinity Group (MAGs) and within our presbyteries, we want to be communities that care for one another. We hear about the number of pastors who drop out of ministry, the numbers that wish they could, and how we are generally less healthy than the rest of the population. We realize that we need to be in places of care to prevent these and other problems. We need to have the elders in our churches feel connected to another and to know that they are not alone as they face difficulties and lead their churches in a post-Christian culture.
We want to foster communities of synergy where leaders are stimulated by their interactions with one another. I love hearing stories that come out of MAGs or PCGs where time has been spent addressing challenges and opportunities. In these environments possible strategies are presented and refined. Leaders leave feeling ready to engage in their contexts in new ways because of what they have learned in these communities.
Finally, we do want these communities to provide accountability. This accountability is not as if a person or congregation is reporting to others like an employer and employee relationship. Rather, it is mutual accountability where if I commit to a certain plan for personal and spiritual health, the brothers in my covenant group are asking me how things are going and help me navigate past any challenges or obstacles. The same is true for leaders in a congregation who are committing to a process of growth and change. This model is accountability imbedded in a loving and caring community that is designed to help leaders and congregations become all that God has called them to be.
The characteristics of accountable community aren’t easy to create and maintain when they haven’t been previously present. I am thankful for our entire ECO community that is working hard to live out this crucial value. I believe God will be glorified in the midst of our relationships with each other as we seek to serve and love Him better together.