There is a profound difference between holding a doctrine to be true and living...
In ECO, we have polity in place to help our congregations flourish. One of the parts of our polity that is often overlooked, states the following regarding presbytery duties:“The presbytery has the authority and pastoral responsibility to: Promote and encourage the missional effectiveness of its congregations. Each presbytery shall develop an instrument to assist its congregations in their annual review and narrative report of their ministry and mission. These annual reports shall be reviewed and discussed by the presbytery with each congregation’s session.” (3.0103 m.)
There are a variety of reasons for which this section of our polity is challenging. First, it often feels most urgent for presbyteries to focus on welcoming, approving and assimilating new congregations, pastors and ordination candidates, as well as developing and multiplying presbyteries. This takes a lot of time and energy in itself. But there are also deeper challenges to congregational assessment. It is hard to honestly assess ourselves and the effectiveness of our ministries. And when we are brave enough to make those types of assessments, we usually do not want to share them with other congregations!
To help congregations and presbyteries fulfill this portion of the polity, we want to simplify the types of questions Sessions asks themselves, rather than focusing only on narrative questions. Anna Kent, our Director of Covenant Relationships, and I were in discussion about this issue, and genuinely want to help congregations live into the spirit of the following questions:
· Where has God moved within the life and ministry of our congregation this year? Celebrate what God has done in the life and ministry of your congregation!
· Where is God calling us to go in the next year? This question might be answered by looking at a congregation’s weaknesses (growth opportunities!) or by recognizing the gap between the vision of the congregation and the current reality.
· What steps will we take to get there in the next year? Perhaps you will engage in one of the ECO ministry resource opportunities such as Flourishing Disciples or Flourishing Leaders. Or you may partner with an outside organization to develop your ministry, such as the Fuller Youth Institute.
We have also helped Sessions ask these questions through the Becoming a Flourishing Church resource which we introduced at last year’s National Gathering. It is wonderful to see churches who have completed the Becoming a Flourishing Church course identifying where they need to be placing effort and energy in order to flourish.
In ECO we also have the structure of Mission Affinity Groups to give congregations a supportive environment in which to help one another move forward in mission and ministry. It is hard to be transparent with others in these small groups, as we often want to show the “Christmas card” version of our church and its people, glossing over the challenges. But we need each other for support if we are going to flourish! For example, research tells us that those doing Doctorate of Ministry programs are 30% more likely to graduate if they are pursuing their studies in a cohort group with other students, as opposed to taking individual classes and seeking to finish the degree on their own. This is one of many examples of effective accountability. Let’s dig in to join and engage in our Mission Affinity Groups for effective accountability as well!
The start of a new year is a great time to evaluate and make plans for what is ahead. I pray that our congregations and ministry leadership will seek the Lord’s leading as we take inventory of our ministries, make commitments to enhance them, and walk together as we mutually encourage each other to flourish.