Category Archives: Resources

Last Week In The Presbyterian Church In Ireland: Everyday Disciples And Essentials

Last week was a busy one for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland with their Special Assembly on Everyday Disciples and in that the roll-out of the new Essentials discipleship program. A close look at the Essentials material in a moment, but first a brief review of the Special Assembly.

Beginning on Monday of last week, over 600 people gathered at Ulster University in Coleraine for this Special Assembly around the theme Everyday Disciples and focusing on discipleship. It was not a deliberative assembly but a four-day event to prepare and energize members in their own discipleship walks as well as reaching out to others. In the church’s news article in advance of the Assembly the Moderator of the GA, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Noble McNeely is quoted as saying:

As Christians, Jesus calls us to be His disciples in all aspects of our lives. The title and theme of our Special Assembly is in recognition of the increasing necessity for today’s followers of Jesus to be equipped by the Church to be effective disciple-makers in their various spheres of everyday life.

Many of us however, recognise that we have perhaps concentrated too much on programmes and activities in our churches and have not been as strong on providing the essentials to facilitate making mature disciples.

The daily keynote addresses from our two principal speakers and the range of seminars available will help us to consider seriously the need for daily discipleship. It will also help us to understand better how we can be involved in a 21st century reformation of church and society.

The two principal speakers were pastors from U.S. churches who spoke on the theme of discipleship with an emphasis on a believer’s life and the local church. The first speaker was Rev. Randy Pope, pastor of Perimeter Church (with the PCA) in Atlanta. The second speaker was the Rev. Dr. Ray Ortlund, Jr., pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville. More on the speakers from both the PCI news article as well as one from the Belfast Telegraph.

I saw no indication of a live stream of the event but there was a healthy (OK, one non sequitur has crept in) and helpful Twitter presence so I would encourage you to check out the hashtag #everydaydisciples. And tracking there, from all that I saw the conference had a laser-sharp focus on the topic of discipleship and good quality keynote sessions and workshops. I appreciated the high quality of the stream of tweets but have resisted pasting any in here.

At the end of the Special Assembly a new discipleship program called Essentials was rolled out. I have purchased a copy and am favorably impressed with the focus, quality and helpfulness of this resource.

So, for your £12 you get the eight videos and five participants books with additional books £1 each. There is also a leader’s guide and a preaching plan included. And with the purchase you get access to the videos online for download in a number of different formats.

As you might have guessed it is an eight session program with each session taking the participants through a step in the journey of Jesus with his disciples. Here is a breakdown of the sessions:

  1. Come – COME AND SEE: Discipleship starts with awareness of Jesus before activity for Him
  2. Call – FOLLOW ME: The essential call of discipleship is to follow our Master Jesus
  3. Community – SHARE LIFE: We can’t do discipleship alone. We learn to follow Jesus as part of His church
  4. Culture – STEP OUT: Disciples don’t escape or embrace culture, but engage with it as they follow Jesus
  5. Courage – SPEAK UP: Disciples aren’t just called to live well in culture, but also to speak up for Jesus
  6. Cost – DENY YOURSELF: Following Jesus brings a cost in every area of our lives
  7. Challenge – GO MAKE: The challenge of becoming disciples who make disciples
  8. Continue – LOOK UP: We never graduate from needing Jesus but continue following him in every age and stage of life

I really liked this progression and thought it was a useful and logical way to develop the concept of discipleship. And it should be clear from the progression above that this resource, like the Special Assembly, was about both our own discipleship as well as equipping disciples to make disciples of others. I also liked that this is not a prescribed formula for doing discipleship but a journey and way of life from which helping others develop as disciples is an integral part.

Each session has a Before You Watch opening discussion with some intro questions and the Bible reading. The book gives a basic idea to keep in mind during the video and provides space in the book to jot down thoughts or comments. And in the After You Watch section a time to respond and discuss based on the five concepts of React, Reflect, Apply, Story, and Respond.

Each video is about 15 minutes long (plus or minus about one minute) and are all follow the same pattern, opening with a brief intro, then the Bible passage followed by a couple of individuals commenting and reflecting on the Bible reading. Finally, just under half the video is a member, or in a couple cases two members together, telling a part of their spiritual journey relevant to the topic of that session. The videos are well produced, the timing of them and the segments in them right for the audience and generally interesting to watch. The almost four minute promo video on the web page uses segments from all the videos and gives you a flavour for them.

It is worth saying up front that this series is not intended for a world-wide audience as it is produced for individuals from Ireland with themes and stories that resonate within their cultural setting and experience. For example, near the beginning of video three as the speaker talks about Christian community he makes reference to a number of experiences in that society in saying “Doesn’t Jesus know this is Ireland… We do division really well.” The cultural focus is definitely a benefit in getting the material out to the intended audience. For me it detracted little from the videos but if used in another setting some interpretation may be necessary if viewers are unfamiliar with the cultural themes.

Overall I was very favorably impressed with this resource. High quality and well thought out. I can only say that I went through the whole thing on my own and not with a group but it seems like it should work well. It is not high-pressure and the spiritual journeys shared in the everyday members of the church are well chosen and engaging and would seem to give plenty to talk about in a group discussion.

There were a couple of minor items that did jump out at me: One was that the scripture passages which, while appropriate, were not in chronological order. While session one and session two did come from early in the Gospels, session 3 then jumps to the end of John and the High-Priestly Prayer to talk about community. If the over-arching framework is disciples on their journey being developed by Jesus something more in order might have been more powerful. The second is pretty minor and that is a mention by the person in session 5 in telling his story talking about leading someone to Christ and the Sinners Prayer. It is a quick passing reference and not in the spirit of “this is how its done” but in some Reformed circles that particular prayer is not highly regarded for various reasons. (e.g. Ligonier, TGC)

Finally a couple of nice touches I liked in the series. First, the series is bookended in forming disciples – at the beginning the call to become one and at the end the commission to go and make them. And second, the final session ends in prayer – a good conclusion and reminder of where, as disciples, we are grounded.

Bottom line – I liked the series and found it a good framework and model for such a resource. Clearly some significant thought and testing has gone into designing it and producing it. Yes, it is produced with a particular cultural setting in mind but I think the value of this outweigh’s the downside of portability. And you can’t argue with the cost and I have not figured out if the production budget is depending on volume of sales or subsidy, but I suspect the latter. However, I can say I enjoyed working through the series on my own and can say I was stretched a bit by it.

My thoughts for what they are worth. Your mileage may vary… (to use one of our cultural idioms 😉 )

Info Related To Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief From American Presbyterian Branches

As the catastrophe of Hurricane, now Tropical Storm, Harvey continues to develop, American Presbyterian branches are responding with aid and prayers. Here are links to the latest information I am aware as well as a brief summary from each branch that I have found has posted online:  [Update with MSM links and some church info 8/30/17; more MSM links and church updates 8/31/17]

Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
In a pre-landfall update they named the leaders and members of Good Shepherd ARPC in Houston, Hope Presbyterian ARPC in Pearland, and Faith Fellowship in Cypruss TX for prayer. A post-landfall report yesterday gives an update and a link to donate through their Good Samaritan Relief fund.

Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians
Nothing obvious on the web site but an email/Twitter bulletin when out before landfall seeking prayers and updates. After landfall they have retweeted to help with relief through World Renew. You can get updates from World Renew on Twitter from @WorldRenew_net.

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Information on donations is in both an EP Connections article as well as on their Emergency Relief page.

Orthodox Presbyterian Church
They have posted a number of resources for prayer and contributions including the article on the main site, the OPC Disaster Response Facebook page, and the OPC Short-Term Mission and Disaster Response web site. They ask us to keep in prayer the leaders and members of Cornerstone OPC in Houston and Providence OPC in Kingwood, TX. For updates keep an eye on the Facebook page.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is deployed on scene and beginning their work. There is PC(USA) coverage in a couple of articles posted on that site – Aug 27, and Aug 28. The Presbyterian Outlook has just posted a detailed article about PDA’s work there and options for supporting the efforts. The PDA site also includes worship resources for churches including a bulletin insert about the recovery work. Updates from PDA can be seen on their Twitter feed @PDAcares. Update: New article from PC(USA) on the work by PDA

Presbyterian Church in America
The PCA’s Mission to North America (MNA) Disaster Response team is also deploying to the area. There is a page with Disaster Updates that also has information for Prayer, Giving, Sending Supplies, and Preparing to Go to serve. Updates can be found on the Twitter feed @pcamna. Update: New update added to the Disaster Updates page.

That is the information I have found at this point. Let me know if you have additional resources and I will update as appropriate.

Our prayers and support go out to all those affected by this disaster.

UPDATE: Adding some links from the mainstream media that involve Presbyterians. Plenty that mention Presbyterian disaster relief organizations in where to give lists, but beyond that, some others I have seen:


Equipping Elders

A few days ago I was musing on the training and continuing education (or lack thereof) of ruling elders in Presbyterian churches.  This has been a continuing reflection of mine to try to figure out how to better equip ruling elders for not just their administrative duties but their polity and spiritual shepherding duties as well.  Being a good elder is not easy and takes work.

It is always worthwhile for ruling elders to be reading their branch’s confessional standards on a regular basis, and to be familiar with their polity documents (The Code, Book of Forms, Book of Church Order, Book of Order).  But there is a need for resources to fill in between those documents and to help understand their context.

For a broad overview of Presbyterianism for not just ruling elders but members as well, my church, and others I know, have used Donald McKim’s Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers with good response. For theological background I have enjoyed the “Armchair Theologians” series of books on religious figures like Augustine, Calvin and Barth.  These are easy reads that give a good overview of each individual’s life and theological thought (which are usually linked).  I could see that academic theologians might have problems with the details, or lack of details in the books.  And for some the illustrations might be a problem either because it always represents God as the stereotype man with the flowing beard, or because it portrays God at all in violation of the Second Commandment.  And the PC(USA) has a low-cost set of studies at that are designed for leadership training and discussion of current hot topics.  I can not tell you anything further about these because I have not purchased any yet but I have seen good reviews from others in the PC(USA).

But that is a perfect lead-in to a brand new resource that is both comprehensive and free for download…

A big thanks to the Presbyterian Church in Canada for putting together Equipping Elders.  (And to Colin Carmichael, the Associate Secretary for Communications, for bringing it to my attention.) This 194 page resource is available as either the free download or for 20$CAN from the PCC Book Room. for a 3-hole punch loose-leaf version to put in a binder.  And what surprised me is how “platform independent” this is; it is very much about being a ruling elder and some, but not much, is directly tied to the PCC.

Probably what impressed me the most about this resource was how comprehensive it is – how much useful material is in one place.  It addresses important topics that ruling elders need to know to be good shepherds of their flocks:  Congregational care and home visitations along with suggested prayers for praying for members’ needs on those visits.  Understanding the implications of different sized congregations.  Why membership matters.  Stewardship.  And, relevant to this post, why and how elders need to keep on learning themselves.  The book says:

Ordination to ruling eldership in The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a lifelong commitment to a call to ministry in and with the church. Whether serving as term elders, experiencing periods as inactive elders, or attending session meetings monthly for 20 years, all elders are always elders.
     This ordination for life means that elders have responsibility for developing their skills, learning more about their ministry and growing in the faith. Elders need to be lifelong learners. Lifelong learning assumes that we all continue to learn new things over the years, whether this is through formal training, reading, discussions with others, experience, or picking up new information and ideas from a variety of sources.

Check it out, and if you know of any similar resource that puts that much practical information for ruling elders in one place, at any price, please let me know.

CD Review: Some Assembly Required by Angus Sutherland

I finally got around to ordering the CD “Some Assembly Required” from the Presbyterian Church in Canada.  For a G.A. Junkie this CD is a gem.

First, let me dispel any misconceptions.  This is not your typical CD of Christian music.  You won’t see it on the best seller charts.  It won’t be earning any Dove Awards.  To my knowledge this CD is one of a kind.

But, if you are a Presbyterian who understands and appreciates the nuances and idiosyncrasies of our Presbyterian system of government, and you don’t mind some humor about it in music, then you will probably get a kick out of this collection of seven songs.

And this album is worth every penny of the $Can 15 that it costs if for no other reason than the proceeds go to the Presbyterian World Service and Development Agency (PWS&D).

The Rev. Angus Sutherland has put together a set of seven novelty songs about Presbyterians in general and our system of government in particular.  I bought the album on the strength of the song “The Clerk’s Rant” which is available from the PCC web site.  It was a rap-style song with clever rhymes and witty lyrics from a clerk delivering, in a very typical “clerk tone,” guidance on parlimentary procedure for making motions and amendments.  Having now heard the rest of the album I can say that there is more clever song writing that I enjoyed.  For example, the second verse of the song “Decently and In Order” (sung to the tune Scotland the Brave with a whole bunch of extra syllables in the last line)

The people can be picky.
Ministry can be tricky.
The situation sticky.
What will you do?
When life is going faster,
It’s hard to be a pastor.
So when you face disaster,
What pulls you through?

We have the answer here
to help disperse your fear.
When you are lost here is one place you can come for answers.
When they will give no quarter,
Here’s how you meet disorder:
Decently and in Order,
And according to the Book of Forms.

(And as you probably guessed, the Book of Forms is very similar to, but not exactly the same as, the Book of Church Order or Book of Order.  The official documents of the PCC are the Acts of Assembly and the Book of Forms is updated regularly, but not annually, to reflect the Acts.)

It is also interesting to consider how universal the “Presbyterian experience” is.  The song “Moderator” (words and music by Mr. Sutherland) tells the story of a supposedly straight-forward committee report on the floor of the Assembly and the amendments and motions it is subjected to.  Here are the second and third verses, each of which is in a different voice invoking the requests of different GA commissioners:

Moderator, Moderator, Over here at microphone one.
I’m intending to be amending for so much is left undone.
Isn’t it a pity, don’t it make you blue.
Clearly the committee hasn’t thought the whole thing through.
Moderator, Moderator, my amendment’s on the floor.

Moderator, Moderator, I am standing — hear my plea.
The punctuation situation needs correction theologically.
If we place a comma after the word “and”
There will be no trauma and all will understand.
If those moving are approving, I propose this vital change.

Haven’t we all been there at one time or another.  And as a bit of an inside joke, the committee that is reporting is the Committee on History for which the Rev. Sutherland is the convener.

The strength of the album in my mind are the five songs more specific to Presbyterian governance.  There are two songs more general to the PCC and Presbyterianism:  “PWS&D” and “We are called.”  While interesting they don’t have the same resonance with me as the Assembly songs do.

So again, this album is not for everyone.  But for the rare breed versed in Presbyterian polity, parliamentary procedure, and the ways of General Assembly or other courts of the church this album will surely being a smile to your face.  Enjoy.