Leadership In Presbyterian Government — Do We Have A Name For That?

Those of you who track “Presbyterian” on Twitter know that the twitterverse came alive yesterday afternoon with retweets of a message from @Presbyterian that said:

“Clergy” and “laity” are not Presbyterian terminology: http://www.pcusa.org/pcnews/2010/10108.htm

The URL links back to a Presbyterian News Service article titled “Collegial leadership: Joe Small says clergy and laity are not Presbyterian terminology

There is much to like in this article and I agree with nearly all of it and I think anyone in any Presbyterian branch would agree as well.  The article is based on a talk that the Rev. Joseph Small, director of the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship,  gave in Minnesota at a Synod of Lakes and Prairies training event to presbyters serving on the Committees on Ministry and Preparation for Ministry.  I can only say that I am sorry we only got the summary and not the full text.

I would first emphasize that he highlights a problem with words that I commented on about a month ago.  In that case the narrative of the latest Presbyterian Panel report identified “elders” as “lay leaders.”  From the sound of Rev. Small’s comments he was clearly not involved in writing that paragraph.  I came at that issue from the point of view of pastors/clergy and elders sharing equally in the governance of the church and ruling elders, in my understanding, do not equate to laity.  In this article the Rev. Small seems to clearly agree, speaking of ordained officers (teaching elders, ruling elders, and deacons) being “genuine colleagues in ministry.”

This article highlights what should be our appropriate use of certain terms.  At this point I should probably confess my regular use of the term “clergy” in my writing.  I’ll keep pondering this to see if I want a style change.  My intent is not to use the term “clergy” in opposition to “lay” but to have a nice short word for that category.  In the PC(USA) the appropriate phrase is usually “Minister of Word and Sacrament” but both for length and variety I try to switch up the terms.  I try to avoid shortening that phrase to  “minister” since, as Rev. Small points out, all officers are involved in ministry and therefore are ministers.  The preferable shorter phrase is “teaching elder,” a phrase I like and use regularly.  And in other Presbyterian branches the initials TE are regularly used and understood for this making a nice shorthand.  Maybe I should use it more — and it comes endorsed by Rev. Small, the article saying that he favors the use of “ruling elder” and “teaching elder.”  Sometimes the logical term, and one that is used in this article, is “pastor.”  In my usage, I try to not use this term unless I am specifically referring to a teaching elder who is working in a congregational setting.  In the PC(USA) this is an important distinction because according to the 2008 breakdown of the “Active Ministers” [sic] of the 13,462 recorded as active I would count 9176 of them as being in a congregational setting leaving almost one-third (31.9%) in other ministries.  With that large a number not doing traditional pastoral work I tend to avoid using the word “pastor” unless I specifically mean someone working in a congregation.  (It also comes with the complexity of having Commissioned Lay Pastors who are not Ministers of Word and Sacrament but still doing pastoral work in congregations.)

So that is the collection of terms that we can use to refer to teaching elders depending on setting and space.  Now that TE Small has brought this to the attention of the PC(USA) I am looking forward to a standardization of usage across the denominational publications.

One additional comment in this article struck me and I would like to comment on it.  At one point in the article there is the line:

[Small] said, deacons are called to “leading the whole church in the ministry of compassion and justice.”

For those following the current discussions about the role of women in deacon ministry in the PCA you know that the discussion going on right this moment is about just that.  Is the role of deacon a ministry of service only or a ministry of leadership in service?  Specifically, can women served as commissioned assistants to the board of deacons?  On the one hand, the Bayly Blog brings us word of a proposed overture from Metro Atlanta Presbytery to the GA that would add the following line to the section on deacons [9-7] in the Book of Church Order:

These assistants to the deacons, selected by means determined by each Session, may be commissioned, but not ordained.

Within the rational section the writers of the overture say:

WHEREAS, the diaconal ministry is that of sympathy and service, not of spiritual and ecclesiastical governance, and any authority that may be attached to the office of deacon is a derivative authority, with plurality of elders serving as the final authority in a local church(BCO 9-1; 9-2; 9-6);

On the other side is an overture from Central Carolina Presbytery that wants to make it clear that “commissioned” deacons and deaconesses are not acceptable under the BCO by adding at the same place the line:

These assistants to the deacons shall not be referred to as deacons or deaconesses, nor are they to be elected by the congregation nor formally commissioned, ordained, or installed as though they were office bearers in the church.

I will consider the overtures to the GA at a later time but in light of this discussion it seems that TE Small’s comments seem to support the role of deacons as one of leadership as well as service.  You can check out the post on the Bayly Blog for their critique of the Metro Atlanta Presbytery proposed overture.  I have not yet seen a discussion of the Central Carolina overture, but if anyone is going to get to it before I have the time it will probably be the great polity wonks over at A Profitable Word.

It is interesting that while we complain about the mainstream media not understanding our system of polity, frequently we are not as clear and consistent ourselves and among ourselves using some of these terms.  Something to keep in mind.

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