Clergy Coaching

A United Methodist  colleague introduced me to this clergy coaching network.    While I haven’t had a chance to fully explore all this particular network has to offer, I endorse the concept and hope to see more coaching networks emerge to support clergy in struggling, transitional urban churches.  I have come to believe all clergy, especially those involved with transitional ministries, need a coach. 



“In the future, all pastors will be coached and will become coaches.”

  • Leonard Sweet“Everyone needs help from time to time. A Coach opens new pathways, creates new possibilities and brings out the very best in you.”
  • David Meyer


Are our PCUSA foundations cracked?  I sometimes feel the church is ready to collapse under the weight of numerous issues.   Is our polity working for us or against us?   Is our desire to always do things “decently and in order” get in the way of reconciling our differences?   What has happened to our celebrating diversity acknowledge we are not always going to agree on all of the issues?  Are the foundations, that have always held us together as a denomination, failing us?

So back to basics.    It’s been a long time since I took a formal class on church polity.  After forty years of ministry and regular use of the Book of Order, I would like to think I had a pretty good understanding of all three sections of our Presbyterian Church Constitution. 

Wait a minute!  Did I say “Three sections” to the Book of Order?  There are now four sections in our constitution.  With all the work we did in approving the (NFOG) New Form of Government, how could I miss the fact that we added a fourth section to our constitution?  The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, wrote a pastoral letter this past week  (July 10, 2014) reminding us once again of these “foundations” – to quote Dr. Sorge: 

The former Book of Order identified features of our foundation here and there, but did not lay them out anywhere in order  Our revised version now identifies our foundations as one discrete section among four, each identified by their first letter.:

  1. F – Foundations of our life together
  2. G – Governance of our life together
  3. W – Worship as the core practice of our life together
  4. D – Discipline that insures the ongoing integrity of our life together.

 Aha!   There is one quote I have used often in referring to these foundations.  Having served an urban church struggling with the decline in membership and resources we affirmed often:

The Church is the body of Christ,. Christ gives the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body.  The Church strives to demonstrate these gifts in its life as a community in the world (I Corinthians 12: 27-28):  The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.  F-1.0301

It’s time for me to check out the rest of these “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity”.   In outline form:   

The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity

Chapter One

The Mission of the Church

F.1.01 God’s Mission

F.1.02 Jesus Christ is Head of the Church

F.1.03 The Calling of the Church

F.1.04 Openness to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit


Chapter Two

The Church and Its Confessions

F.2.01 The Purpose of Confessional Statements

F.2.02 The Confessions as Subordinate Standards

F.2.03 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Church Catholic

F.2.04 The Confessions as Statements if the Faith of the Protestant Reformation

F.2.05 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Reformed Tradition


Chapter Three

Principles of Order and Government

F.3.01 Historic Principles of Church Order

F.3.02 Principles of Presbyterian Government

F.3.03 Foundational Statements

F.3.04 The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Defined


I end this blog with the words of Dr. Sorge who said in his pastoral letter:

In a time when some folk wonder whether and how our beloved church can weather some storms we are currently facing, it is critically important that we consider the sort of foundation that can keep us strong all the way through.  Understanding the storm is important, but attending to our foundations is what will cause us to survive and to thrive today and tomorrow, to the glory o God.”

 Entrusting our lives to God alone,  

Amen NEW FUTURE FOR AN AGING CONGREGATION An Alban story about the northeast Dallas Gaston Oaks Baptist Church.  Mostly white with the average being 83, this congregation has found a way to move forward with dwindling resources.  This is a story of revitalization and transformation.  I have been preaching this for years:  small, struggling churches have options other than to die!



At the heart of my ministry has been the call to be a missional church.  I hope this reaffirmation by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church doesn’t get lost amid the ‘hot button’ decisions made at this meeting.  The action item approved by this assembly is for the church to:

“join intentionally in God’s mission to transform our world and address root causes of societal injustices by following Christ’s example of service through faith, hope, love, and witness.”

I am wondering:  How are we doing?  Note at the end of this rational a listing of specific action items for churches to consider.

From the report to the General Assembly:

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a historical commitment to joining Christ’s mission in local and global communities and many have discussed and written about the concept of the missional church in recent years. The Presbyterian Mission Agency, in its 2013–2016 Mission Work Plan, has made engaging young adults through mission and volunteer service a priority and believes shaping multigenerational, faith-based relationships dedicated to service in local communities and the world will help the church better follow Christ’s mission.


For nearly 200 years, the Presbyterian church has served as one of the greatest forces for mission in the world. The church is called to minister to the immediate needs and hurts of people. The Book of Order states: “In the life of the congregation, individual believers are equipped for the ministry of witness to the love and grace of God in and for the world. The congregation reaches out to people, communities, and the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ, to gather for worship to offer care and nurture to God’s children, to speak for social justice and righteousness, and to bear witness to the truth and to the reign of God that is coming into the world” (G-1.0101).


Presbyterians have sought to be a mission-centered church from their inception and have a strong, unwavering belief that there is no other way truly to be the church. Many have discussed and written about the concept of the missional church in recent years. One Presbyterian scholar, Darrell Guder, has written on this vital topic for the church today. In his book, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, Guder and his colleagues provide key insights into the recent missional church movement.


Guder and his colleagues discuss three themes that are important to this proposal: the shift the church must make, the purpose of the church, and the role of denominational structures. Guder argues that to be missional the church must “move from church with mission to missional church.”[1] Most churches articulate a commitment to mission and have a mission program. If they are large enough, they likely will have a specific pastor devoted to mission. Many churches support several overseas missionaries and are probably contributing money and service to a local mission, homeless shelter, or food bank. In this construct, mission is seen as one of the many activities and programs of the church. The purpose of the local church is not to be what Guder calls “vendors of religious services and goods,”[2] with mission merely being one of a myriad of programs. Rather, doing mission is central to what it means to be the church. This is the shift that the church must make.


The second major theme in Guder’s work challenges the very definition of what it means to be the church. Guder argues that it is “a new understanding of the church as a body of people sent on a mission.[3] The church is thus not only a body that gathers for a worship service. The church is also a group of people organizing together so they can serve the community around them most effectively. The purpose of gathering is to be sent. Guder states, “The public worship of the mission community always leads to the pivotal act of sending. The community that is called together is the community that is sent. Every occasion of public worship is a sending event.”[4] To be a missional church, worship is driven more by what must happen after the service.


What it truly means to be the church, according to Guder, is “the people of God who are called and sent to re-present the reign of God. This vocation is rooted in the good news, the gospel: in Jesus Christ the reign of God is at hand and is now breaking in.”[5] For Guder, the focus of the staff and the commitment of the resources are directed toward helping people to re-present Christ to their neighbors in their everyday lives. They do this through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues. The activities of the church should model these forms of everyday interactions. Guder writes: “The ecclesial practices are never esoteric or supernatural but involve ordinary human behavior: joining and sharing, eating and drinking, listening and caring, testing and deciding, welcoming and befriending.”[6] To do this effectively, the church must know its neighbors and understand what things they care about, so as to cultivate authentic, genuine friendships.


This initiative seeks to inspire Presbyterian congregations to reach out to their communities through acts of service that lead to connectivity with local communities and demonstrates the love of Christ to their neighbors such as:


•      Every congregation would determine a number of volunteers and volunteer hours they would commit to their community and fulfill that commitment for the year.

•      Adopt a community in need of refurbishing in the U.S.

•      Actively engage youth and young adults in volunteer opportunities.

•      Support young adults and others called to serve in God’s mission in the U.S. and abroad.

•      “Re-presenting” Christ in their everyday lives through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues.

•      Support the Living Missionally initiative in prayer.

•      Actively engaging at least 1,000 PC(USA) congregations each year (2014–2016) to focus on becoming “Missional Churches” through acts of service in communities around the world.”


[1] Darrell L. Guder, “Missional Church: From Sending to Being Sent,” in Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, ed. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 6.

[2] George R. Hunsberger, “Missional Vocation: Called and Sent to Represent the Reign of God,” in Missional Church, 108.

[3] Ibid., 81.

[4] Guder, “Missional Structures: The Particular Community,” in Missional Church, 243.

[5] Guder, “Missional Church,” in Missional Church, 15.

[6] Inagrace T. Dietterich, “Missional Community: Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit,” in Missional Church, 181.


PCUSA is not BDS and is pro-Israel!

John Bell, pastor of the Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver, does an excellent job in describing the PCUSA Divestment issue.

John Henry Bell's Blog

The Presbyterian Church USA has been accused of being influenced by and aligning with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and of taking action that is anti-Israel and pro-Palestine. This is simply not true. Most commissioners that I talked to had never heard of BDS. None that I talked to had read “Zionism Unsettled” and found verbal summaries of it to be disgusting. The PCUSA has long been a supporter of Israel and will continue to be. I am deeply sorry the action has been misunderstood, misinterpreted and has caused pain for our Jewish friends. Speaking for the vast majority of Presbyterians at the General Assembly, I can clearly say there was no malice intended. We too seek peace, justice and reconciliation.

This is a summary of what the General Assembly 2014 actually did (for more detail read: PCUSA Divestment):

The 2014 PCUSA General Assembly APPROVED a resolution…

View original post 282 more words


A peoples guide for study and conversation

 The issue of gay marriage has become a ‘hot potato’ topic in church and society.  I found this study guide produced by More Light Presbyterians a helpful guide to add to the arsenal of resources for study and conversation.   You can download it from this link.  

Keep this prayer in mind from the Book of Common Worship.  

 “Through the embrace of love and the bonds of godly affection, make us one in the Spirit by your peace which makes all things peaceful.  We ask this through the grace, mercy and tenderness of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Book of Common Worship pg. 812





 Most gracious and glorious God:  Guide me in prayer for the 221st meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meeting in Detroit June 14-21st.  I ask for you to surround elected commissioners with your spirit of discernment.   Empower committee leadership and staff as this assembly seeks to do Your will in doing Your work.

Hear the prayers of your church for sacred worship.  May worship and fellowship fuel this assembly through Word and Sacrament.   Fill our congregations with faith and hope and love as we live out our baptism.    

 Hear my prayers.   AMEN





My first meeting of General Assembly in the former United Presbyterian Church was over forty years ago.   I believe the first Assembly I attended was in Denver in the mid-1970’s.  I have been able to attend about one-third of these Assemblies throughout my career.  [I would have gone to all of them but for the work I was called to do as a pastor.]    


I didn’t really become a true “junky” until elected to the General Assembly Council twenty years ago. It was while serving on the GAC and the COGA (Committee on the Office of General Assembly) that I grew to appreciate all the efforts of staff and elected leadership in creating a balanced national conversation on issues we face in church and world.  It is these conversations we hold officially as an assembly among elected representatives that lead to decisions that help build this part of the church we call ‘Presbyterian’. 

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) now meets biennially in even-numbered years.   It saves money to meet every other year.  This also gives the church to deliberate and implement as congregations and mid-councils the work that has been done nationally.   The General Assembly consists of commissioners elected by each of its 173 presbyteries. The GA consists of ten long days, worship, business sessions, committee meetings, an exhibit hall, and tours sponosred by the Presbytery of Detroit—the host for this 221st Assembly.   These assemblies create life-long memories for ruling and teaching elders as well as those who visit these national meetings.

The first day of this Assembly on Saturday, June 21, will consist of worship and the election of a new moderator.  I am biased.  A friend and colleague, John Wilkerson, is running for moderator.  (see  In my mind and heart, I cannot think of a more qualified person to lead our church with “energy, intelligence, imagination and love”.  I wish I were a commissioner so I could give him my vote.  My voice of support is what I can offer through this blog.

From the official web page of the General Assembly:  

The General Assembly has several specific responsibilities outlined in Chapter 3 of the Book of Order. The assembly seeks to protect our church from errors in faith and practice, is responsible for assuring that the expression of our theology remains true to the biblical standards in our historic confessions. The General Assembly presents a witness for truth and justice in our community and in the world community. It sets priorities for the church and establishes relationships with other churches or ecumenical bodies.  


There are literally hundreds of issues that go before various committees as commissioners meet.   This is always an intense, joy-filled meeting in giving glory to God for the gift of Jesus God’s beloved Son.  At the same time as in all family gatherings, this national meeting of Presbyterians also has a fair share of controversy and healthy debate.


There will be those issues that threaten to divide us as Presbyterians. For me two issues top the list – the issue of same-gender marriage and Middle East Peacemaking top the list of controversial issues where the Assembly is unlikely to find full consensus.  The challenge, as I see it, is lodged in the HOPE that those who don’t always agree on complex issues will not forget we all are called to be “One in the Spirit, and One in our Lord”. At the same time we pray for our polity that allows us to move forward even if it means agreeing to disagree.    We are called to seek God’s will committed to pray for God’s love and peace to build us up and bind us together.

Finally, may we join in regular prayer for this Assembly.  Let’s take time to follow the work that national leaders are doing on behalf of us all. 

May God continue to bless Christ’s Church and the denominational family named ‘Presbyterian’.






Reflecting on nearly forty years of ministry, there are plenty of things I wish had been taught at seminary.   I enjoyed reading the article by church consultant Sarai Schnucker Rice (  who lists many of the usual subjects taught at seminary:


Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament, New Testament, systematic theology, liturgy, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, all the spiritual disciplines, and 2000 years of church history…..”


But what about the administrative skills helpful for any pastor called to actually manage the ministries of a particular church?   Throughout my ministry, I found it was expected that pastors know how to manage the church as an organization. 


Some of the management skills discussed in this article:


  1. Framing the Vision
  2. Engaging the Board and Congregational Planning
  3. Leading the Staff
  4. Managing the Finances
  5. Developing Future Lay Leadership
  6. Creating Space for New Ministerial Leadership
  7. Being the Chief Communicator
  8. Supporting the Board


I would add to this list some additional skills:


 1.  Building Maintenance:   How to handle building emergencies:  leaks, plumbing crisis, power outages, floods and fires. 

 2.  Legal Issues—Risk Management:  


How to respond to an active member who insists on carrying a gun in church?   How do respond to felons or known sex offenders who may wish to join your church?  Child Protection laws?  Misconduct laws?  How to manage people who are disruptive in  worship?  What do you do when someone has a heart-attack during worship?  What do you do when personally threatened?

 3.  Stewardship Development


How to manage annual fund-raising campaigns?  How to manage special capital campaigns?   How to secure grants and loans to help fund programs?  How to manage investments?  Endowments?  Bequests? 

4.  Weddings and Funerals:   How to manage some of the special requests a pastor often gets outside the parameters of what most congregational manuals teach. 


I was once asked to bless a new light fixture outside a church building that had been destroyed by vandals.  Or what do you do when nobody is available at the cemetery to dig the grave?  How do you respond to the family that requests a 21 gun salute outside he church  (when there isn’t going to be traditional interment).  Just a few of the requests I have had to respond to over the years.


Granted, many of these things can only be learned through experience.   The value of Seminary Internships is in learning some of these practical aspects of doing ministry.  What should be taught at seminary?  I also need to ask:  What needs to be taught as clergy grow in their positions? 


Years ago and as a member of the Presbytery of Chicago (early 80’s) we had a Professional Development Committee (under the auspice of the Committee on Ministry).   This committee hosted regional gatherings of small groups of teaching elders in order to discuss tough situations (through case studies) encountered in doing ministry.  These were meetings designed to nurture trust among peers.  I found these meetings helpful in not only dealing with personal/professional issues but also in learning from what others were encountering in their ministries.  While I don’t know if these gatherings continued, I would think this could be a helpful model


This suggestion:  Create your own post-seminary group of colleagues to discuss, as the title in the Rice article suggests in asking:  WHAT SHOULD A MINISTER BE GOOD AT?  


My thanks to Sarai Schnucker Rice for her article.



“I Wanna Be Rich” by Rev. Jao Cho 

“I Wanna Be Rich”

The Kingdom of God and the Myth of the Americdan Dream

By Rev. Jao Cho, Tampa, Florida. 

I anjoyed this article by Jao Cho from Tampa, Florida. had an impact on me.   We are called within the context of community to be stewards of all God has entrusted our care.  We are called to be stewards of all life.  Rev. Jao Cho says:

Thankfully, through my experience at Church of All Nations, I have learned a new way of understanding what it means to be rich. I have found a treasure that “neither moth nor rust consumes” and that can never be bought or stolen from me. I have discovered the joy living together in intentional Christian community.

Which world do we chose to live?   The profit-driven, individualized, high tech “I want to get rich” world?    Or the God-driven/Christ centered world where we learn to place our resources next to those things God calls us in life to value?   Enjoy this article that comes from a young pastor who os “right on” with what he has to say!