Presbyteries and Worshipping Digital Networked Communities

Albert Bogle January 10, 2017 1 10
Presbyteries and Worshipping Digital Networked Communities

According to the web page by the end 2017 it is estimated there will be 4.7 billion mobile phone users worldwide. Many of these phones are increasingly being used to surf the net, text, access banking facilities, pay bills, and develop social networks. In short, the mobile phone has become a community of friends, family and business all rolled into one. Last month I posed the question regarding the value of the mobile phone as a tool to re-engage the many  who have been disconnected from church.

In this article I want to suggest how the Church of Scotland could use technology to develop and nurture existing worshipping communities within presbyteries and to create and establish new communities of faith using networked digital technology inspired and generated by a re-envisioning of the purpose of presbytery.

The mobile phone or tablet has the potential to keep individuals in touch with a worshipping community? And holds out the possibility for the gospel to be placed in the hands of an unreached generation that is in search of meaning. Presbyteries have the potential to create a critical mass for inspirational worship and ministry and to pull resources to enable mission to be relevant relational and local.

The role of a presbytery requires to be adapted for the resourcing of the church in a proactive manner rather than being a reactive business meeting at which comparative strangers vote on issues that seem far removed from their immediate knowledge. The question needs to be asked what is it that Presbytery currently does that is vital to the life and direction of the local congregations? And what could it be doing that would re-energise the mission of the church?

There has been much talk about the potential of hub style ministries around the recent roadshows promoted by the Council of Assembly. The more radical suggestion for presbyteries to turn themselves into hubs that drives the local congregations. No legislation would be required. Presbyteries have more power to act in creative ways than they imagine.

If we change the presbytery from a business meeting to become a motivational centre for worship and christian discipleship we have the basis of a structure that has the potential to maximise all the personnel and resources in a region for the benefit of all the congregations. The business and administration of presbytery would change to be directly linked to the management and growth of the congregations in its bounds. Presbytery would become the dynamo that would create the energy to sustain and develop local ministry working towards devolved budgets and a greater autonomy. 

An increasing number of mega churches around the world operate what is known as a cell, satellite, centre model. The cell is a small group of up to 12 people who meet weekly for prayer and mutual encouragement. The satellite is a group of people from 20 - 400 this is the equivalent of the local congregation. They meet weekly on a Sunday morning or at a suitable time in the week. The centre is the resource that services the satellite congregations and the satellite congregations act interdependently together through the central hub. The centre is a worshipping community in its own right made up of all the cell and satellite groups and models excellence for all the satellites.

The centre acts as a service hub of the satellite congregations becoming a resource to thousands of people who attend these congregations.  Often the centre hosts a Bible School and a Worship Leaders School, and a number of regular training programmes on a weekly basis for the satellite congregations. There is much we could learn from these large   

Independent churches without losing our own special identity as a national church.

Adapting a Model 

The Church of Scotland already has a wealth of talent employed as ministers and workers in the parishes. These could be used to staff and service regional centres of excellence, or  super-hubs, for training in a variety of areas including ministry and worship while ensuring the local satellite congregations flourish and grow because of the new improved ministry being developed and shared throughout the network of satellite congregations.

The time has come to leave the old models behind and begin to change mindsets by empowering the people of God to lead and to make an impact on our nation.  

The model of one minister working in one parish or between three parishes is no longer viable. We need a bigger vision. The local church according to Ephesians 4 is built around Christ the head, with the Holy Spirit imparting a gift of ministry to every believer. It is surely the ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ at work in the church that produces the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Ministry is therefore interdependent on each others gifts.  To speak of the minister as the one in whom all the gifts reside is to limit the power of God and paralyses the church. To restrict the gifts of a minister to one congregation is to also deprive the wider church of talent and gifting that could inspire and encourage others. Under this new model ministers would become enablers and teachers  working for the whole of presbytery releasing the gifts of leadership throughout the churches. This model would invite ministers to grasp the opportunity to minister beyond the restrictions of a geographical parish. 

Presbytery Focus of Change

The Church of  Scotland as we know it today has never developed much beyond the mindset of a 19th Century Institution. Our  centralised boards and committees emerged in the late 19th  early 20th centuries as a response to modernity.  The  church centralised its mission policy for home and overseas and also began to develop a more centralist approach to ministry. All recent restructuring of the central activities of the church’s functions have been nothing more than a re-arranging of  the functions into different boxes. And while the present councils are seeking to work more closely with each other understanding their role in relation to presbyteries and local congregations is something that needs to be continually restated

We  are still heavily governed through centralised structures.  Although intellectually and theologically  we will deny this to be the case.  In practice we have allowed ourselves to be imprisoned by a committee structure that does not always allow for good decision making on entrepreneurial risk taking. We rely too heavily on our committee structure to make things happen. We still find it hard to invest in individual leadership.

We have built a church around the symbolism of a law court. Many of our ministers still dress like lawyers or judges on a Sunday. Our church buildings can often resemble the furnishings of a court of law. On occasions this may be what is required but should this be our focus all the time?  Presbytery also reflects the mood of a courtroom. Yet it must have another function.

The problem is that the language and ethos of the court to some will always  speak of law and punishment rather than justice and grace.  Finding a re-balancing in our buildings and symbolism is urgently needed.  When we worship and relate to each other in such an overtly legalistic symbolic environment we continue, often unwittingly,  to consign worship to the straight jacket of a court of law. There is often little room for grace or freedom of personal expression.

The question must be asked is this the right model in which to conduct our business and worship?  If we have a gospel message that has at its heart the Cycle of Grace where does that thinking fit into our court structure? 

During the past few years it seems to me that there is a mood in the church to be more relational than legal. This leads us to think about structures and functions that are based on trust and relationships rather than legal authority. 

True worship is surely an act of the heart in response to love and forgiveness not an act of duty. In so many ways the thinking of Church Without Walls invites the church to make a huge shift, to move from the courtroom to what some has called he bedroom. The place of worship and adoration. “The place where we take off our shoes from off our feet, the place where we stand on holy ground”.  This is the place where we are called to in worship, the place of intimacy.

A Community of Worshippers 

Many growing churches have based themselves around a community that makes worship its priority. They are prepared to change times, structures, and buildings to fit in with the social patterns of the day. These congregations take Ephesians 4 seriously.  They are committed to equipping all the saints for ministry. They include social justice and welfare care as part of the Christian act of worship and ministry. These are serious churches taking seriously the call to ministry and discipleship.

Sanctuary First  has been endorsed by Falkirk Presbytery to help develop a these fresh perspectives.  We'd like to invite other presbyteries to join with us to create the informal structures that  will promote the idea of collaboration and interdependency as good practice.  The time has come to leave the old mindsets behind and begin to change perspectives and expectations by empowering the people of God to lead and to make an impact on our nation. Lets get networking.