The following article was printed in the September/October issue of Connections, a publication of the Presbytery of New Covenant.
As I prepare to leave Houston and head to New Jersey for my new call as Regional Presbyter of the presbyteries of Monmouth and New Brunswick, I am reminded of the many times I have said and heard, “New Covenant is the best presbytery in the country!” Now, I’m hoping it’s not really as true as I thought … that there are at least two other presbyteries that can rival New Covenant in our ability to function, do mission and ministry together, and have lots of fun. The truth is, all I really need to know about being presbytery, I learned in New Covenant …
1) Welcome the Stranger … I moved from Detroit to serve Westminster, Baytown, in 1998, and I was immediately welcomed into the presbytery. Not by a formal committee per se, but by my colleague (and now good friend) Richard Kleiman who was the pastor of First Presbyterian in Baytown at the time. Within a week of my arrival he had invited me to worship with their congregation and took me to lunch. Also, within the first week or so, I got a “wrong number” from a presbytery committee member intended for the interim pastor who was there before me. The elder took some time to chat with me and invited me to attend the meetings of the New Church Development committee. Nearly seven years later, Richard encouraged me to apply for the AGP position. I wonder if it hadn’t been for the welcoming of the stranger, the friendships that developed and the “wrong number” if I ever would have been where I am today.
2) Lead with Honesty and Humility … I was the nearing the end of the second year of my tenure as AGP when Mike pulled me aside and said, “We have a problem.” It was the financial crisis that could have led to the destruction of the presbytery. Mike’s leadership was extraordinary – cool-headed, honest, transparent, humble, and authentic. And the presbytery responded with a willingness to forgive and help. A number of churches stepped forward to help cover salaries for NCD pastors. We were able to establish new ways of financial accountability without losing our ability to trust.
3) Respect Those Who Disagree with You … It’s no secret that we disagree on things in this presbytery. Our votes on some of the most controversial issues are close. But I have witnessed great respect for people, their faith in Jesus Christ, their character and their ministry even when clearly disagreeing. I believe it was Elder Rupert Turner* who said to me in the parking lot of 1100 Lovett a few years ago, “You know, God cares less about what decision we make than how we treat each other in the process.” I will take that with me.
4) Keep the Mission of the Local Church as Your Priority … one of the reasons, I believe, we can disagree with respect, is because we agree on this priority. The Great Ends of the Church can, ultimately, only be lived out through the mission of the local congregation. Our vision as a presbytery is “Growing Congregations …” not structures or committees or staff. Can you remember the rest of the vision statement? Let’s say it together …
5) Innovate and be Willing to Try New Things … I’ve been proud of our presbytery for our priority on New Church Development, and our ability to be flexible, to take risks, to try new things, and, yes, even to fail. A church planter colleague told me that “New Church Development is the Research and Development arm of the Church.” I appreciate that this presbytery understands that is willing to trust its pastors in trying new things. New Covenant was the first presbytery to participate in Acts 16:5 Initiative with Stan Ott a few years ago. We have been “cutting edge” and have been leaders to the denomination. I hope the presbytery never loses that.
6) Remember, it’s always about the Relationship … My favorite “meeting” of the month is the fellowship with margaritas and quesadillas at La Mexicana after COM. (First Tuesdays … put it on your calendar) Connectionalism, I have come to understand, is only as effective as the relationships between churches, elders, pastors etc. is strong. So Margaritas after COM, Village Salads at One’s a Meal after General Council, or just sitting in the rockers at Cho-Yeh (or coloring the poster or working on the jigsaw puzzle) at the clergy retreat are all instrumental in encouraging one another and supporting one another.
7) Pray and Worship together … Every Wednesday at 11:30 AM the presbytery staff and often others in the building gather in the chapel for worship and prayer. Usually on the last Wednesday of the month, a guest pastor is invited to lead us in worship including the Lord’s Supper. Not only do we focus first on Christ, but we pray for and with each other, for every pastor and every church in the presbytery, for our friends and relatives and each other. I will miss Wednesdays with New Covenant when I move to New Jersey. I hope there will be some who will join me up there to pray and worship for and with each other.
“Best presbytery in the country” … I hope in a few months I’ll be saying that about New Brunswick and Monmouth, not because New Covenant has somehow “slipped” in its standing, but because we (New Brunswick and Monmouth) have risen to the same level of collegiality, faithfulness, boldness and joyfulness. God bless … I love you.
*Elder Rupert Turner died this week (Monday, August 29) after a long battle with cancer and other health concerns. He will be well remembered for his faithfulness and wisdom and dedication to the church.