Saturday, April 10, 2021

Reforming Appalachia: Proposed Instructions for Creating an Individualized Under-Care Plan

 A Proposed Draft for Consideration

Congratulations for coming under the care of the New River Presbytery. What lies ahead of you can be daunting, but the New River Presbytery will guide your progress and growth toward licensure and ordination. By now you have been informed of the Presbytery’s expectations for candidates under care and are ready to create your Individualized Under-Care Plan (IUCP). You will create this plan with the help and approval of your mentor, your session, and the Candidates and Credentials Committee.  Please present to your mentor a first draft in the form of a grammatically and mechanically correct paper. Write informally and in the first person. Keep the headings, use complete sentences,  and provide answers in a narrative format without repeating the questions. Consult your mentor for guidance as you write your plan. The IUCP you create will lay out a path that welcomes input from the Presbytery while maintaining your liberty and agency.  It will help you think through all that lies ahead of you and help the presbytery know how to support your ministry aspirations. Your mentor will submit your IUCP to the C&C Committee. You are the future of the New River Presbytery. We need you.  We want to help you in whatever way we can.  

  1. Guidance

    1. What church are you a member of?  How long? 

    2. Identify and describe your relationship to your mentor. 

    3. How will you meet with your mentor and how often?

    4. What are your expectations for your mentor? 

  2. Education

    1. What college and graduate education have you received so far?

    2. What courses of theological studies have you completed so far?

    3. Where course of theological studies do you want to pursue? What degree do you want to earn? Institution? Traditional or non-traditional? Be as specific as possible. Describe any plan Bs. What is your timeframe for completion?  

    4. Without revealing financial information that you wish to keep private, please describe how you will pay for your education. What financial difficulties do you think you will face? What will be the greatest obstacles to completing your educational goals?

  3. Ministry Engagement/Internship

    1. Describe your ministry experience so far.  List churches, programs, activities, preaching/teaching, etc. 

    2. What kinds of ministry do you have little or no experience with?

    3. What are your ministerial strengths and weaknesses? Fears? 

    4. What ministry opportunities are currently available to you? 

    5.  With what frequency would you be available to fill pulpits as assigned throughout presbtyery?

    6.  How interested would you be in starting a bible study or small group or other “congregation gathering” activity from scratch in an unreached area or community near you? Can you identify such a community? How would you go about it if assigned to do so? 

    7. Recognizing the dearth of existing calls within the presbytery, what ideas do you have for cultivating calls to which you might be ordained?

  4. Licensure

    1. What are your opinions of getting licensed early in your Under-Care Program?

    2. What are your opinions of accepting the direction of the presbytery during your licentiate ministry?

    3. Do you already have specific ministry roles or positions to which you would like to be commissioned by the presbytery as a licenitate?  Please describe.

    4. Please describe your degree of readiness/unreadiness to complete each of the following: 

      1. Statement of Christian experience and inward call to preach the Gospel in written form and/or orally before the Presbytery

      2. Written and/or oral examinations for basic knowledge of Biblical doctrine (WCF&C), Bible content, Book of Church Order. 

      3. Provide written sermon on an assigned passage of Scripture embodying both explanation and application, and present sermon or exhortation before Presbytery or before a committee of Presbytery.

    5. By when do you think you would like to be ready to complete the licensure process?

    6. What fears/concerns do you have about being licensed?

  5. Ordination

    1. Please review with your mentor the Uniform Curriculum Guidelines of the PCA. What minimum portion of your academic program must be completed to cover the Uniform Curriculum Guidelines. Please list the courses in your pogram that you think might cover this, short of completing the degree. 

    2. Keeping in mind the requirement that you must complete an internship and a course of theological studies (not a degree) that covers these guidelines, estimate by when you might be ready to complete the ordination process.

Thank you for completing the first draft of your IUCP. Your mentor and the presbytery will work will to finalize your plan to ensure it will be practical and adequate. It will be approved by the Candidates & Credentials committee, and reviewed and modified as needed to encourage and guide your progress. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Reforming Appalachia: A Robust Under Care Program

    To replant Presbyterianism in West Virginia, the New River Presbytery must employ a robust, active, engaging, and encouraging Under Care Program that guides the advancement of our candidates toward ordination. The goal of such a program is to overcome obstacles that have historically handicapped Presbyterianism in Appalachia by enlisting qualified licentiates and unleashing ordained ministers earlier in the process than has been customary. Such a program should include the following seven categories:

  1. Administration by the Presbytery

    1. Identification and registration of candidates

    2. Tracking, assessment, and reporting of progress

  2. Guidance by the Candidate and Credentials Committee

    1. An Individualized Under Care Plan is an agreement between the presbytery and candidate 

    2. Developed by the candidate and approved by the mentor, session, and Candidates and Credentials Committee

    3. Customized to include the candidate’s plan for education, mentoring, ministry engagement/Internship, licensure, and ordination

    4. With tentative dates for tracking progress 

    5. Monitored by an assigned mentor who reports annually to the Candidates and Credentials Committee. 

  3. Educational opportunities

    1. Three Options

      1. In-bounds, in-person non-traditional educational programs such as the New River Presbytery’s LAMP program (in-development).

      2. Online seminary coursework at established out-of-bounds seminary programs such as RTS, Westminster, Covenant, and Greenville.

      3. Out-of-bounds, in-person seminary programs are not preferable because statistics show seminarians who leave the bounds of the presbytery are less likely to return. 

    2. Licensure Educational Program

      1. Presbytery provides an in-house “course of theological studies” that prepares students for licensure exams.  

    3. Ordination Educational Program

      1. PCA ordination ordinarily presupposes at least a bachelor or masters in any field, although this has been debated and can be exempted under the extraordinary clause.  

      2. Beyond that, ordination requires only “a regular course of theological studies” that fulfills the Uniform Curriculum of the PCA and satisfies the Presbytery.  This means an additional degree or certificate is not necessary for ordination. Such a candidate can be ordained without appeal to the extraordinary clause. 

      3. Presbytery should make available a regular course of theological studies that adds subjects in prep for ordination exams and fulfills the Uniform Curriculum Guidelines of the PCA. 

      4.  Presbytery should encourage completion of professional ministerial degrees or other continuing education needs/desires after ordination. 

  4. Active, In-bounds Ministry Engagement and Internships

    1. Pre and post licensure opportunities for ministry

    2. According to the individualized written program

    3. Managed by a church session

    4. Mentored by the church pastor 

    5. Partnered with the presbytery to provide/require a variety of presbytery-wide experiences

    6. Toward the advancement of Presbyterianism in West Virginia.

  5. Licensure and Licenciate ministry

    1. Terminal or interstitial Licensure

      1. Terminal primarily for pulpit supply and interim ministry

      2. Interstitial as a stage of progress toward ordination

    2. Candidates are licensed as early in the Under Care Program as possible, as soon as wisdom, preparation, and opportunity permit 

    3. So as to arm a presbyterial infantry for the advancement of Presbyterianism in West Virginia

    4. Commissioned and managed by the presbytery toward specific goals developed in partnership with the licentiate.

      1. Filling pulpits

      2. Gathering congregations

      3. Cultivating calls

    5. Reporting annually to the Presbytery.

  6.   Assessment throughout

    1. Of progress

    2. Of continuing interest

    3. Of skills

    4. Of qualification

    5. Toward recommendation for examination for licensure or ordination

  7. Ordination

    1. Upon successful completion of education program, internship, licensure, assessment, cultivation of call, and recommendation 

    2. With the understanding that education will continue toward a terminal professional ministerial degree or other educational needs/desires. 

    3. Requiring the presbytery to administrate and provide for continuing education after ordination.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Reforming Appalachia: Defining Native and Adopted Sons

    As we consider how to replant Presbyterianism in Appalachia, raising up and recruiting ministers is crucial. Different paths toward ordination and the types of calls that may be available make it helpful to categorize potential ministers into two classes. These do not of themselves estimate or compare their value, as if to say that one would always be better than the other. But rather, it is to acknowledge that different calls may be best suited to different classes or kinds (for reasons described later) and that different classes may require different paths to ordination.

Native Sons

   The first class we will define is that of Native Sons. Transparently, Native Sons have been raised in Appalachia generally, or, even better for our considerations, in West Virginia specifically. Their lives are situated here. They have been enculturated and have innumerable family and community connections. They are possibly here because they love being here, deigning to surrender the sense of place with which they have been blessed. They may joyfully expect to work here, raise their families here, retire here, and die here. On the other hand, their circumstances might have kept them from ever leaving, due to geographic and economic immobility. But hopefully, they are contently resigned to being here and no longer contemplate other options. Regardless, if they desire the office of a presbyter, the domain in which they desire to minister is--whether by circumstance or affection--the territory they have always called home. A subclass of Native Sons might be called “Prodigal Sons,” who once left to “seek their fortunes” but have since heard “her voice, in the morning hours she calls me,” as so many do, and returned “to the place where I belong.”

Adopted Sons    

    The second kind is that of Adopted Sons. Adopted Sons include those who were born and raised elsewhere but who have through providence or call made their way to West Virginia. They come here because they want to be here and intend to stay here as long as providence allows and sense determines. In this category are those who are more likely to have received a traditional seminary education. Prior to coming, they may have identified Appalachia as the place in which they desire to advance the kingdom, similar to how a missionary might identify a country or people to which they will someday go. Given our dearth of presbyterian pulpits, these might be church planters working at the behest of the presbytery. Or, more likely, they got wind of a new or vacant call--a rare opportunity to which they applied and were installed by the presbytery. In the first case, their sense of call informed their circumstance. In the second, their circumstances informed their sense of call. We have proved that Adopted Sons of either sort are welcome among us; they have greatly enriched our ranks for many generations, and we would be even more desparate without them.

Difficulties Inherent to the Kind

    Both classes come with difficulties. Regarding Adopted Sons, the West Virginia frontier does not naturally draw the attention of eager seminary-trained ordinands. Even then, calls are few, and vacancies even more rare. Rural presbyteries have few resources with which to subsidize new calls, and the larger world of Presbyterianism has overlooked rural frontiers for generations. Only now undercurrents of rural outreach are beginning to circulate among the evangelical church’s ecclesiological influencers. If a wave ever does hit, current models of church planting will not be practical outside “metropolitan” areas, which is problematic for our state, which is the only one in Appalachia with no major metropolitan centers. Rural presbyteries will need to guide their efforts by pioneering new ways of rural outreach. Hopefully these essays, if I can ever get them finished, will get us thinking along those lines.

    Adopted Sons are also more likely than Native Sons to move on from us. Some new or young ministers are just happy to get a job--any job. There’s not as much competition for calls here, and a desperate Presbytery might not make it as difficult for a new or young minister to get ordained. Despite convincing themselves and us of their zeal to come here during examination, it is not unreasonable for a new or young minister to quietly reserve the right to move on if something better arises. And the bar for better lowers quickly when what is unique to West Virginia disabuses new ministers of initial excitement, especially if they have no roots here.

Going Forward

   Adopted Sons will receive treatment in these essays. They are crucial for our success going forward. As much as we would like to do things on our own, we have proved we cannot, and it would be arrogant and exclusivistic to think that we could (I preach to myself). We will always need them to plant churches and fill pulpits. They will be more likely than our Native Sons to have had a traditional seminary education, and traditional seminary exists for real and valid reasons. We should therefore be intentional and active about recruiting Adopted Sons. We need them, and several among us are them and have been for many, many years. One idea to improve recruiting is already in the early stages of discussion and development by the Admin Committee--”The Reformed Appalachian Study Program Internship.”

    Native Sons will receive more space than Adopted Sons in these essays, not because Adopted Sons are less valuable or desirable, but because Native Sons are more likely to be suited for the unique work that must be pioneered in certain parts of rural Appalachia. But Native Sons are incredibly difficult to raise up. We’ve got to identify them, adapt the path of ordination for them, and normalize a uniquely rural way of doing ministry--all of which is going to be very hard. Thankfully, the presbytery recently approved a seminary training program to be used within our own boundaries. But this is only one consideration for raising up Native Sons. At least three others must accompany it in the short term, with more in the long term: 1) We must as a presbytery create and administrate a robust “Under Care” program, 2) We must normalize licensure much earlier in the candidacy process, and 3) We must saturate our bounds with active, rich, engaging, and value-laden ministry opportunities for candidates under care. Each of these will be fleshed out in more detail later--God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Real Sons No Matter What

    The distinction between Native and Adopted Sons is only useful for discussion in the context of recruiting and raising up ministers--to identify and distinguish what is unique to raising up Native Sons and what is unique to recruiting Adopted Sons. But no son adopted into a family wants to be known perpetually as the adopted one, as if he weren’t a real son. Likewise, I don’t intend to suggest that our Adopted Sons are not real sons. Other than to marvel at God’s good grace to bring you here, I doubt most of us ever think of you as anything other than a Son of West Virginia. We need you, we are glad you are here, and we hope you stay.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Comfort of our Destiny -- An Application of Romans 8:26-30

[26] Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27] And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. [28] And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. ( Romans 8:26–30 ESV)

In this section, Paul’s statement that the “Spirit helps us” flows from the previous discussion about the condition of the fallen world and our “bodies” in that world. Here we must grant that “body” means more than merely the outward vessel, as though it were merely a container for a regenerated soul. The soul is regenerate, but the body is all those aspects of body and spirit that remain impacted by the fall and need to be transformed. “Body” as Paul uses it may therefore have as much to do with the mind and will as it does the actual material flesh, although the material flesh is definitely in view by virtue of the discussion concerning the final state of glory (which necessarily involves the resurrection of the material body).

“Our weakness” which receives the Spirit’s help, refers to the state of the not-yet-fully-and-finally-redeemed body (including material vessel and non-material mind and will) as we responds to the inevitability of suffering in a Fallen world. The weakened body groans under the weight of the effects of the Fall (in ways that might include our remaining propensities toward sin) despite our definitive regenerate condition.

The Spirit’s help is apparently in accord with God’s hidden will for us. By “hidden will,” I do not mean his will concerning our final state, for that has been declared outright--we will be glorified. But rather I reference the unrevealed means God will use to get us to that state. He who knows minds knows the mind of the Spirit and therefore “they” work in single accord. In this way, the Spirit’s intercession on our behalf advances the will of God toward our final conformity to Christ’s image (aka, “glorification” in this passage). “That Christ may be the firstborn among many brethren,” if it were marked for rhetorical emphasis would underscore the word “many” rather than “firstborn”--it is God’s will that the Firstborn (from the dead/in glory) should be joined by many additional brethren in the same state. So the Spirit intercedes in a way that accords with God’s will in order to guarantee that this will happen.

Again, I have said “hidden will” because the content of this intercession concerning our circumstances on our way toward this final state is unknown to us. We know this is unknowable because, first, we ourselves in our weakness cannot know how to pray according to God’s will (“we do not know what to pray for as we ought,” i.e., we do not know what will best progress us toward our destiny). Second, this intercession is described as containing “groanings which cannot be uttered,” which we should not take to mean that it is a contentless, emotional outcry. But rather “groanings” refers to the Spirit’s sympathetic understanding of our weakness, and “that cannot be uttered” refers to the inscrutable nature of their content. In other words, we are not privy to the content of this divine intercommunication, yet it is in perfect accord with God’s will, is specific to our suffering and weakness, and inexorably results in progress and advancement toward our destiny.

The point of Paul’s noting the inscrutability of the spirit’s help is to lay the foundation for what follows: No matter what happens in our lives as a result of the suffering that stems from the condition of our yet-to-be-glorified body in a fallen world, no matter how inscrutable it may be to our rationality, all that happens is guaranteed to be the result of the Spirit’s work to advance us toward our ultimate destiny of conformity to Christ’s likeness (“All things work together for good”). We may not be able to explain how or understand why something has occurred; the circumstances may leave us floundering in our weakness, struggling to deal, unable to see any good. Yet, we can be assured that “all things work together for good” for all those who are destined for glory. This is because God has decreed our destiny, according to his own eternal blueprint (his foreknowledge). The Spirit, knowing this destiny and what best serves this end, prays in a way that effects that destiny by means of all the parts of life in between, even when it involves suffering that prevents us from seeing how God will get us there.

Our comfort in this passage derives from knowing that our destiny is secure. Paul clearly lays out the ground of this assurance: First is the assertion that our destiny is determined, and nothing can prevent it. God knew beforehand exactly what he wanted to accomplish for every believer. His mind has drawn up the divine, eternal blueprint for our destinies (“foreknew,” foreknowledge). Second, God has sovereignly decreed to bring to pass all that is contained within that blueprint (“predestined,” predestination). He does all that pleases him. Third, he brings that decree to pass in time and space through effectual calling. Nothing can stand in the way of the Spirit’s work to regenerate predestined souls (“called”). Third, God has done all that is necessary within time and space to overcome the Fall--he justifies every predestined believer through the work of Christ, and in doing so, secures their destiny (Through the mechanism of the work of Christ, he declares them to be as righteous as Christ himself-- “justification”). Fourthly, the Father and Spirit work in perfect union to preserve and progress us in time and space (due to the Spirit’s intercession, “all things work together for good”) toward our eternal destiny (“glorified,” glorification; conformity to Christ’s image).

Yet another related element of comfort derives from knowing that the action of the Spirit on our behalf is sympathetic, personal, and concerned with every unique circumstance we face. The Spirit “groans” with us, showing he is fully aware of our weaknesses in the face of our suffering. The Spirit then intercedes according to the “will of God,” which means that he knows not only our destiny, but every perfect step in time and space that preserves and progresses us toward our destiny. The assurance that comes from knowing of and believing in this immediate and personal divine engagement is part and parcel of the comforting ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit to every believer.

Yet another element of comfort derives from our knowledge and faith that inscrutable suffering is not in any way an obstacle to God’s purposes for us. In fact, God superintends the circumstances of our suffering as a result of the Spirit’s intercession to accomplish his purposes for us. They are the tools of God’s will whether or not we understand how and why. We are personally unequipped to navigate this suffering to get us there on our own, due to our weakness in a fallen world. How God uses this suffering to bring about our destiny may remain inscrutable to us (“cannot be uttered”). Yet the circumstances of suffering are, as they are worked out in accord with God’s will, exactly that which advance us toward glory through God’s protection, preservation, and proactive administration of “all things.” We are not only preserved and protected through the circumstances, but the circumstances are the very things through which God works for the good that is our destiny. We may never be privy to the answers we seek concerning our own suffering in this world, but through knowledge of and faith in these revealed truths, we can have patience, hope, and eagerness for what certainly awaits.