How Presbyterian Church (USA) Congregations 
Do Mission and Govern Themselves

Reflection by Rev. Doug Gebhard, Interim Pastor

We Presbyterians often joke that we do everything "decently and in order" referring to the Apostle Paul's admonish to do so in the church. Our Book of Order (!) explains the theological foundations for our polity (governance), worship and disciplined life together. It's the glue that holds us together as Presbyterian Christians.

Effective July 10, 2011, a new "Form of Government" (FOG) caused congregations and other church councils (presbyteries, synods, General Assembly) to rethink why and how they do God's work.

A little background: The first section of the Book of Order (2009-2011) was the "Form of Government" which contained historical statements about presbyterianism, and the chapters that followed delineated exactly how a congregation was to do its ministry and mission.

In the new "Form of Government," the first chapter is the "Foundations of Presbyterian Polity" and it gives the same broad overview of how we Presbyterians have lived out a covenant life under God's providential care. The following chapters, like the original Book of Order, outline how councils (church Sessions, presbyteries, etc.) are to do their work. The key word is "outline." Far less detailed, the new FOG describes rather than prescribes how PC(USA) congregations are to be God's mission in the world.

This is another major change for congregations. Local congregations are the starting point for God's mission. In years past, congregations sent money to support missionaries oversees or gave financial support to local mission agencies. But it's become clear that God's mission must begin with the people of God not with specialized persons or organizations.

Because the new FOG outlines and describes a congregation's work, each church council must develop an operations manual. This manual will cover the details of how the congregation will be a Presbyterian church and carry out God's mission. The Elkin church council (Session) is just beginning the work of writing policies and procedures and hopes to have a manual completed by the Fall.

These changes present challenges to old patterns and habits. They also provide opportunities to see afresh how God is at work in the life of the church. Visit this website to follow the progress of the creation and implementation of the new operations manual.

Download by clicking the cover. 

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