Wednesday, August 04, 2010

LC Presbyterians vs. GB Presbyterians

El Jefe, ever the historian, subscribes to the Journal of Presbyterian History which publishes an issue twice a year. I just know many of you have it on your coffee table as I write ;-).

This week he shared a very interesting article with me written by Louis B. Weeks, former president of Union Presbyterian Seminary, titled "American Protestants Today: Thriving, Tottering, and Tinkering Together on the Mainline." That's some powerful alliteration, isn't it?

We're all too familiar with the labels for the different divisions within the PCUSA, but Weeks offers yet another major division: the Local Church Presbyterians (LCPs) and the Governing Body Presbyterians (GBPs). Weeks and a colleague, William Fogelman, first published this idea back in the 1990's. Their thesis is that when congregational leaders ask "how is my church doing?", they are "asking mostly about their own local church and others like it...Only a minority of Prebyterians thought first of the denomination."

Weeks offers a thoughtful analysis of what this difference in viewpoint means in practical terms. I checked the society's website, but this current issue is not available online, so I'm going to briefly summarize this part of the article.

Weeks says that most Presbyterians (and other mainliners) belong "first and foremost" to their local congregation and only a small percentage of these LCPs become involved in the wider denomination and become GBPs. He observes that this works well when a denomination is healthy as the LCPs provide money and a pool of potential members for the GBPs who in turn provide seminaries, pastors, curricula, hymnals and support for the LCPs.

But in times of decline, Weeks says that the different goals and values of these two groups create sharp conflicts. LCPs look at mission, evangelism and outreach from the perspective of their local congregation and do not want direction from the GBPs, especially if their goals and values differ significantly. Indeed, that is the case.

It's an article well worth reading. Weeks covers several studies of mainline church congregations and encourages "tinkering" with the local church as a tool for "thriving" churches.

So, how is your church tinkering?


jean said...

Very true of the UMC. The hierarchy is totally out of touch with the people in the pews.

Reformed Catholic said...

Its also true at many PCUSA churches, supported by the results of many Presbyterian Panel polls.

The majority of the laity hold moderate to conservative views. Ministers of the Word & Sacrament who are serving at the LCPs, are slightly more liberal than the members they serve, but not much.
Ministers who serve in specialized ministry are very liberal, as are many of the people they hire to staff the governing bodies.

What this does is turn a traditionally connected church, into a bunch of congregationalists.

Which is also why many churches have stopped funding governing bodies higher than the local Presbytery.

Would many more do that, maybe that would return control of the PCUSA to the people in the pews, and take it out of the hands of the professional staff ministers and their associates.

Lucy said...

Another question - why do these two groups exist? Theoretically, members should be moving back and forth between them not sticking to one or the other. Why aren't they? I'm gonna have to read this one! Thanks for the tip.