Fewer Presbyterian Heroes, More Presbyterian Farmers

By Rich Leino | November 29, 2021

The title of this article is a hat tip to James Womack who has been at the fore of lean transformation movements for years. In one of his articles he points out that many Chief Executive Officers are heralded for their amazing leadership and vision to steer the ships of Ford or General Motors away from the brink of bankruptcy.  Meanwhile, Toyota continues to lead in quality and profitability (and had but one non-profitable year in over 50 years), but the culture that got the company there goes unnoticed.  Without boring you in the details of “lean culture,” it is all the little things baked into the culture of successful organizations that make an organization healthy. Unhealthy cultures rely upon and reward “heroes” who possess skills that are never institutionalized.

What does this have to do with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)?

The reason “hero cultures” thrive in business settings is no less true in church settings. People like to be the “go to” resource.  In some domains the hero protects his knowledge in order to be indispensable. In the church, debate and participation is often left to those who are considered skilled enough to participate.

I would like to encourage us to have more of a “farming” culture about church government in the PCA. By that I mean that we need to disabuse our elders of the notion that navigating the Book of Church Order (BCO), deliberating properly according to Robert’s Rules of Order, or participating at General Assembly (GA) belong to those few men who have some extraordinary divine gifting.  Let me illustrate my point with two stories.

Years ago, our Presbytery meeting was centrally enough located where there was really no reason why the elders who seemed never to attend Presbytery could not show up, so they did. I saw one at the break. He was a retired Marine, and he very bluntly quipped, “I had to use toothpicks to keep my eyes open.”

The second story involves a Presbytery where a Teaching Elder (TE) asked a question about how to transfer his credentials. I was on the email and I simply consulted the BCO and let the group know what the process was. I was thanked profusely for my seeming encyclopedic knowledge of things so obscure that only the learned attain thereunto.

I think the two stories illustrate a prevalent notion that the BCO and/or Robert’s Rules are either so extremely boring or obscure that they are better left to the people that have special gifting for them.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

The Lord has gifted me with many things, but a long attention span is not one of them. I am easily distracted while reading and I do not think I would have ever been a good lawyer. I miss details and prefer to be a “big picture” strategic thinker.

The reason I have familiarized myself with the BCO, learned how to deliberate properly according to Robert’s Rules, and know how to navigate the courts of the church is that I have made such things a priority. Learning a new language and procedures takes time and attention.  Very few can pass a test just by reading a textbook. The best way is continually to expose yourself to the process.  Familiarize yourself with the rules. Looks things up in the BCO.

We need to be encouraging a culture of practice and learning about our polity and courts. Get to Presbytery, listen, and learn. You might be bored to tears the first time, and the language might be obscure, but keep at it.

Yes, we will always have the certified Parliamentarians who have the fifth degree blackbelts in Robert’s Rules, but a church is not healthy if it has only heroes. We need more men – more farmers – who truly believe that our polity is the biblical form of church government and, because it is, practice it enough to participate.

Rich Leino is a PCA Ruling Elder serving on the session of Hope of Christ Church in Stafford, VA.