Permission Granted

I’ve shared with some of you that early on in my current position, someone called me and we had the following conversation.  (Note:  I serve as an Interim Presbytery Staff Person.)

Caller:  I’m calling to ask permission to give our pastor a $5000 bonus.  She’s done a really good job during a difficult situation.  Who do I have to talk with to give her this money?

Me:  You can just give her the money.

Caller:  No, you don’t understand.  This extra $5000 is not in her regular Terms of Call.  Aren’t we doing something out of order?

Me:  No really.  Just give her the money.

Caller:  Don’t we need the Presbytery’s permission to give her this extra income? 

Me:  Nope.  She’ll need to report it to the IRS, but – really – you can just give her the money.

Presbyterians are law-abiding people.  We have rules.  We know the “shalls” from the “mays” in our constitution, and we increasingly love the word “ordinarily” because it infers a loop hole.

I find that many life-long church people have been programmed not to do what might be great for the church because it’s never seemed possible according to widely accepted rules.  Examples:

  • Worship can happen on Thursday nights.  Or Tuesday mornings. Or whenever you wish.  There is no rule that worship has to be on Sunday mornings.  (Our Roman Catholic siblings get this.)
  • Bible Study can happen in Denny’s.  Or on a playground.  Or in a circus tent –  if that space is available and convenient.
  • You can greet church guests in the parking lot.  You don’t have to wait until they get inside the building.
  • You don’t have to pass an offering plate during worship.  You could have a box at the exits.  You could invite people to mail it in.  If offering time is when your choir sings an anthem, you can actually pick a different time for them to sing the anthem.
  • You can give your pastor a $5000 bonus.  That would be fine.

If all these ideas are obvious to you, that’s reassuring.  My hope is that this means your congregation is indeed doing some of these things.

The job of denominational “Middle Judicatories” (e.g. Presbyteries, Synods, Districts, Associations, Regions, Dioceses) is not to be permission-givers but to resource, equip, and entrust ministry to our congregations.  At least this is true in traditions without bishops.

So, get out there and do something wacky like offer Sunday School on Saturdays, or offer Bible Study in a bar.  God has given us all permission, especially when shaking things up enhances our ministry.

6 responses to “Permission Granted

  1. I will say that, as a pastor who received a $5000 bonus once recently, it may also be wise to ask said pastor if $5000 in cash is what she really wants. For me it pushed me into another tax bracket and I unexpectedly paid an extra $2500 in taxes that year. ouch. putting it into my professional expenses or continuing education would have meant I could have gone to a conference in France or bought books or spent a weekend reading at a B&B in wisconsin…but half of it went to taxes instead.

    Having said that, of course: yes to all those things! I wish more people were out giving the church permission (or that the church was giving itself permission) to be creative and interesting and a part of a changing world!


  2. It is amazing how much we Presbyterians value structure (our organizational bylaws are called the Book of Order, for goodness’ sake!) and will cling to it when faced with change. While there are some definite benefits to a well-structured organization, it is a double-edged sword that can hamper growth and change. While reading this post, I was reminded of a phone conversation my wife had with her mother the other night:

    MIL (Mother-In-Law): I think the church organist’s retirement is because of all the changes Pastor T is making

    Wife: Well, he’s been the organist for 37 years. He’s probably ready to retire.

    MIL: Well maybe, but do you know what Pastor T did? *scandalized tone* He got rid of the Prelude during worship

    Wife: Ok….

    My MIL’s feelings on this are shared by others in the congregation I’m sure. Getting rid of the prelude, something that has been a part of the worship service for time immemorial, is a BIG DEAL. Why? Is it lessening the congregation’s ability to worship God and serve Him? Is it interfering with peoples’ ability to live Christ-like lives and make Earth as it is in Heaven? Perhaps, but I highly doubt it.

    As someone who loves committees, rules and procedures, and political theory/governance, etc., I feel comfortable in the PC(USA) because its structure speaks to me; however, I also become extremely frustrated when we hamper ourselves from growing and changing into what we need to be simply because of the tired maxim “that’s how we’ve always done it”. I pray that we learn to recognize the difference between things that truly matter, and things that, while painful to let go of, are able to be changed without an act of Congress (or the General Assembly).

    Side note: I find it interesting that 8 U.S. presidents were Presbyterian, and one (Teddy Roosevelt) attended Presbyterian services while growing up.


  3. As the wife mentioned in the aforementioned comment, I found this post very refreshing. I’m a lifelong Presbyterian who also finds comfort in the rules and policies, and need to be reminded every now and then that it’s ok to “shake things up”, especially if/when it enhances the Kingdom of God. Thank you.


  4. Just found your blog because it was in an announcement that I received because of former employment. When I taught boundary workshops, I encouraged folks for ethical reasons not to accept cash from members of the congregation. $5,000 is a lot of cash.


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