Thanks to our southern correspondent, I saw a short piece at the Presbyterian Layman’s website on something called “Narrative on the State of Religion.” The Evangelical Covenant Order (ECO) of Presbyterians (the most recent group to leave, sort of, the PCUSA) was debating whether to re-institute these reports. Each congregation was expected to evaluate its spiritual health and send its “Narrative” to presbytery. Jim Singleton, a leader within ECO, opines that the PCUSA in 1925 stopped using these narratives and resorted to numerical statistics as a measure of congregational health.
Here is the list of questions sessions used for the old Narrative reporting:
Attendance upon the service of the sanctuary by members and others;
Proportions of families that observe family worship;
Observance of the Lord’s day by the members;
Home-training of the children in the Scripture and in the catechism of the church;
Training of pupils in the Sabbath school in the Scripture and the catechism of the church (Singleton said that during that time, Sabbath school was for non-Presbyterian children. The congregation’s children were to be trained at home.);
Fidelity of the membership in honoring the Lord with substance;
Has the congregation paid its minister fully and promptly the amount promised him?
Have there been any special manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power in the church either by conversions or by increased activity in church work?
To what extent does worldly conformity exist in the church?
What evangelistic work is done by the church outside of its bounds?
What is the church doing to secure people for the Gospel ministry?
For what it’s worth, this is a remarkably good set of questions for pastors and elders to employ in evaluating their flocks and their own ministry. Singleton’s pointing to 1925 is also of interest since for Old Lifers that year was arguably THE turning point in the history of American Presbyterianism, a time when the PCUSA whitewashed the denomination’s health and started to blame conservatives for the church’s woes.
But I cannot go all the way with Singleton or ECO on the “Narrative” they hope to resuscitate. The proposed Narrative looks like this:
How has the Holy Spirit been evident in your congregation in the past year (through conversions, growth in the fruit of the Spirit or other transformational experiences in the congregation)?
How has your congregation extended itself beyond its bounds through the establishment of new communities of worship and discipleship?
In what ways is your congregation seeking the welfare of the “city” (community) to which we are called?
How has your congregation devoted itself to the poor in this past year? Describe the evidence of the heart of compassion.
How has your congregation sought justice as an expression of the Kingdom of God?
Describe the state of moral expression in your congregation — are you more like the world or more like the participants in the values of the Kingdom of God?
How are individuals, including women, men and people of different ethnic groups, experiencing the call to full-time or part-time ministry in your congregation?
Describe how the idea of ministry as the joy and calling of every disciple is evident in your congregation.
Describe how your employment practices are moving toward an expression of the values of the Kingdom of God.
Explain how your congregation understands its commitment to the larger church through our connectional relationships within the Body of Christ.
Strikingly absent are concerns about public worship, observing the Lord’s Day, family worship, and catechesis. It’s as if the folks at Redeemer NYC were responsible for drafting the new Narrative (though I’m not sure the last item about connectional relationships would have made the cut).
Too bad. The old Narrative was a good idea.