Our Presbytery consists of over 30 churches in four states (IL, IA, WI, MN). The majority of these churches have less than 200 members and many are located in small towns. The largest congregation has about 400 members.
This means our Presbytery is a network of small churches. Very typical of all American churches. Despite all the attention megachurches get in the media, most Christians belong to small churches of less than 200 people.
What makes our Presbytery a bit unique is that many of our churches are found in the rural areas of the Upper Midwest. Only a few are in large cities or the suburbs surrounding them. Rural America is a vast mission field in its own right, often neglected by the church. In Rivers & Lakes, we are trying to figure out how to carry out the Great Commission of our Lord in towns that are often struggling to survive. But small churches can play a key role in their communities bearing witness to the Gospel.
Small churches face many challenges. For some, affording a full-time pastor is no longer possible. Our denomination has created a position for elders in a small church to be designated Commissioned Pastors after a period of training and examination by the Presbytery. In Rivers & Lakes , we have five CPs as we call them.
Our Presbytery meets three times a year–on the final weekend of January, April and September. Our churches take turns hosting the meeting so that we all get to see each other’s buildings and communities.
A typical Presbytery meeting mixes “business” (committee reports, resolving issues that arise) with worship and fellowship. We make time to pray together, focus on missions and outreach, and to welcome newcomers and visitors. Almost every meeting includes an examination of a new minister taking a position with one of our churches.
One of the responsibilities of a Presbytery is to give oversight to all of our ministers, including those who are currently not serving a church and those who are still in training or attending seminary. Our ministers, also called teaching elders, are accountable to the Presbytery and thus to each other for their personal and spiritual well-being.
The word”accountable” describes Presbytery as well as any. We operate as a Presbytery so that churches and pastors are accountable. We belong to a Presbytery because we don’t want to operate as independent churches. We need others to keep an eye on us and help us out if we are in trouble. We need each other to fulfill the mission Christ has given us.