Buffalo Valley Church of the Brethren
Mifflinburg, PA 17844 -- Pennsylvania Southern District
Written by Jake Myers and Eli Mast ~ April, 2002 ©
The Commission based congregational structure of the Church of the Brethren is
examined by this congregation and modified to suit their unique ministry needs.
The restructuring process at Buffalo Valley was first envisioned as simply as adding a commission or two under the board and commission system. Perhaps adding a christian education and a fellowship commission to help lighten the work done by the nurture commission. Restructuring got on the church agenda in 1996 as one of the church goals for the coming year. The Atlantic Northeast District structure model, which was very much like the Annual Conference structure paper of 2000 was used as the basis for a new structure.
The major energy for change came from persons in leadership who questioned the process for calling church leaders. The Church of the Brethren from the beginning claimed the New Testament as its only rule of faith and practice. Yet our church business was conducted in a painfully democratic manner with Nominating Committees, elections and a strict adherence to Robert's Rules of Order. We were making the societal norm our way of doing church and paying little attention to the practices demonstrated by the early church of the New Testament.
Perhaps the most important emphasis of the new structure is helping members discover their spiritual gifts and finding a fulfilling place of service for them. Thus moving from serving out of a sense of guilt or agreeing to have their names put on the ballot because of arm twisting, all the while hoping that they would not be elected. Another pitfall was nominating two people for a position and pitting them against each other, with the danger of feelings of rejection by the loser.
An important factor to consider when changing to the new structure is time for the congregation to see the proposed changes well before acting on them. A potluck after worship followed by an extended time of explaining the new structure and the basis for the changes worked well at Buffalo Valley. Lots of time for questions was a key part of the process.
Currently leadership is called through a discernment process. The Gifts Discernment Team comprised of the pastor, moderator, representative from the Spiritual Life Team (Deacon), and female and male member from the congregation facilitates the process. The GDT defines the leadership positions open and informs the congregation several weeks before "Calling Sunday". On Calling Sunday each member names a person to fill the open positions that they feel God is calling through the Holy Spirit. The GDT compiles the results and through prayer and discernment extends the call to the person they feel is being called to fill the position. The person is asked to prayerfully discern to see if they also feel the call. Most times the person accepts the call. If they feel that at the present time they cannot fulfill the call the GDT again meets in prayer and discernment to fulfill the process.
The discernment process for calling leadership requires a great deal of trust. If a congregation is in conflict with the pastor or lacks trust in leadership it can be difficult to have them in key roles on the Gifts Discernment Team.
About the Authors
Jake Myers, member of Pennsylvania Southern District Board 2001-2002.
Eli Mast, presenter of Restructuring Insight Session, SOPA District Conference 2001.