The core of the issue addressed by the Eggert concurrence was a disagreement between a temporary session and some of the members of the congregation they were supposed to be serving and shepherding. All church members have a duty to honor their leaders, “to submit to the government and discipline of the Church, and to study her purity and peace.” But this submission does not mean members of a mission congregation must have their consciences bound by the preferences and recommendations of a temporary session comprised of men who are not members of the congregation.
How a church-plant, or “mission church,” (BCO 5-1) transitions to become a “Particular Church” is outlined in BCO 5-9.
Until a “mission church” becomes a particular church, the church plant is usually under the care of a Presbytery by means of one of two temporary arrangements. In the first arrangement, a commission of elders from the Presbytery is appointed to serve as a temporary session (BCO 15-1). In the second arrangement, the “mission church” is erected as a daughter church of another particularized congregation (BCO 5-3b), and the session of that particularized congregation serves as the overseeing session for the mission church.
A mission church is usually served by a “church planter” who is also a member of the commission serving as session (BCO 5-4a). This church planter is called by Presbytery to do the work of ministry organizing the church plant/mission work with the hopes that it will one day be particularized according to the steps outlined in BCO 5-9.
A crucial step toward becoming a particular congregation is the election of a pastor and other officers.
The election of a Teaching Elder can sometimes be confusing in the case of a mission work. Ordinarily, a church plant already has had a Teaching Elder ministering as a “church planter” among the saints in that congregation for quite some time. In many instances, the members of the church plant will elect that church planter “to be their pastor” (BCO 5-9f), but not always.
If the members of a congregation “choose not to continue the pastoral relationship” with the church planter, they are free to follow the steps of BCO 20 to elect a different pastor in the ordinary manner.
Before the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) last year, there was a curious case that tested the principles of our Presbyterian polity and challenged the integrity of our Constitution regarding the selection of a pastor by a church plant.
A group of men from a mission work met with the session – including the church planter – overseeing the plant to express their desire that candidates other than the initial church planter be considered for the position of pastor.
It was an undeniable difficult situation. The church planter had labored for years, investing much of his time and energies in the church plant. But now a group of men from several households in the congregation went to the elders and expressed a disagreement with the church planter’s philosophy of ministry and vision for the work.
The Session responded to the men’s concerns by doing three things. First, the Session demanded the men repent of any sin whether of omission or commission against the church planter. Second, the Session demanded the men reaffirm their membership vows. And third, the Session reaffirmed its belief that one of their number should be “offered to the congregation as a candidate to serve as its pastor.”