Anatomy of a Decision

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It’s so exciting to see Connexus begin to take shape before our eyes. There have been over 7000 visits to this blog since it launched three weeks ago, so we thank you for your interest, your passion and above all, your prayer.  We all need it!  Thank you so very much for the comments, emails, and the encouragement you’ve sent along, plus all the great questions.  We’re right at that juncture between dreaming and praying and seeing those dreams and prayers become reality. We just held our first Connexus elder’s meeting this afternoon, and it’s so exciting to see what’s going to happen next. It’s an amazing season and, I think, a time where we will see God really move.

I realize not everyone is jazzed about the details of church government (and this is a HUGE post), but today I want to walk you through some church government and timeline issues for a few minutes to help you understand how the decision is being made about where Connexus will meet and even how Connexus came to be.  We anticipate know for sure within the next seven to ten days whether Connexus
will either be opening with two campuses at the Galaxy Cinemas in
Barrie and Orillia, or at a single campus at the current site where
Trinity Community Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in
Canada (PCC), meets and where the future leadership team of Connexus is serving until October 31st.

So how will that decision be made? Connexus has made an offer to purchase the current
facility of Trinity for slightly over $500,000.  A lot of you are
wondering when and how the PCC will make the decision of whether to
authorize the sale of the Trinity facility to Connexus.  It depends on whether the denomination accepts our offer this month. So, here comes
a short crash course in denominational decision making and the factors
at play and the parties we’re dealing with to negotiate.

The Players
The leadership of Connexus is dealing with four separate bodies who potentially have a say in this decision:

  1. The Presbytery of Barrie
  2. The Presbytery Executive special team
  3. The Trustee Board of the Presbyterian Church in Canada
  4. The Interim Moderator of Trinity

What the Players Are Responsible For and Have Done (to date)
The Presbytery of Barrie is our regional governing body.  It is the "bishop’ of all the churches in the Simcoe/Muskoka region, except rather than vesting the bishop’s responsibility in a person, Presbyterians vest it in the collective.  Presbytery is a gathering of all the ministers in the region plus an equal number of elders who together make decisions.  There are about 70 voting members of the Presbytery of Barrie.  The Presbytery has the power to start and to dissolve congregations and make recommendations to the Trustee Board on how assets of dissolved congregations are to be disposed of.  On September 11th, we  asked the Presbytery to dissolve Trinity so our offer to purchase the building for Connexus could be considered.  That’s the night Patrick Voo and I resigned as the pastors of Trinity effective October 31st so we could pursue new opportunities (in my case, to pastor Connexus).  The Presbytery accepted our resignations but deferred the matter of dissolving Trinity until its next meeting, October 9th, thus deferring our offer to purchase. They also appointed an interim moderator to investigate whether there were enough people at Trinity who wanted to be part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and if so, to likely award them the building.  The Presbytery feels a real responsibility to ensure that anyone who wants to continue to be Presbyterian be given an opportunity to be so.

The Presbytery of Barrie Executive Team Special Committee consists of four people we have been meeting with since December 2006.  We have discussed the whole issue of multi-site within and outside the PCC with them since that time, and they are the ones who have been charged with bringing in a recommendation to the Presbytery as a whole.  They will make a recommendation about dissolving or not dissolving Trinity on October 9th.

The Trustee Board of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is a semi-independent board that is charged with disposing of assets when a congregation is dissolved.  We have asked them to consider our offer of $506,000 to purchase the facility in Oro, but yesterday they confirmed that they will not entertain unless Presbytery first dissolves Trinity as a congregation, putting the assets into play.

The Interim Moderator is appointed when a minister resigns to help guide a congregation through a vacancy and to make other recommendations to the Presbytery that helps guarantee a congregation’s health.  Last week, the Presbytery appointed Dr. Neal Mathers to be our interim moderator.  His immediate job is to assess whether there is the basis to continue a Presbyterian congregation at Trinity after our current leadership team and others leave to form Connexus.  He met with 36 people on Monday October 1st to see if there is enough of a basis to form a continuing congregation and will bring his report on October 9th.

These four bodies all have a role to play in deciding the disposition of the Trinity facility and the establishment of a continuing congregation.  Our relationship with each has been harmonious and helpful, and our discussions with each were triggered back in July 2006 when we wrote asking to start a dialogue on this issue, after processing the multi-site vision internally through 2005 and early 2006 as a congregation.  Connexus is being birthed out of desire to fulfill that vision outside of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Timeline
Let’s do a brief history of time and how this vision thing got going and where it’s going. We have communicated this in various forms over the last few months, but here it is all laid out in the event it might be clarifying:

  • 1995. My family and I moved to Oro and began ministry at three small congregations who shared a minister and a history together.
  • 1998. Three congregations vote to become one and sell their buildings in effort to reach outsiders.
  • 1999. Vision crystalizes into becoming a church for people who don’t go to church.
  • 2000. Trinity formed on January 1st and opens services at Guthrie Public School
  • 2003. Current Trinity facility opened and congregation of 300 moves from school to new home.
  • 2004. Growth continues and people begin to travel from 45-1 hour radius.
  • 2004. Campaign to expand local facility (Next Wave) begins.
  • 2005. People drive from 1-2 hours to come to Trinity. Multiple requests to bring Trinity to them. Elders and leaders seriously engage discussion of becoming multi-site congregation.  Next Wave vision becomes Next Wave UnLimited — an expanded campus in various communities through multi-site.
  • Spring 2006. Multi-site vision shared with other leaders and congregation. 
  • July 4 2006 Trinity writes to Presbytery of Barrie requesting dialogue with denomination nationally and locally about doing multi-site within PCC.  Presbytery considers letter in September 2006 and appoints committee in special executive team committee in November 2006 to meet with Trinity leaders.
  • December 2006. Trinity meets with Presbytery officials for first time.
  • February 2007. Trinity leadership provides overview of vision of multisite to Presbytery at its regular meeting.
  • April 2007.  Trinity meets with Presbytery officials and national officials together for first time (this meeting was requested by Trinity in July 06).  Terms of doing multi-site within PCC and terms of exit are discussed.  As procedural obstacles to doing multisite within the PCC become clear, elders begin to consider exit from the PCC as a preferred option.
  • May 2007. Trinity elders continue to consider national and local church’s ability to accommodate multi-site in PCC. In late May, Trinity elders meet elders and leadership of North Point church in Alpharetta to consider possible association with North Point if association with PCC is discontinued.
  • July 2007. In late July, Trinity elders make decision to leave PCC through resignation and set time line of October 15th as deadline to negotiate building. Plans for formation of Connexus begin in earnest in staff and elder’s spare time.
  • August 5th, 2007. The staff and eldership’s decision to resign was communicated to congregation.
  • August 7th 2007. Trinity leaders meet with Presbytery committee and outline offer to purchase facility, present the time line for exit and share decision to resign. In follow up to meeting, Presbytery asks for congregational vote to see how many are on board with elder’s decision.
  • August 26th 2007. Congregational meeting called and 380 people vote 97.6% in favour of dissolving Trinity and exiting PCC.
  • September 11th 2007. Trinity leaders meet for second time with national church, trustee board and executive team committee members to again present offer to purchase to Trustee Board and to tender leadership resignations.  Presbytery meets as a whole that night and accepts pastoral resignations, appoints an interim moderator, and defers Trinity’s motion to dissolve Trinity as a PCC congregation.
  • September 26th 2007. Presbytery appoints interim moderator who calls meeting for October 1st to speak to Trinity people who want to stay Presbyterian.  Trinity’s leadership expresses desire to honour every person’s conscience about whether they wish to be part of a continuing Trinity or to join those moving to Connexus.
  • October 1st 2007.  Interim Moderator hosts meeting with possible continuing Presbyterians.
  • October 2nd 2007.  Trinity leaders meet with special executive team committee to update status of offer and wind down of Trinity.  We are informed by national staff who were invited to the meeting but not present that the Trustee board will not consider Trinity’s offer to purchase unless presbytery dissolves Trinity.
  • October 9th.  Presbytery will meet to again consider whether to dissolve Trinity or continue a congregation.  The special committee of the executive team and interim moderator will report with recommendations as to what to do.
  • October 31st.  Last day of service at Trinity by all current staff and elders as they move forward to launch Connexus, scheduled to open December 2nd to fulfill the vision of bringing irresistible, relevant environments to people who don’t go to church in our community and beyond.

The elders and leadership who have been through this have worked hard to try to secure a deal for the current facility, and wrestled hard and very prayerfully with the time line.  Decision making is hard in a multi-layered, decentralized structure like that of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and delay is almost always inevitable.  We sincerely believe that whatever "deadline" we picked (October 2007, March 2008, October 2008 or beyond) would have resulted in the same "last minute feel" and people asking the same questions.  In the view of the Trinity/Connexus leadership team, it’s just time to get on with the job of reaching people for Jesus.  We can do that in the Trinity facility or elsewhere.

So there you have it — a little piece of our small history unfolding as it is. While it hasn’t been easy, there is a sense in which this is so worth it.  People matter most to God, and there are hundreds of thousands of people within any potential campus of Connexus in Oro or elsewhere that need Christ deeply.  One day, when we stand before Christ face to face, we’ll look back on this time and I think we’ll all ask why we didn’t do more to reach people.  I know I will.   

As a pastor, I need to say that these have been amazing times of personal growth.  This whole dialogue has led me to dig deeper into my faith, and deeper into the heart and love of God to let certain things go and to embrace people I may not see eye to eye with.  In the end, I see brothers and sisters in Christ working hard in Presbyterianism to honour God and make wise decisions, and I pray for them and encourage them.  The most important thing we can do is to love each other deeply, from the heart.  I have found that God gives strength for that daily if I ask Him. 

Through this whole process, I really feel like we have loved each other at each level of discussion, even when we haven’t fully agreed on issues or outcomes.  Our goal is to exit the PCC with a mutual sense of blessing, and I believe so far we have seen that (thank you, God).  I have every reason to believe that God will call us for our love for each other to go even deeper in these next few weeks.  In many ways, this is charting new paths in my heart, and I am so grateful for this opportunity.  You remember how Jesus said we will know that we are his disciples?  By our love.  We can bless the PCC and they can bless us, even if we labour in slightly different fields playing our distinct roles in this amazing Kingdom that is from God. 

I hope this post has been a bit enlightening governmentally, and maybe even a bit challenging and and helpful spiritually.  And while it’s the longest post I ever want to write, I’m sure it will still leave questions and comments. So, hit the keyboard….

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9 Comments

  1. Ian Lampi says, October 3, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    I was wondering what the "church government" of Connexus will look like. Will we still have elected elders? If so how many? and will each campus be equally represented? I have been hearing different things about other models of church and realize that I don't know anything about ours. Will we be accountable to North Point or any other organization, or are we free to chart our own course?
    Yours in Christ,
    Ian Lampi

  2. Tim L. Walker says, October 3, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    Thanks for the very informative post, Carey… I think that helps those of us who haven't been along for the whole ride better understand what's going on, why it's happening the way it is, and where we're headed.

  3. Carey Nieuwhof says, October 3, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    Hi Ian…Thanks for the perceptive questions. I'm actually going to do another post down the road on governance for Connexus. But let me give you a first version. There are already three elders who have been appointed to begin eldership at Connexus. Elections will be held in the future for more elders and the number will increase over the years. It's quite typical for a start up church not to have elders for the first few years, but we felt better with some elders in place right off the bat.

    Connexus will be staff led (in that the staff will make day to day operational and ministry decisions), elder guided (in that the elders will keep the ministry true to its' mission and hold the lead pastor accountable) and people gifted (there will be a special role for volunteers at Connexus through a new forum called Ministry Team Representatives).

    Our relationship with North Point is unique. You've really got to meet these folks to understand it (and I'm sure you will!). We are technically an independent church, but we have an incredible day to day relationship with the North Point people that is very different from the normal relationship with a denomination. We are "free" to make our own decisions on key areas — it's not that we have to take their advice, but more that we desire it. North Point will also assist our elders in the event of a senior leadership vacancy in terms of helping us find excellent people for the position. We're excited abou the affiliation because through North Point (an attendance of over 25,000 in the US and a staff network of over 300 leaders) we have access to one of the best networks of leaders that I believe exists in the church today. They are incredibly godly, strategic and generous people.

    You also asked about whether each campus will have an equal number of elders. The answer to that, at least for now, is no. Multi-site is still fairly new as a movement, but most churches find that on a "best practices" basis, equal representation is not necessary or even helpful. Think of it this way: in a family setting, a mom and dad can parent one child or five children. We don't normally go out and add parents simply because we've added more children. The same is true of eldership. Elders would have the best interests of all campuses in mind.

    Where I think we'll have more representation is on a senior staff leadership team, where campus pastors would come into meet with other staff on a regular basis. Also, in the reporting structure, staff with campus-specific responsibilities would interact regularly with central staff. Naturally, we're all on the same team, so we're all working together anyway. If you go back to the Trinity website (www.trinitycommunity.org) and click on the Next Wave UnLimited icon, it will take you to a page with some documents on the left side that will give you a few more insights on multi-site government.

    There will be much more coming, but I hope this answers a few questions up front. Good governance is going to be very important, and we have borrowed best practices from North Point and other multi-site churches to come up with this model. I'm sure we don't have it perfect, but we're hoping it's a great start. Not coincidentally, we think this model is also wildly consistent with scripture. 🙂

  4. Carey Nieuwhof says, October 3, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    Hey Tim…I'm grateful this post helps, and I totally appreciate what you are saying from another angle. The majority of people at Trinity have joined us since 2003, and have never really had a chance to "buy in" to change that they have been a part of. I have had numerous people express excitement at the fact that they finally get to be part of a very exciting chapter that God is writing…and I'm so glad you and your wife get that opportunity! The days of sitting in a chair and are quickly drawing to a close, and I think one of the greatest privileges any of us can have is to play some kind of part in this huge story of salvation God is writing. We all get that chance now. Thanks for being engaged!

    (I'm obviously so pumped about this stuff I can't sleep (this post time is way late for me). But the opportunity that sits before us now truly energizes me, as I trust it will all of us who have been waiting to jump into the story.)

  5. Stephanie says, October 4, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks Carey! As Tim mentioned it is great for us newbies to get more of an idea about the path you and the congregation have been on. The history is great and as I am a detail person I appreciate the lengthy stuff 😉

    You are doing amazing work but try and get some quality sleep as well ok? 😉 Enjoy your long weekend!

  6. Barbara Graham says, October 5, 2007 at 10:28 am

    I have listened, read and devoured every detail of the launch of Connexus from Trinity and from the PCC. Why must there be such a rush? The creative marketing and online campaign is fabulous and it does feel like "a ride". However, these changes have been hurried…it may not feel like that for the leaders/elders but so many of us are left scrambling and wondering why the rush for Oct 31st. The PCC have indicated there will be no decision by then…this is a brand new scenario. Congregations do not simply dissolve and just because it is new does not make it impossible and exciting… but why the rush? Not 5 years from now but what is wrong with a 12 month transition to digest and process and pray?

  7. Carey Nieuwhof says, October 5, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Hi Barb…I can totally appreciate that this decision feels rushed and appreciate you being honest and expressing that. Thank you.

    It is always a difficult thing to manage transition, especially when the transition involves hundreds of families. I am sure we will learn a few things along the way, but we have also seen God move in powerful ways in the past when our decisions have seemed "rushed" to some.

    There is a sense in which we have been processing this together now as a congregation for 14-18 months, and we were very upfront about the fact that this might be a hard vision to realize within the PCC and that it might involve a transition out of our building. We started that dialogue in the spring and summer of 2006 within Trinity.

    I wonder if in some way this is like moving day arriving for a family. We talked about it for a while, but the closing date is approaching and the boxes are packed and now the truck is in the driveway. Somehow, when the truck finally pulls up and the rooms are all empty, it feels emotionally hard, even if the move is going to be a good one in the end.

    I guess in the end our elders felt that this timeline was good, godly and appropriate. We believe that what needed to happen was possible in this time line, and a delayed time line would only postpone the inevitable result further. An amendment to extend the timeline by a year was made at our congregational meeting on August 26th, but it was voted down and this timeline was endorsed with a 97.6% vote.

    Final consideration: we had really promised the Bracebridge people to launch in 2008. I have heard that hope that this would ever get off the ground was waning in Muskoka, and this timeline certainly is an encouragement to everyone driving in from Muskoka as we are now again on target for a September 2008 launch. People keep reminding those of us locally how much a church like this is needed elsewhere, that they have literally been waiting years for this.

    So there are a lot of factors in play. We hope and pray we've made a godly decision. Time will tell. But thanks for sharing your comments. We really pray that looking back we will see God even in the timeline.

  8. Joanne says, October 8, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    In addition to the players mentioned above, three other big players have always been dynamically involved and on the loose at Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  9. Carey Nieuwhof says, October 8, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Hey Joanne. Amen!

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