“From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and body-armor… The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built…So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from break of dawn until the stars came out.” (Nehemiah 4:16-21)
From Persia, Nehemiah hears that the walls of Jerusalem are in ruins. With the blessing of King Artaxerxes, he returns to rebuild the wall. Work at first proceeds quickly, but armed opponents soon threaten to interfere. So Nehemiah arranges new responsibilities. Some will build, and some will protect the builders. All will be armed.
Certainly, the work has slowed. I’d guess the people, eager to see the walls quickly rebuilt, were discouraged. But had they not slowed down, putting some of their energy into protecting the walls, the work soon would have ended altogether. Instead, the walls continued to rise.
It occurs to me that the Presbytery is in a similar place to the people of Nehemiah’s day. Seven or eight years ago, the leadership recognized the need for dramatic change. So with the Odyssey report, the Presbytery aggressively redirected its structures and practices. It would become less managerial and more missional.
This led to a surge of innovative ministries that made Los Ranchos the talk of the denomination. But it also led to risk-taking of a less intelligent kind.
Wise observers warned us that our creative efforts lacked strong legal underpinnings and risked catastrophic mistakes. Without solid record keeping and clear approvals, some of our best efforts might fall apart.
The greatest danger does not lie in people acting with malice toward the Presbytery’s ministries. Rather, it lies in the Enemy working mischief through our good intentions. Careless omissions and honest misunderstandings might spiral out of control and damage an otherwise beautiful endeavor.
In response, we are building the required connections between innovative work and administrative protection. This may slow the speed of our innovations. But the protections ensure that your ministries will not experience severe interruption. Within Los Ranchos, Nehemiah’s wall will continue to grow.
The comparison between the mission of Los Ranchos and the wall of Jerusalem may not be obvious. We ordinarily regard an ancient city wall as a defensive perimeter. But in the book of Nehemiah, the wall is much more than a defense. It is a rallying point for national identity. It is a symbol of the Jews’ sense of community cohesion—much as the Presbytery’s new vision has sought to rally our congregations around creative mission. If Nehemiah’s wall is our vision, then his spears are our regulations.
Often we treat contracts, policies and trainings as necessary but unpleasant details in an imperfect world. That may be all they are. When the reign of God comes in its fullness, perhaps we will no longer need 501(c)(3)s and background checks. If so, then the Church will use these tools only until Christ returns.
But I wonder. Perhaps administrative work is not merely a response to a fallen world. For even in the Garden, we encountered job descriptions and contracts. God placed humans among the rest of creation to till and keep the land. God limited their work with an expectation that they would not eat of a particular tree. Even in the perfect world before the Fall, our great opportunity to share in God’s creative work was held in place by clearly stated guidelines.
If that’s true, then perhaps in heaven we’ll see our regulations redeemed, not abolished. But until then, one way or another, good procedures help the church pursue God’s mission in the world.