e79b_ctrl-alt-del_cup_setIn the past, I’ve written about my fascination with the practice—common with comic books and movies—of rebooting an entertainment franchise in order to update it for new audiences. The idea is too preserve the core of the story, but make it more relevant and compelling for contemporary audiences. Or, if a comic book series or movie isn’t working, a reboot is an opportunity to try again with a fresh start. (Though I don’t agree with common assessments, think of the way Marvel dumped Ang Lee’s version of the Hulk and moved in a totally different direction.)

While I think there are many opportunities for applying this kind of thinking to the church’s theology, I want to suggest that we might also consider rebooting our institutional structures.

After the work of the Mid Councils Commission went down in flames at the 220th General Assembly, one of my first thoughts was that the Presbyterian Church (USA) needs a fresh start. We need a reboot. Centuries of taking a church polity designed to work on an island and stretching it across a continent has resulted in the calcification of particular denominational structures and ways of being. We are especially stuck in organizational models and mission strategies developed in the middle of the 20th century. These worked in their own time, but now is a new time and we need new models. I experienced firsthand how difficult it is to change those existing structures, even when the necessity of such change is clearly recognized.

But what if, instead of tweaking existing structures—or rearranging the furniture on the Titanic—we started from scratch? What if we looked into our local, national, and global mission fields and asked ourselves how we would build a Reformed church to meet those needs? It would be a true reboot in the sense that we would maintain the distinctive elements of our theology, polity, and ethos that we hold dear. But we would also be set free from the constraints of existing mental models, free to create bold new ways of being Presbyterian.

What would that PC(USA) look like? I’d love to gather Presbyterians from across the theological spectrum to dream about such a church together.

In hindsight, perhaps the 2012 report of the Mid Councils Commission wasn’t the best approach. But I still maintain that our desire to encourage and nurture a season of experimentation in our denomination was spot on. (I also still think that synods need to be significantly reworked or discontinued and that we need to restructure our presbytery sizes and boundaries across the map.)

Maybe doing such a thing at the national level is too much to hope for. Perhaps instead the place to focus is our local presbyteries. In fact, our new Form of Government has set the stage for just that kind of local rebooting to take place.

What might that look like in your presbytery? Tomorrow, I’ll offer some thoughts on what I think this could look like in my presbytery.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit johnvest.com.

Reader Interactions


  1. Large urban churches create “neighborhood parishes”. Each parish would have a CLP (or whatever we’re calling it) and a Stephen Minister (or equivalent). These parishes would be geographically organized and would meet regularly (assuming they determine those meetings and what they look like). Monthly the parishes come together at the “home church” for worship and sacraments. Pastors and educators would serve as resource for the parishes and effectively serving with leaders of parishes. Parishes would be encouraged to serve their neighborhoods and pastors could coordinate larger (multi-parish) service opportunities (trips, conferences, etc).

    This is the crux of my idea.

  2. The big challenge is that reboots are really, really hard to do in absence of a unitary ‘author’ity, whether we’re talking a comic book author or a governing authority. Planet Money has featured a community in Honduras that’s attempted to reboot the whole civic system for one trial area. Despite great support and incredible latitude from the government, it’s been foundering amidst questions of constitutionality, legality, and an additional wrinkle of neocolonialism that surrounds the project.

    I think there’s also institutional apprehension around failure. The Superman movie franchise is into its third reboot, which has led to questions about that whole narrative’s suitability for contemporary sensibilities. Lots of our institutions feel fragile enough that just that question of suitability is enough to scare them off from potential reboots.

    Authority, fear of failure, institutional self-preservation – these are thorny issues.

  3. I certainly would be interested in this discussion as well. We are stuck in rules and regulations that protect the institution but do not allow for the freedom to reach out in creative worship or mission. We have to start bringing people in. It is not about what denomination you may be, or making sure you are or will be a prespective “member” Of our church. It is about sharing Christ’s love in our communities and world. We’re stuck governing…not doing God’s work.

    Instead of sitting in a big Presbytery meeting, we should get out into the community surrounding the location of the meeting and do a service project. Imagine 200 people working together to better a community in one fell swoop, even if only once a year.

    And I think Greg’s ideas about yoking chucrhes has merit. I’ve vbeen thinking along those lines for some time.

    Good thought provoking post as always John. See you tomorrow!


  1. […] that instead of tweaking calcified denominational systems, perhaps what is needed most is a reboot. I further suggested that perhaps the best place to start is in local presbyteries. What would it […]

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