Image by Paul Irish
Image by Paul Irish

This week I have written a few posts about connectionalism and reform in the Presbyterian Church (USA). If I were to summarize the basic idea I’ve been working on, it is this: a kind of relational networking—as opposed to existing forms of regulated and structured Presbyterianism—is emerging as the preferred form of connectionalism among many Presbyterians today. I’m also genuinely curious whether the the PC(USA) as we know it could actually tolerate such a shift in ecclesiology and polity.

Since my first post on connectionalism, some other examples have surfaced. Jeff Krehbiel blogged about “Beyond ‘Learning Something New’” at NEXT Church.

I long ago stopped attending church-related conferences to learn something new. In my experience, congregational life is too idiosyncratic for an expert’s well-intended prescriptions to hit the target. I go, instead, for the relationships. If I can meet one new person with whom I make a deep connection, (that, and at least one good sermon idea), I go home satisfied.

I came home from NEXT invigorated. It wasn’t just the relationships, both renewed and forged, though there were many. It was the contagious spirit that NEXT Church imbued. As a pastor, even with a team of wonderfully creative and collaborative colleagues, I sometimes feel as if we labor in isolation, trying to re-invent the wheel on our own, to figure out what it means to faithfully live out the gospel in our ever-changing 21st century landscape by ourselves.

As another example, consider the following article on the recent gathering of the second Mid Councils Commission—“Blood flow: Mid-Council Commission sub-group focuses on relationships rather than denominational structure.” Many of the themes I’ve been pondering this week are reflected here:

  • Discontent with current denominational structures but no clear sense of how to fix them.
  • A lack of common purpose among denominational entities.
  • Mistrust, territorialism, and hierarchy.
  • Fatigue, hopelessness, and a lack of energy to find solutions.

I’m glad that this MCC-2 sub-group is working on the relational nature of our connectionalism. Again, I think that this is where the energy is right now. And I believe that this suggests some new directions for a rethinking of American Presbyterianism for today’s post-Christendom context.

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

Reader Interactions


  1. As to structure: I have been in Sunday school classes for over 25 years with some of the same people year after year. I used to say hello and call them by name outside of the classes, in church or on the street, but I stopped that years ago because most of my classmates didn’t recognize me – year after year. And I’m pretty distinguishable.

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