March 2007
Christian Formation

Formation for Vestries: Where Equipping the Saints

If a church is going to grow, it better have the vestry on board, for it is the place where visions are fleshed out and the work of equipping the saints for ministry can originate. Christian formation of the vestry itself is a key part of parish formation. In annual retreats, after sharing spiritual journeys with each other, take to time to look ahead at the goals that you would like your church to work on to be more effective in evangelism, in sharing the good news of Jesus with the world around us.

In addition to well defined goals and timelines from the retreat, consider starting vestry meetings with a study on some book about growing churches and personal evangelism, such as the good ‘70s vintage book Assimilating New Members, or the newer So You Can’t Stand Evangelism, A Thinking Person’s Guide to Church Growth. Consider changing your agenda format. Move the treasurer’s report is moved to the end of the meeting, so it doesn’t shape the focus of the gathering. Have the clergy tell about visits they’ve made during the last month, especially to church visitors and new members. In this way everyone is brought up to speed about these folks and can learn who they are so they can extend a welcome when they meet them.

Some surprising things can come out of such moves. Here in Greenville, a wider community-oriented vision moved our vestry to present a series of “Episcopal Community Revivals,” with some of the best preachers in the Episcopal church (Bishop Steve Charleston, dean of Episcopal Divinity School; retired Bishop William Fry of Colorado; Canon Michael Green, the “Billy Graham of England”). These events not only energized the parish but proclaimed the rightful place of the Episcopal Church in the local community as well. At our last event fifteen people made personal commitment to Jesus Christ.

All of this can happen when the vestry is serious about its own formation, as it takes up the task of bringing the kingdom of God to the local community. Have no fear, the Holy Spirit will provide what is needed. We need only to be open and willing to try to new things.

A priest for thirty years, the Rev. Gary Herbst has served parishes in Texas and Alaska. He is now rector of St. Paul’s, Greenville, Texas, a growing congregation (from thirty-five to one hundred in average Sunday attendance in five years).

This article is part of the March 2007 Vestry Papers issue on Christian Formation