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Lesson 10       Using TCAs

They are called Tenth Community Assistants or TCAs. They have a job description so simple that it continues to baffle many people, including elders as to their purpose. Some think they are another layer of bureaucracy for people to get through to receive pastoral care. Some think they are mini-elders intended to provide the pastoral care of elders. They seem superfluous for those who are already in small groups and receiving spiritual support and attention.

As the person who invented the concept, let me explain how the idea for them came to be. For nearly twenty years, our present parish system has been in place. The parish system is intended to accomplish two goals – provide pastoral care to all church members and help create community for everyone. How well has the system accomplished those goals? I would say most people, including the parish elders, would give it a C. Many members do know their elders and have been shepherded, especially in time of need. The monthly meetings of parish councils has fostered teamwork between the parish elders and the deacons and deaconesses in his parish. Occasional parish gatherings have helped to provide some community. And yet, there are also many members do not know who their parish elders are, and indeed know any elders personally. Many members go weeks, months, maybe even years without receiving personal contact from anyone, much less from an elder.

What then do we do? Elect more elders and create more, smaller parishes? It is difficult enough now to recruit enough elders for Session. But more elders do not necessarily solve the problem because of one critical factor, which I will come back to. Another idea I thought of was to create another group of “under-shepherds” who serve under the parish elders, providing a measure of pastoral care. But this actually did mean another layer of mini-elders which not only added to the bureaucracy but also does not set well with the Presbyterian perspective that shepherding rests on the shoulders of the elders.

But the quandary remained. How could we expect our Parish Elders to keep contact with everyone in their parish? And that really is the crux of the problem. We cannot shepherd those whom we do not know. We cannot know them if we do not keep in contact. There actually was a plan in place in the parish system. When I came on board as Executive Minister and was given the parish system to oversee, I developed two objectives for the parish councils: 1) meet monthly; 2) contact every parish member every two months. I knew that if the councils discussed the people in their parish by name, they would develop the means to minister to them. It was essential that regular contact was being made in order to discuss the needs of their people.

The monthly council meetings occurred. The regular contact of members sputtered. Some councils maintained contact for awhile, but no one could sustain the effort. What was the problem? Why was it so difficult to make the phone calls? I realized that many elders and deacons and deaconesses like me were the problem. What’s wrong with me? I don’t like to make phone calls. When I go home at night, I do not want to pick up the phone. I need to be like…my wife, Ginger. She likes talking to people on the phone, and people like talking to her. Then I realized, that is what we need. Instead of putting the duty of making calls on the parish council members, who may or may not enjoy such a task, turn it over to those who enjoy such a ministry.

And turn it over to those who already have relationships with those whom they are calling – in small groups and other connections, such as in the choir, the various ministries, and so on. By giving such a duty to those who either have the inclination or the natural connections to carry it out, then more likely the contacts will be kept up.

What is it these TCAs are to do? Simply this, keep their contacts connected with the church, and more specifically, with their elders. The goal is no less than that everyone – EVERYONE – feel connected to their church and to their elders. How does this play out?

Once a month a TCA calls his or her ten or so contacts and asks, How are you doing? That’s it. What happens next depends upon the contact. He might say that all is well and they have a small chat. The TCA records the call has been made and nothing more happens. Or another call might go like this real call:

“I’m calling to see how you doing.”

“Not too well. I am having surgery tomorrow and don’t know how I will be able to take care of me and my daughter.”

“Would you like for your elder to know. The parish probably can help you with meals.”

The TCA calls the elder who calls the contact and has prayer with her. He then calls the person who sets up meals for people in such a situation. Before the evening is over, this contact, who knew few people in the church, has received the shepherding care of her elder and the practical ministry of those who live near her.

Understand what the TCA did. She did not take the place of the elder. She did not take over anyone else’s responsibility. All she did was make connection. If she had not called, no one would have known the need of this parishioner, who would have felt all the more isolated from her church.

But what of those who are active in small groups. They do not feel left out. Why do they need TCAs contacting them? For a couple of reasons. People may feel connected to a small group, yet still feel unconnected with the church and the elders. The small group, indeed, can become a replacement for the shepherding care of an elder. The community that group gives is good, as well as the shepherding care it gives…to a point. But there is still a problem when members of that group feel disconnected with the elders who alone have the biblical mandate to shepherd God’s people.

The TCAs make that connection in a simple manner. All they do is to let the contacts know that they are calling for their elders and offer to pass on prayer requests and needs. That simple word of information lets the contacts know that they are not forgotten by their elders. In most instances, the contacts will not ask for help, but they now know they can ask and most will sooner or later.

It is important to understand this role of the TCA. He does not replace the elder. He does not add another layer of communication. He becomes the two-way messenger – communicating on behalf of the elder to the parishioners the willingness and desire to shepherd the contacts and then communicating back to the elders the needs of their parishioners.

© 2024 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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