As the BCO currently reads, a presbytery needs a two-thirds vote to divest a man who is without call for an extended period. This overture seeks to change the BCO so that ministers without call need to report to presbytery annually. If a man remains without call for three years, the presbytery shall divest him of office, though it may, by majority vote extend his “without call” status for another year.
According to Overture 8, there are currently about 300 ministers in the PCA (out of a total of about 4,400) without call. That means that they have served a church (or in some other capacity requiring ordination) in the past, but are not currently serving in a situation that requires ordination. Frankly, I’m surprised the total is that low. Given that the PCA has about 1,700 churches (including church plants) there must be a large number of men serving as missionaries, RUM campus ministers, chaplains, etc. Ministers can be without call for a number of reasons, but some men seem to be perpetually without call. As the BCO currently reads, a presbytery needs a two-thirds vote to divest a man who is without call for an extended period. This overture seeks to change the BCO so that ministers without call need to report to presbytery annually. If a man remains without call for three years, the presbytery shall divest him of office, though it may, by majority vote extend his “without call” status for another year.
This strikes me as an eminently sensible change. The fact is, men who are without a call for an extended period, particularly if that period extends past the three-year mark, are usually men that churches do not find acceptable. I remember a few decades ago being in a presbytery with a man who had been without call for about five years. After he finished seminary, he had served briefly in a small church. It had not gone well, and within a year or so, he found himself without call. Though he applied for as many ministerial positions as he could, somehow he was never the right fit. Finally after more than five years, the presbytery divested him without censure. It was hard on him, but it was the right move. This overture makes such a change a little easier. It also means that a man must keep his presbytery informed about his activities.
As for the deacons and elders part, I have some sympathy with the changes, which essentially mirror those of the minister. The elder or deacon must report annually to his session. His official relation as officer in the church may be dissolved by a majority vote of the congregation. However, many churches in the PCA rotate elders and deacons, so a man may be inactive as an elder or deacon for a larger number of reasons than simply that he has become unacceptable to the church. A man may, for example, be a ruling elder in one church from which he moves to another town. The church to which he moves may have a full complement of elders, so he essentially becomes inactive, or at most functions unofficially as an elder.
Ultimately, I wish that Tidewater Presbytery had divided this into two overtures: one dealing with ministers and one dealing with ruling elders and deacons. I’m interested to see how this overture will be dealt with by GA.
Benjamin Shaw is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This article is taken from his blog and is used with permission.