The Good News of the 2016 PCA General Assembly

God is at work in the PCA! The Holy Spirit is working powerfully in our midst!

Finally, our Good News wraps up with the report that the PCA grew by 11,816 people in 2015.  That’s nearly a 1,000 people a month coming into PCA churches!  On top of that we had 9,679 professions of faith, over half of them coming from adults!  That’s a lot of new believers! Could we do better?  Sure.  Should we do better?  Of course.  But we need to stop and give thanks for all these folks who’ve made a commitment to Christ and His church!

 

Sitting here in my book-strewn office, I’ve come to the realization that many of us in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) have missed the recent Good News displayed for us in Mobile, Alabama, which, once carefully considered, should bring great glory to God.

“What Good News?” you say. Well, I’m glad you asked. You see, in reading many of the recent blog posts and articles about the 44th General Assembly (GA) of the PCA, many of which were negative and openly worried about our future, one might easily come to the conclusion that there was nothing good to report. I think that’s patently false. Now I’m well aware of the theological tension that seems to govern our conversation in the PCA. And yet, I fear that sometimes we get so focused on the differences and the disagreements and the disappointments that we fail to see what the Holy Spirit is doing in His church today.

The theme of the Assembly was “REFRESHED in and for the Cross” and we began with an opening worship service featuring a message from our outgoing Moderator, Mr. James Wert, Ruling Elder of Intown Community Church, Atlanta, GA, entitled “How Long?” from Habakkuk 3:16-19. After the service, we elected Dr. George W. Robertson, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, GA, to serve as our new Moderator. Dr. Robertson led the Assembly with grace, humility, lots of smiles. We had two other worship services — on Wednesday evening, Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York preached from 1 Corinthians 1:8-2:5 on “I Came to You in Weakness.” And on Thursday evening Rev. Thurman Williams, Associate Pastor Grace & Peace Fellowship, St. Louis, MO, preached from Acts 11:1-18 on “Making Room at the Table.”

One of the benefits of GA is all the training seminars that are offered. I attended four, two of which were on church planting. Each year we have one assembly-wide seminar on a current topic. This year it was on “Sexual Brokenness in a Fallen World,” featuring a panel consisting of Tim Geiger, Executive Director, Harvest USA; Allen Edwards, Pastor, Kiski Valley PCA; and David Strain, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS, addressing how we may better minister the gospel to people struggling with same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria, or pornography addiction. A list of all Assembly seminars can be found at www.pcaac.org and recordings can be purchased from www.BarkerProductions.net.

Let’s deal with the two big issues first – the study committees. To be honest – study committees don’t bother me. I know the reports they produce are not binding on the church (meaning they don’t have the same level of authority as the Book of Church Order). On the other hand, they’re more than pious advice. We’re advised to give them “due and serious consideration” as the counsel of the church. And in the past, with few exceptions, study committees have served us well, and we’ve had a lot of them. One can go to the PCA Historical Center website (www.pcahistory.org) to look them all up.

The 44th General Assembly approved two study committees — one on Racial Reconciliation and one on Women’s Roles in Ministry. As with most study committees, there’s a back story. The first one on Racial Reconciliation came out of a years’ worth of conversations on the topic (including numerous articles, blog posts, and 40 some overtures to GA). For a quick overview I would recommend you read Dr. Sean Michael Lucas’ articles on www.byFaithonline.com and www.Reformation21.org. For a longer treatment, Dr. Otis Pickett’s seven-part series on www.Reformation21.org is well worth the time. And any book length studies should include For A Continuing Church by Dr. Lucas and Heal Us Emmanuel by Doug Serven, ed.

We passed an overture (see Appendix 1) emphasizing the need for reflection and repentance over past actions and attitudes. We also created a PCA Unity Fund (Appendix 2) to help raise up the next generation of ethnic minority pastors and elders. Looking ahead, this new Study Committee has several tasks, mostly focused on how best to move forward. Some of those key tasks are:

  1. Assess the current situation in the PCA concerning racial and ethnic reconciliation;
  2. Develop constructive guidelines and suggest concrete steps for the use of the PCA, including all presbyteries and sessions, in order to make progress toward the work of racial reconciliation.

And so in a year (or two), we’ll get a report with recommendations on how to do those things. Please pray for the members of this committee: Rev. Kevin Smith (convener), Dr. Carl Ellis, Dr. Alexander Jun, Dr. Sean Lucas, Dr. Jonathan Seda, Rev. Richie Sessions, and Rev. Alex Shipman. Advisory members are Rev. Sylvester Brown, Dr. Otis Pickett, and Rev. Russ Whitfield.

The second Study Committee was probably the most contentious issue at the Assembly this year. This was the creation of a Study Committee to consider Women’s Roles in Ministry. One of the reasons this recommendation came about is because of the wide variety of practices in the PCA regarding women’s roles in the church. We have churches that don’t permit women to do hardly anything and we have churches that permit women to do almost everything. Hopefully this committee, informed by the Scriptures, will recommend some sensible boundaries regarding what types of ministry roles women should have in the local church.

The Reformation 21 website has several articles about this. To loosely quote from the article by Dr. Rick Phillips, “Given the way that this topic has been used as a weapon against the doctrine of biblical authority in so many other denominations, many people (men & women) felt threatened by this initiative.  However, I think that the actual work of the committee should relieve much of this anxiety,” as our moderator appointed a well-qualified study committee. Please pray for the members of this committee: Dr. Irwyn Ince (convener), Rev. Jeffry Choi, Dr. Ligon Duncan, Mrs. Kathy Keller, Mrs. Mary Beth McGreevy, Rev. Bruce O’Neill, and Dr. Harry Reeder. Advisory members are Ms. Nikisha Alcindor, Rev. Leon Brown, Dr. Dan Doriani, Ms. Kimberly Jones, Ms. Lani Jones, and Dr. Roy Taylor.

One of the main jobs of the General Assembly is to review the work of the all the permanent committees and agencies. And this is what’s most often ignored by the reports coming out of GA. And yet, for most of the people in our congregations, this is the most important stuff! Herein lies the Good News! Let me give you a few examples …

Mission to North America(MNA) placed 52 new church planters on the field in 2015, maintaining that average of new church plants per year. That means we’re starting a new church plant at the rate of one a week for the last ten years! That’s 520 church plants! That’s awesome! We need to be regularly praying for these church planters, most of whom are feeling pretty overwhelmed right about now. They would love it if you called one of them just to pray for them! Taking them out to lunch would be a bonus!

Dr. Jim Bland retired after 17 years as the Coordinator of MNA. He started so many new initiatives and will be greatly missed. However, the GA wisely elected Rev. Paul Hahn to be the new coordinator. I’ve known Paul since our early days together in Southeast Alabama Presbytery and I think he’s a great choice to lead MNA.

Look at the list of specialized ministries that MNA has going on to support church planting: African American, Parakaleo Church Planting Spouses Ministry, Haitian American, Hispanic American, Korean Ministries, Leadership and Ministry Preparation (LAMP), Native American/First Nations, Network of Portuguese Speaking Churches, Urban and Mercy Ministries, and the Mid-West, West, & Southwestern Church Planting Networks.

MNA outreach ministries includes Chaplain Ministries, English as a Second Language, Metanoia Prison Ministries, Ministry to State, MNA SecondCareer, MNA short term missions, MNA Disaster Response, MNA Special Needs Ministry, and the new MNA Immigrant and Refugee Ministry. That’s reaching out to a lot of people with a positive effect on our local churches!

Discipleship Ministries (CDM), under the leadership of Dr. Stephen Estock, has a renewed emphasis on equipping the local church for greater effectiveness in discipling men, women, youth, and children. You can find a host of resources for each of these areas of ministry on their website: www.pcacdm.org. This year they started a series of regional Transformed conferences for women that have been very well received. For more information, go to www.pcacdm.org/transformed2016.

Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) continues to place Teaching Elders on college campuses across the country. We now have RUF chapters on 145 college campuses in the U.S, partnering with 60 presbyteries, in 39 states. Five new campus ministries were started in 2015 and nine more are planned for 2016! RUF is reaching college students by the score and many of them are coming to our churches after they finish college. RUF also has RUF-global at work on college campuses overseas and RUF-international reaching out to the thousands of international students who have come here to study. There’s a ton of reports out there about how we (the local churches) are losing our college students. Here’s one way to fight that trend. Encourage your college age students to get involved in RUF!

Mission to the World (MTW) has continued to serve the church across the globe. 586 career missionaries, 100 two-year missionaries, and 148 one-year missionaries serving in 86 countries alongside 721 National Partners! That’s quite a reach for our denomination. And 4,369 participants went on One and Two-Week short-term mission trips! Just in Asia alone we have started center city church plants in India, Thailand, Japan, and Australia. We have provisional presbyteries in Paraguay and Nicaragua. Global Disaster Response teams were sent to Vanuatu, Nepal, Philippines, and to the refugee crisis in Europe.

Dr. Lloyd Kim, MTW Coordinator, has urged us to pray that1% of our adult members would become missionaries – that would add 2,800 PCA missionaries around the world!

Ridge Haven Camp and Conference Center is doing great! Under Coordinator Wallace Anderson, Ridge Haven has added more camps and conferences, improved facilities, greater financial stability, and they expect over 3,500 campers to this year’s Summer Camps. Thanks be to God! When my children were younger, we went to the Ridge Haven family camp and it had a profound effect on my ministry for which I’m forever grateful. Ridge Haven is a jewel!

Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary are both doing well, but as with all academic institutions, I think they would be like to be able to do more and do better. Both schools are implementing new strategic plans and capital campaigns. We need to be praying for Dr. Derek Halvorson and Dr. Mark Dalbey to be used by God in furthering the Reformed Faith among our students. I was encouraged by Dr. Halvorson’s report that 95% of Covenant College Alumni are active in a local church (compared to other universities, where only 40% of students coming from Christian homes stay in the church after graduation).

And there’s the key behind-the scenes work of the PCA Foundation (who assists donors in giving. Last year they helped PCA members give over 9 million to the Lord’s work, including many PCA churches), PCA Retirement & Benefits (RBI) who looks after the financial needs of our ministers and their families, and whose Ministerial Relief Fund aids retired and disabled pastors, missionaries, and their wives. Last but not least, we have the Administrative Committee (AC), where I have the privilege to serve, and for whom I have the greatest respect! The AC serves as the connecting ministry of the PCA – connecting the committees and agencies to each other and connecting the General Assembly to the Presbyteries and local churches. They also publish byFaith Magazine (in print and online). These agencies may not be as glamorous as the others, but we don’t function well without them and they deserve your prayer and support!

Finally, our Good News wraps up with the report that the PCA grew by 11,816 people in 2015. That’s nearly a 1,000 people a month coming into PCA churches! On top of that we had 9,679 professions of faith, over half of them coming from adults! That’s a lot of new believers! Could we do better? Sure. Should we do better? Of course. But we need to stop and give thanks for all these folks who’ve made a commitment to Christ and His church!

I was struck by the words of one of our fraternal delegates, my friend Dr. Chad VanDixhoorn of the OPC (and RTS / DC). He said, and I hope I’m getting this quote right, “What America is to the world — the PCA is to the Reformed world.” Wow! It’s a good reminder for us that what we do is being carefully watched by all sorts of other Christians, churches, and denominations. It’s easy to get lost in our own PCA bubble and forget that because of the abundance of wise and thoughtful pastor-theologians in the PCA, others are quite interested in what we have to say. Perhaps that reminder will help us to speak even more graciously and wisely (especially online)!

God is at work in the PCA! The Holy Spirit is working powerfully in our midst! He’s using church planters, campus pastors, missionaries, and all sorts of specific ministries, working and coming alongside the faithful leaders and members of local churches! God is glorified in these works! And that’s the Good News of the 44th General Assembly!

And I seriously doubt that He’s finished with us. The PCA is full of sinners just like me and we need, all of us, as 2 Peter 3:18 says, to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” May God use the PCA to do just that!

Be Encouraged!

Dr. David V. Silvernail Jr. is Senior Pastor, Potomac Hills Presbyterian Church.