One of the things I treasure about biblical Presbyterianism is connectedness. When I was a young boy, growing up in an independent Baptist context, I remember being chided when I asked why we didn’t have elders and why we were not “connected” though the New Testament indicates that churches were elder led and connected.
Flash forward about twenty-five years.
I am a pastor in a Presbyterian denomination, the PCA. I love it. Seriously, I do! I am Presbyterian because I believe it is the biblical form of church government. We have elder-led congregations and our churches are connected via Presbytery, General Assembly, etc…basically a contextualized Acts 15. (Though when I was Baptist it was called “the first missions conference.”)
Here’s one concern I do have, though. How can we in the PCA claim to be a connected group if we do not support our denomination? I sometimes feel like I experience this first-hand as a soon-to-be church planter, in a way, as I strive to make a case for supporting biblical Presbyterianism in a state where the PCA is nonexistent. I need other churches to support what we want to do in Oklahoma which takes a connectional group!
Beyond that, I wonder if we could *do* more if more churches supported our committees, not simply just church plants, but supporting their Presbytery, etc? I wonder how we could realize God’s mission in a fuller way if churches supported our Administrative Committee (AC). I wonder if we could really make the claim of being connectional? I believe the Strategic Plan makes a great suggestion in its call to require churches to give to the AC.
Dr. Ligon Duncan made this statement regarding connectionalism and funding.
We say that we are Presbyterian and connectional, but the Southern Baptists require more connectionalism in support of the Cooperative Program than we do support for the work of the PCA GA. SBC churches must participate in the Cooperative Program before they get a voice and vote at the annual SBC. Over half of our churches make no contribution whatsoever to the work of the PCA GA and yet are allowed a voice and vote! The idea of being able to control the work of GA without any contribution is just wrong. If our American forefathers had a problem with taxation without representation, we have the opposite problem – representation without contribution.
Are We Really Connectional?
I agree with Dr. Ligon Duncan’s assertion that is unreasonable that churches which do not help the AC in any way get a vote in the current system. According to Dr. Duncan, 50% of our churches do not support the AC. How can you say you are connectional if you do not want to support the most vital committee in the denomination? And it is in this that I believe the argument from the past with the PC(USA)’s “tax” is fallacious. Our current structure, and the BCO, will not allow for the AC to wield power in the way a more top-down denominational structure like the PC(USA) does. Our AC in Atlanta is constitutionally unable to bark “marching orders” to member churches. Instead of focusing on the negative, we should see the positives of funding the AC. Meaning, the AC can better do its work and member churches will be stakeholders in a connectional denomination. For a church to be a part of a denomination and not to contribute whatsoever sends a message that the church is not interested in being a part of the denomination. You have to support the mechanisms which make the denomination work.
The AC Needs Money
Not to be rude, but have you been to the AC website lately? It looks like you went to archive.org and typed pcanet.org and selected a random date in 1999! Not only is it archaic by web standards, it is difficult to navigate and the way we find information is behind the times. More money will help us fix this. I realize not everyone joins a PCA church because of the denomination’s website, but in today’s technologically driven climate, websites and other forms of social media are often some folks first impression.
Now I fooled you by starting with the website, didn’t I? While that is important, the actual work of the AC is important as well. It is my understanding that because churches are not coming close to “askings” that AC made severe budget cuts. The work of the AC is vital to our denomination. Individual churches and Presbyteries cannot maintain the workload which the AC does. We have grown as a denomination and finding ways for better funding will help. Can you imagine if the PCA Archives could add some additional staff? Could you imagine if AC was better able to use newer technology for statistics, etc? Could you imagine what the AC could do in terms of communicating with the Presbyteries and churches with more resources? If you want a snapshot of what the AC actually does, see for yourself here: http://pcaac.org/serving.htm. But we have to be honest, while the AC does more than help with General Assembly, that is probably their most visible function to most in the PCA. In fact, the Strategic Plan addresses the issue of GA.
Reducing Assembly Costs to Increase Attendance
I think this is the biggest upshot with mandatory funding of the AC. Because of various situations, I have to pay for GA out of pocket. (I am accepting donations *cough* *cough*) Why would I do such a crazy thing? It is because I believe it is important for me to attend and my family is making a sacrifice so we can participate with our denomination in the most important business work of the year. Paying over $400 was a hard decision. Believe me, I hated paying it. But because I believe in the importance of GA, I bit the bullet, even though I really really could use the money for other stuff, and I paid.
There are other elders who will not be in attendance this year because their churches do not have the money and they do not have the personal means. Or there will be elders in attendance who will be there at great personal cost. Reducing the GA fee, even by $200 could be a great help.
Last year, GA was a mess financially. Not only did we pay around $400 for each commissioner, Disney made serious cash off the PCA. The net consequence was there were not very many Presbyters there. I have no idea how many will be attending this year, but I hope it is more. I imagine, however, that if General Assembly 2009 had a registration fee between $100-$200, attendance would have been greater.
For those who wish to be commissioners to GA, $400 is a LOT of money, even if your church has a budget of $200k plus. Granted, if the church is within 200 miles, it may not be bad, but our denomination is growing in the Southwest and West and the majority of General Assemblies take place east of the Mississippi (which they should). I realize the reduction in registration fees does not equal a reduction in travel expenses, but even a $200 reduction is still better than the current system. And if more people attended GA, perhaps there would be a great push to be connectional on a personal level as elders could share rooms, etc, which would reduce some travel expenses and create or solidify friendships.
To be fair, there is no evidence that by reducing the registration fee, more elders will attend GA. We have no idea. But if every church gave to the AC and the GA fee was considerably less, it does stand to reason that more people will have a stake. Last year, we had fewer than 1,000 registered commissioners, yet there are around 3,600 TEs and who knows how many eligible REs in the PCA. We have to look beyond the idea of making GA a vacation destination (a good idea) and find additional ways to increase participation. I believe requiring all churches to participate finically in funding the AC, which helps to fund GA, will provide another incentive.
Lastly, if we really want to be a denomination that is truly connectional, we must function connectionally. Funding the AC is one way to do that. Not every church is required to give to MNA, RUF, CEP, MTW or other agencies, but AC is one agency which truly deals with every church. The AC is the agency which helps churches fill pastoral positions, answers BCO questions, funds study committees, and supports no less than six other regular functioning committees within the PCA. How can we expect to maintain records, church relations and the sheer amount of responsibilities required for this vital agency if member churches are not assisting financially? It is time for every church to support it. If we want to be the PCA, we need to act like we are invested in our denomination together.
Is your church a PCA church? Or does your church happen to be in the PCA?