I have a confession to make. Despite being Presbyterian for a long time, I had never heard the term “courts of the church” until this week when I got to experience them in person. No, I was not put on trial, but I was able to attend our denomination’s annual ministerial gathering and watch the proceedings close up. It was fascinating and encouraging.
My denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, hosts this event every year called the General Assembly. It is an opportunity for the various committees appointed by the PCA to meet, deliberate and make proposals. There are also times set aside for worship, teaching and fellowship. Most importantly, it is a time when the assembled body of commissioners can wrestle with difficult issues facing the church and make important decisions.
While every denomination has some form of organizational structure, I have especially appreciated the Presbyterian form of governance as a member of a PCA church. It is a representative style of governance embodied in the ruling and teaching elders. The local churches are a part of a regional presbytery and the churches send commissioners to the General Assembly.
Many years ago, I saw the benefits of this form of church government in action. At that time, we were attending a church that experienced the trauma of losing a pastor because of a moral failure. Sadly, this kind of experience can be so damaging that it sometimes results in church splits and lots of infighting among the leaders. To God’s glory, that was not our situation.
Instead, our elders pulled together and provided wisdom, encouragement and strength when we needed it most. They devised a plan for weekly preaching pulling on resources available in the Presbytery and quickly identified an interim minister with help from the denomination. At the end of that challenging year, the church was not just stable, but it had even grown a little. The elders worked with the denomination and a pulpit search committee to find a new pastor and we were greatly blessed by the choice that was made.
Each year there are important issues that face the church. Recently, however, these issues seem more serious than ever. Just a couple of years ago, the commissioners at the General Assembly were dealing with the need for racial reconciliation and a history of racial injustice in parts of our denomination. This year they wrestled with the need to address problems of domestic abuse in our churches and the fallout from the Revoice Conference and confusion on the denomination’s position on same sex attraction and sexuality identity.
As I chatted with pastors on the exhibit floor (I was attending as representative of P&R Publishing and not my local church), and listened to conversations over meals, I was struck by one main thing. They took their responsibility very seriously. It was clear that they did not all agree as to how to resolve every issue and there were sharp differences of opinion. Despite this, the seriousness of purpose, a deep commitment to God’s word and a love for God’s church was apparent in nearly every conversation I had.
With our world in a constant state of turmoil and new moral challenges seeming to confront the church every year, I am deeply grateful for the Godly leadership exhibited in the PCA. It is not a perfect denomination (and none are), but it has grown steadily for over 40 years. I believe this is partly due to the effective leaders God has given us and their commitment to His word and a love for His people. It is a great comfort to me to know that these men provide guidance, wisdom, strength and stability in times of uncertainty and crisis. As the commissioners return home, I will be praying that each of them will remain steadfast in their calling and that we in the pews will be an encouragement to them.