At its meeting in April, the Administrative Committee approved a series of recommendations to the 41st General Assembly designed to improve Ruling Elder participation at future Assemblies. These recommendations were developed by a Subcommittee of the AC appointed to study the steady decline in RE involvement at GA that has taken place over the last 35 years. In their report, the Subcommittee cited a number of reasons for this decline:

  • The length of General Assembly discourages many Ruling Elders from attending as they have to take vacation days to attend unless they are retired.
  • Some Ruling Elders consider seminars and worship services as “down time” between business sessions and would  prefer a more business-oriented assembly.
  • Cost is a significant factor for some Ruling Elders who have to pay their own expenses, including registration fees, travel, meals, and lodging, without reimbursement from their churches.
  • Location is an issue for others, as reflected in lower attendance when the Assembly is held outside the Southeast.
  • Several perceptions about General Assembly also discourage Ruling Elder attendance: the perception that their attendance doesn’t make any difference, that General Assembly is designed as a professional association meeting for Teaching Elders, that many issues seem to have a pre-determined outcome.

To address these concerns the Subcommittee proposed and the full Committee approved the following recommendations to address these issues:

1.      To make a trained member of the Permanent Committee or Agency staff available to serve as a Recording Clerk for the Committee of Commissioner Meetings.

2.      To reduce the overall number of seminars by 25%. 

3.      To include the following suggested relevant seminars in planning future seminars at General Assembly.

       a. Relevant seminars on “General Assembly 101” to help the approximately 100 new commissioners at each General Assembly.

       b. Relevant seminars on hot-button theological issues designed to educate (not persuade) prior to important votes.

       c. Relevant seminars on “Practical Connectionalism” 

       d. Relevant seminars on “Advanced Officer Training”

4.      To re-connect the Committee and Agency Informational Reports with the Committee of Commissioner Reports and adhere to a strict 10-minute time limit for them.

5.      To schedule the most important or controversial business coming before the General Assembly at times of peak attendance. 

6.      To close the Exhibit Hall when the most important or controversial business is being conducted. 

7.      To schedule the meeting of the Overtures Committee in advance of the General Assembly, to allow all the commissioners greater time to evaluate their recommendations.

8.       To encourage the Presbyteries to defray the transportation expenses incurred by conducting an early Overtures Committee meeting.

9.       To reduce the length of the General Assembly to three days.

While realizing that these changes to General Assembly would be significant, the Committee noted that the status quo is unacceptable given the current situation of decreasing attendance and increasing costs.

For a more complete explanation of this proposal and the rationale behind it, read the article on our Issues & Answers page by clicking here.

 

24 Responses to Administrative Committee Proposal Designed to Encourage Ruling Elder Participation at General Assembly

  1. David Silvernail says:

    If you want to comment privately, you may email me at dsilvernail@potomachills.org

  2. Steve Dowling says:

    I think these are largely relevant and constructive, but classifying worship with seminars surprises me. I’ve always considered worship to be one of the great aspects of GA.

    • David Silvernail says:

      Steve, Thanks for commenting. Most people consider the worship services to be an important part of GA. They’re only grouped with the other items as “non-business”, certainly not trying to imply that they’re not important.

  3. RE Miguel del Toro says:

    One of the things I enjoy most about attending the GA (this year’s will be my fourth) is the seminars and the worship services. The seminars are, by-and-large, edifying, relevant, and informative. The worship services bring the “entire” PCA together as one body to worship our triune God. This IS the business of the Church. I don’t undestand how an ordained servant-leader could possibly be opposed to this or say that worship is a “non-business” of the PCA.

    I admire the Administrative Committee for trying to increase RE attendance. However, I don’t understand how many of these recommendations will have a significant impact. The notable exception is #3. I would recommend that TEs and REs who have attended GA encourage those who…

    • David Silvernail says:

      Miguel, thanks for writing. First of all, “business” is not a technical term. There’s a broad meaning of the term, and in this case, that would mean that worship, fellowship, etc are certainly the business of the church. I was using the term in a more narrow sense meaning the business matters needing to be approved, voted upon, such as the committee reports, overtures, etc. I surely didn’t mean to imply that worship wasn’t important or necessary though there are many in the PCA that would prefer we focus on business in the narrow sense rather than the broad sense. We felt it wise to keep both as an integral part of GA.

      Your post was cut off, so I would be interested in what else you had to say.

    • David Silvernail says:

      Miguel, just to finish, the major factors in RE attendance (and most likely for TE’s as well) is cost and time (both length of time and meaningful use of time), and so those were the issues we tried to address. Thanks again for commenting on byFaith.

  4. Bob Mattes says:

    Dave,

    Interesting ideas, some of which I would favor. I personally do not favor disconnecting the Overtures Committee from the GA itself. If churches and presbyteries are not reimbursing REs for GA attendance, the how will adding to the RE’s financial burden affect OC participation? Negatively, I would say. I believe such a move would defeat at least one purpose behind the OC. The OC would likely become a haven for those most strongly interested in a desired outcome who would dominate the OC because fewer neutral members would attend. We already see this “front-loading” today to some extent, but it tends to be diluted by the good level of overall participation in the OC. Happy to chat further about these. You know how to find me. 🙂

    • David Silvernail says:

      Bob, thanks for writing — was wondering how long it would take 😉 A few quick comments here. One, we can’t shorten the overall length of GA without having Overtures meet in advance. Two, it would be very beneficial to GA as a whole to have the Overtures report in advance. There’s just been two many times when an Overture comes back to the floor with significant changes and there isn’t a lot of time to process those before we have to vote. And third, some people think the domination of Overtures, with regular repeat members, is the current situation. In other words, they think your concern is already the status quo. Looking forward to hearing from you again.

  5. Jim Rudkin says:

    It is my belief, as a “young” RE of 48, that GA is intimidating as a RE. GA “is” a homecoming and class reunion of sorts for many TE’s. And with 3:1 to 4:1 TE to RE ratios, trying to take a stand against the “good ole boy” TE club can be hard. RE’s don’t go every year to GA, they aren’t as plugged in, and Robert’s Rules are hard to comprehend. Recent debates over paedocommunion and intinction in the Lord’s Supper and the Federal Vision debate are all chinks in the armor. When you are outnumbered 3:1, how can you stop it?

    • David Silvernail says:

      Jim, thanks for writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this same sort of comment. GA is intimidating to any first time commissioner (RE or TE), and that was a very real concern. Some of our seminar recommendations are trying to reduce the intimidation factor. We won’t know if any of this will work unless we give it a try, but we are trying to make a concerted effort to increase RE participation with this proposal. I’m not sure we can get the TE/RE ratio back to 50/50, but 80/20 is surely unacceptable.

  6. Steven B Shuman says:

    May I respectfully ask how many attempts, including this one, have we made to attract RE attendance? It appears to me that such attempts have had little impact on attendance. Let me give two reasons, besides money and time, which keep attendance low among TEs and REs. We have a cumbersome RAO which is the most difficult of our documents to amend. A major revision was proposed in the 1980’s but didn’t see the light of day. In my opinion we have a committee which appears to obstruct rather than instruct TEs and REs as to how to change our BCO. Rather than address symptoms, we need to start afresh. Scrap the RAO, Scrap the Committee of Commissioners. Act as the “highest court.”

    • David Silvernail says:

      Steven, thanks for writing. I think recent history shows that the RAO is easier to amend than the BCO, as both have been amended in the last few years, though clearly both should be done carefully. It sounds like you think the AC is the problem (“appears to obstruct”), but I wonder what your thoughts are on the proposed seminars, which are designed to instruct? Some of what you would like would have to be done by Overture, and are probably not best addressed via our subcommittee.

      • steven shuman says:

        Actually it is not the AC to which I refer. While I often disagree with the AC I believe it is the hardest working and most under appreciated of our GA comm. But there is a committee which can cast a majority vote of 5 if memory serves correctly to stop proposed amendments in their tracks. I am not a big fan of seminars. I think elders should come prepared to worship, debate issues, and vote. I fear the offered suggestions will pass but a few years down the road we will still wonder why so few ruling and teaching elders attend. As sad as the ruling elder attendance is, I am equally disappointed in US teaching elders. By the way I will not attend this year but hope to make it in 2014.

  7. Joel Belz says:

    Everything about our GA—from the BOCO down to the actual experience of attending a GA—says loud and clear that TEs are more important than REs. BOCO says that every TE in the denomination is eligible to attend, based simply on his ordination. But only a small minority of all the PCA’s REs may attend, based strictly only the number of communicant members he represents. The proposed remedies are OK, but don’t go to the heart of the matter.

    In the old RPCES, each presbytery was represented by equal numbers of TEs and REs. A presbytery could send only as many TEs as it founds REs who could and would attend. That when “parity of the eldership” begins to mean something significant.

    • David Silvernail says:

      Hey Joel, thanks for chiming in. A lot of this goes back to the beginning of the PCA and trying to ensure it remained a “grassroots” denomination. The issue is not how many are eligible to attend, but how few actually do attend. Under the current rules we could have approx. 4,000 RE’s (minimum of 2 per church) and 4,000 TE’s attend, but at best we get 250-400 RE’s and 750-1,000 TE’s. We don’t often hear about the lack of parity as the primary reason for non-attendance, but we do hear regularly about the cost and time. So that’s where we started and we’ll see how it works out.

  8. Andrew Barnes says:

    The following recommedation is concerning to me:

    4. To re-connect the Committee and Agency Informational Reports with the Committee of Commissioner Reports and adhere to a strict 10-minute time limit for them.

    It says, that both the Perm. Committee Report and CoC Report will be 10 minute in length. That doesn’t make sense.

    I would assume what you guys meant was something like:

    4. To re-connect the Committee and Agency Informational Reports with the Committee of Commissioner Reports and adhere to a strict 10-minute time limit for the Committee and Agency Informational Reports.

    I would like to see something like this added: “and encourage the Permanent Committees and Agencies to post videos online..” (space…

    • David Silvernail says:

      Andrew, thanks for pointing that out, that’s the intention. BTW, we’re implementing that recommendation at this GA.

  9. Andrew Barnes says:

    I wonder if it would be good before the AC brings these recommendations if they wouldn’t ask for the Presbyteries to study these issues and report back to the Committee.

    That way each Presbytery could ask its REs, “Why don’t you attend or what hinders you?”, “What would enable you to attend?”, “If you were to come, what would make your time worthwhile?”

    Now maybe the committee did that with a few presbyteries, I do not know, but it might be wise to reach out to all.

    • David Silvernail says:

      Andrew, most of these recommendations don’t need to be voted on, but the significant changes will. We’re publishing them this year, but won’t bring anything to a vote until next year so we can get the feedback and make any necessary changes / improvements. I’m sure we’ll be sending out some sort of survey or request for feedback, but those usually get a limited response.

  10. Stephen Leonard says:

    You could cut the costs in half by holding GA every two years rather than annually. RE involvement says something about the training and mentoring of REs by TEs. I have the impression that such has slipped dramatically in recent decades. REs do not see the church on a higher level than the local congregation. Not much interest beyond the local level. Another separate point is that after hours and months and even years of study on certain theological matters the GA resolutions are only “pious advice” and are often ignored by those who choose to do so. Otherwise GAs are yearly reunions and PR opportunities for the agencies, which is not necessarily negative, I believe in what they are doing. Theological deliberation is not done well…

    • David Silvernail says:

      Stephen, thanks for writing, you make a number of good points. Let me address a few that relate directly to our subcommittee. Right now there’s simply too much business to go to an every other year GA without other structural changes — either adding synods, which would create another church court between the Presbytery’s and the General Assembly; or reduce the annual oversight of the Committee’s and Agencies. Both of these would need to be part of a larger debate about the “grassroots” philosophy of the PCA. Having more focused training (see our seminar recommendations) on connectionalism are an attempt to address some of the other concerns you mention. The theological issues are beyond the scope of this subcommittee.

  11. Dean Ezell says:

    Leadership from pastors encouraging ruling elders to join them in attending presbytery and GA would help solve the problem. Elder training should include the importance of connectionalism in the PCA. Many TEs do not put a high priority on being connectional and therefore are not encouraging their REs in this regard. Churches should make financial arrangements for GA a priority. Once REs are involved at the presbytery level they will want to attend GA, but it all goes back to the leadership of the pastors. Many REs don’t realize that activity in the church courts is part of the responsibility of being a RE. As a ruling elder, once I started attending presbytery meetings and was asked to serve on a committee I felt part of the PCA & GA.

    • David Silvernail says:

      Dean, thanks for writing. Your concerns about TE’s more actively encouraging/training/ mentoring RE’s to be more active at both the Presbytery and GA levels is a constant comment we hear from RE’s. Encouraging greater connectionalism was a major issue for the subcommittee and one we begin to address through focused seminars, a few of which are already in the seminar schedule for this year! We agree that there seems to be a direct link between Presbytery involvement and GA involvement.

  12. Randy Berger says:

    My church sent two RE’s and no TE’s this year, so I’m not sure what that says ;-). But I did have to take vacation to attend and I’m not sure I would do it again. I enjoyed the seminars (especially Roy’s for first time attendees) and the Expo Hall. I only attended one worship service, but I can see how some feel like it’s a grand reunion of seminary buddies. My biggest frustration was the incredibly painful experience of voting. I believe you could eliminate 2+ hours of wasted time counting and recounting close votes. Move to an electronic voting system, it will more than pay for itself by allowing more topics to be covered in a day, or else shorten the time required.