At the PCA’s first General Assembly (GA) in 1973, ruling elders made up 54 percent of the participants. At the 2016 Assembly, they made up 21 percent.

An overture submitted to this year’s Assembly by Calvary Presbytery laments this shift: “We wish to express our dismay at the steady decline of ruling elder participation in the higher court (i.e. [General Assembly]) & the dominance of the higher court by [teaching elder]s.”

Among other causes, a combination of the need to take vacation time and the cost to attend General Assembly likely helps account for this decline. In response, various efforts have taken place in recent years (such as these in 2013) to encourage a resurgence of ruling elder participation.

Calvary Presbytery has proposed two overtures (Overtures 4 and 7) to encourage the inclusion of ruling elders in matters of polity and theological decision-making. The first is to require that at least three ruling elders serve on all ad interim committees. Ad interim committees are formed to study theological and practical issues facing the denomination and to make recommendations to the General Assembly as to what the PCA’s stance should be on the topic and any relevant steps it should take as a result.

At the 2017 Assembly, an ad interim committee presented its findings on the role of women in ministry in the PCA. No ruling elders were present on the committee.

“Our constitutional documents are tilted towards the higher courts (both presbytery & GA) having — not just a presence, but a predominance of — [ruling elders] (just as our Sessions do),” the overture explains. “This can easily be seen by BCO 13.1 (mandates for presbytery) [and] BCO 14.2 (mandates for the General Assembly), where we are told that any congregation — no matter how small — and served by one [teaching elder], are entitled to be represented by two [ruling elder]s at the higher courts. This overture ensures [and] requires the presence of [ruling elder]s even on study committees (ad interim committees).”

Overture 7 acknowledges the need to make General Assembly attendance more affordable for ruling elders and requests that the cost for ruling elders be set at $100.

“We’re well aware of the enormous burden that a [General Assembly] costs,” says Melton Duncan, clerk of Calvary Presbytery. “In the judgment of Calvary Presbytery, we think lowering the registration costs will create an incentive to attract more ruling elders and benefit the church by having more grass-roots participation in the high court. In time a lower ‘[ruling elder] registration fee’ could bring in more revenue overall because of a surge of [ruling elder] registration.”

3 Responses to Overtures Aim at RE Participation

  1. Randall Bachman says:

    This statistic means the PCA is becoming Episcopalian by default!

    Use video tech to offset costs & inconvenience. Yes you loose face-to-face fellowship, but if REs are not going – its irrelevant.

    Skype or similar secured real-time video can create virtual GAs. Most American Churches and REs have access to this kind of technology at little to no cost. And it would enable a larger participation of younger REs as well. It might have positive international implications too. For younger REs to go to GA he is giving up limited vacation time with his family, as well as the financial costs. I realize it would be better for the elders to arrive on horseback and meet by candlelight, but maybe its time to lay down the quill pens and modernize…

  2. Tim Carroll says:

    Happy that “lament” is more a part of the PCA vocabulary because it certainly is something that the Lord wants his people to do at appropriate times (ex. Psalm 88). That being said I don’t think it is necessarily appropriate to lament that we don’t have Ruling Elders on our Study Committees. What I would lament is a Study Committee that includes RE’s simply because they are RE’s and not because they are adequately trained, and therefore skilled, to work through theological issues. Ruling Elders are not necessarily skilled at working through the issues like Teaching Elders are.

  3. Neal Ganzel says:

    None of the Overtures seeiously address the seminal issue of hordes of PCA TEs who can not, or will not, disciple men generally and more specifically ruling elders in particular, for their divinely specified Shepherding responsibilities in both home and God’s household (the church!).

    Also how about revising BCO Chapter 8 away from its unfortunate emphasis of the TE over the RE? Or how about studying the impact of rotating classes of REs in and out of shepherding governance, and also the distinguishing of “administrative elders” from “shepherding elders”

    Finally, re-evaluate the now prevalent practice of church planters being young men who plant churches they intend to pastor with the same power & authority they had as evangelists!