We need a national meeting of PCA pastors and their wives. Other organizations — corporations, educational institutions, professional sports leagues, etc. — pull their leaders together for such meetings. Mission to the World (MTW) missionaries hold regional gatherings with spouses and children every four years. Shouldn’t the PCA do this nationally for our pastors? And shouldn’t it be one of our highest priorities?  Isn’t it crazy that we’ve never done this?

There are a number of important reasons to hold such a conference. Let’s start with these five:

We need to build cohesion

That’s something we lack that in the PCA. Though we share a common fidelity to the Scriptures and a Reformed understanding of doctrine, there is no energizing missional vision that binds us together. We lack the missional clarity that lures good people to our team. Increasingly, top drawer ministerial candidates are bypassing the PCA for organizations that are driven by mission.

We need to positively shape the ethos of the PCA

We need a meeting where people could discover not only what the PCA should look like, but also, what the PCA should feel like. If we have guys thinking about going to seminary or RUF graduates who’ve had no exposure to the PCA before but who are thinking about ministry, we could say, “Come to this meeting,” because we would want them not only to see it, but also to taste it and feel it. We’d want them to walk away saying, “I’d love to be on the same team with these guys. These are guys I’d go to war with!”

We need to get to know each other

We’re not a family; those of us in Florida don’t know what’s going on in Pennsylvania or Missouri or South Carolina. It would be wildly encouraging if we did. Who doesn’t want their church to take on the identity of a family?

We need encouragement

Pastoring is hard, and we have a beat up workforce. Many guys in the PCA are not faring well, and most pastors function without the support of a team. In a number of our small churches, guys are struggling financially, they’ve become bi-vocational out of necessity, and they’re discouraged. We need inspiration, we need to be reminded that it’s worth it to deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow Jesus. We all need a team, we all need each other.

We need to be refreshed

One of the reasons all our missionaries gather regularly is because we understand that they’re aliens. They’re removed from their culture and the support of their families and they’ve been dropped into difficult places. That places a great strain on their souls, marriages and health so they desperately need to be refreshed. What is true of missionaries applies to pastors in America today. Pastors in the United States labor in an alien culture, one that’s hostile to the Gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God.  No soldier stays on the frontline without relief, so if we are going to have men make it in ministry for a lifetime, we need to take better care of them.

This national gathering is needed annually, or biennially at the very least. It would last three or four days and focus on the beauty of Jesus, the joy of belonging to Him and to His family, and the privilege of being called to be His ambassadors. It would involve worship, preaching, and inspiration — whatever it takes to fill the tank.

We’d play and rest, too; it wouldn’t be an exhausting string of seminars and speakers. We’d need big spaces in the schedule for people to connect with one another. We could have instruction and celebration of ministry progress in the morning and the evening, and then leave the afternoon free. We could have counseling available, too — the opportunity for those who are desperate and need healing to connect with a peer.

We would emphasize vision, with speakers reminding us why we’re out there slugging it out in our mission field. Too often, we in the North American church are doing church but we’re not doing mission.

It would involve connection — being together, hearing our stories. I think this last point is particularly important. At General Assembly, there are worship services and seminars and reports of denominational agencies, but there are no stories about the local church, about what’s happening in Pennsylvania or Michigan or in an RUF ministry in Oregon or Arizona. It would be great to hear those stories and cheer for each other. In our presbytery, when a guy comes back into the room after passing his ordination trials, he is give him a standing ovation. We need to be doing that for each other, all the time; this national conference would give us the opportunity to cheer each other on.

It would be a meeting where we’re not voting, not debating, not arguing. Instead, we’d be rallying around the mission Jesus has given us. We’d be eating together, laughing together, worshiping together, so that we can better work and serve together.

If we do this meeting right, we’d walk away with a sense of being cared for. Every member of an organization wants to know that the organization they’re a part of thinks they matter. Too many PCA churches are utterly disconnected. They need know they are part of a body — a national denomination — that cares for them, personally, and for the health of their families, church and ministry.

This national pastor gathering wouldn’t require any adjustment to the General Assembly calendar. After all, we don’t adjust that calendar when we have a large conference like MTW’s Global Mission Conference that involves several thousand in attendance. An annual pastor’s conference done well would, however, shape the identity of the PCA in a way that our General Assembly is unable to do.  There will always need to be a regular business meeting of the PCA to act on overtures, elect officers, and approve budgets.  I believe a national pastors’ meeting would serve to define us much more accurately and effectively.  I live in Florida and annually observe ministry organizations flock here in the winter for their meetings.  Thousands come to their conferences and leave deeply encouraged and joyously exclaiming, “I love giving my life to this ministry!”  They feel cared for and connected to the missional aims of the ministry organization.

We lack that, and a national conference like this could bring renewed strength to our ministry ranks.  Ministry is really hard and we need each other.

25 Responses to We Need Each Other

  1. Mike Khandjian says:

    Love this! Thank you Ray & amen!

  2. Michael Anderson says:

    It seems to me that this would defeat the purpose of PCA.
    We already have two elements in the PCA that are unbalanced toward TE’s. General Assembly and Presbyteries are attempting to include more of the equal office (RE’s).
    General Assembly is the main effort to gather the elders of the church together and should be promoted as such.
    I agree that TE’s have issues that are unique to the position. And that presbytery is the “congregation” for TE’s. As such it behooves the presbyteries to build cohesion and nurture for their members- in the conduct, agenda, and hospitality of the presbytery meeting.
    I believe that the culture has diminished presbytery from its created intent.
    Please we do not need another layer.

    • Robert Cuminale says:

      Thank you for saying what I was thinking as I read this article. We need more opportunities for the REs to get together especially those who are self employed and find it difficult to get away from their businesses.

    • Joshua Garrett says:

      Michael,

      While I appreciated some of the points you made concerning the need for increased involvement of RE’s, I’m not too sure what you meant when you said “this would defeat the purpose of the PCA.” Could you clarify what you think the purpose of the PCA is and why a conference for the refreshment and nurture of pastors would defeat that purpose?

      • Suzanne Berman says:

        Ray makes a great case for better pastoral support in the PCA, but it’s not clear why he’s eliminated GA as the delivery method. If GA is no longer relevant to the pastor who hungers for connection with our denomination, let’s address that with more relational and connective options at GA, rather than create a new meeting. A separate meeting that competes with GA for resources will suck away at GA attendance — if your church can afford to send you to one meeting only, would you choose the “voting, debating and arguing meeting” or the meeting where 1/3 of the time is “rest and play” ?
        And do REs not also need cohesion, refreshment, and connection?

  3. Mike Singenstreu says:

    Great idea to be sure…central location like St. Louis would be good financially…lots to do there…very family friendly. Also, if this is done it ought to e put together by the WIC since I agree with Charles Dunahoo…and I paraphrase, when returning from one of the WIC national meeting he said, ” I LIKE coming to these meeting!”…

  4. Harvey Kirkpatrick says:

    Thank you Ray for this excellent exhortation.
    It is so hard for GA to be all things needed.
    If such a Gospel renewal time came close to just a bit of the encouragement to our pastors that is needed, the effort and expense would be a beautiful investment.
    Kudos to you giving voice and to byFaith and DD for the amplification.
    And to our pastors, your labors are an eternal and priceless gift.

    His grace to you all !

  5. Michael MacCaughelty says:

    I could not agree more. I often have thought that GA was supposed to be this for pastors, and some years it is with pastoral health building seminars and edifying worship services. Sounds to me what Ray is referring to is relational ministry investment for our pastors.

    How to pay for it? And what about those guys really in the trenches (bivocational, solo, rural, isolated, in not as healthy presbyteries) who would struggle to pay for it and give up the time for it?

    Suggestion: Could Seven Rivers or another large church host such a gathering for us? Could we raise the price by say $25 per man to assist with “scholarships” for our poorer brethren? Could we humbly ask speakers to come pro bono?

  6. Daryl ZOELLNER says:

    Would MNA missionaries and their wives working out of bounds or in joint ministry agreements be invited to attend? I remember being time deprived and having little energy to hire babysitters in a foreign field where people are naturally dissasociated with us and each other in a first church experience. There are no replacement pastors. The church has to shut down to allow us to attend. Who do I have in heaven but You Lord? How we meet our own need in dependence on God through prayer is worth more than 10 000 angels who could come down from heaven and set us free. Choose the lonely closet. God hears. Do not neglect meeting with the belivers in your little circle. God is near. metanoïa…makarios…maranatha.

  7. Joe Creech says:

    This is very needed! Thanks for the encouragement to do it. I hope many will rally and that we will come together!

  8. Bradley Wright says:

    Ray,

    Great comments and I very much appreciate the idea of working together to shape a healthy ethos. This is a wonderful goal to set and way to start 2015. Let’s do it!

    Peace,
    Brad

  9. Tom Stein says:

    Ray – thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate the pastoral spirit of them. I would be interested in such a gathering.

  10. Allan Edwards says:

    I think what I like about this idea most is that, though we have practical and theological disagreements, the better we know each other the more charitable we might be. Also, as a person who would prefer a more stripped down business oriented GA, a pastor’s gathering could alleviate some of the pressure. GA wouldn’t have to try and serve both purposes each year. GA is for the work of the church, Pastor’s Conference is for the health and encouragement of the pastors – for connection.

  11. John Monroe says:

    I would hope that the teaching elders would include ruling elders if they decide on such meetings. I believe that both are necessary to the work of the church. Historically, the professional clergy have led the church astray, e.g., the PCUSA. Total depravity is a constant battle for all in the church.

  12. Neal ganzel says:

    suggest we build this great idea up from the bottom! PCA is a barely manageable 3000 mile wide by 1000 mile tall organization broken up into 81 presbyteries. The most likely place to economically draw TE husbands and their wives for the ministry Ray righteously/mercifully identifies would be in the presbyteries. Success there would breed this kind of supportive community where it will have a chance to actually affect real time church ministry. Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neill said it best: “All politics is local.” So are martiages and ministry.

    Besides the sheer cost to participants for a national conference would only draw the bigger Churc guys who account for a small percentage of PCA marital…

  13. Kevin Vandenbrink says:

    I love the idea. This past fall my wife and I were encouraged with this type of gathering in the “New City Network” pastors/ wives retreat where we had a great time of connection and fellowship with others in ministry from around the country. I’m guessing this may be happening on other smaller “network” levels within the denomination.

  14. Kevin Twit says:

    i would love it and am willing to help out Ray.

  15. Dennis Painter says:

    Excellent idea…the PCA needs this…we need each other…and we need all the things you point out in the article.

    Too often, our churches and pastors take the lone wolf approach to ministry. I can’t think of a better way to exchange ideas, encourage each other, and come together on a mission for the PCA.

    Let’s start the planning now!

  16. Gary Ginn says:

    Thanks Ray! Love your heart! I’m all in! What can I do to help?

    Gary

  17. Gary Englestad says:

    My solution to greater unity has been to regularly meet and worship with local Reformed and Presbyterian Churches and ministers. We have had monthly lunch meetings, a yearly Reformation service held jointly, and a joining of congregations for worship on fifth Sundays. A meeting once a year with so many people can’t bring about the fellowship and unity required. I am not against a yearly country wide meeting, just pleading for more local and practical practice of unity among the PCA and other Reformed congregations and churches. We also don’t need more seminars on unity, we need more practice of unity.

  18. Andy Perry says:

    Great idea! This would be especially helpful and nurturing for us in the PCA who minister many miles from the next PCA church and do not have access to regular fellowship and support from other PCA pastors locally or regionally. Perhaps this would best be facilitated on a regional level, having perhaps four gatherings (e.g. Chicago, California, Dallas, and Philadelphia) to cut down on travel costs and time.

  19. Paula Clutter says:

    I’m not a Pastor’s wife nor a RE’s wife, I’m a member of the PCA and I appreciate our Pastors and the hard, sometimes thankless, work they do. I know when our church says “small groups” (in this case Presbyteries) are where you meet your peers & get encouragement. Sometimes I don’t like the group to be already picked for me. I like to see & hear from others “outside” our assigned grouping. Presbyteries from what I understand are set up regionally. What if you want to hear from & get to know someone outside that region? Is there a vehicle for that? I think a Pastor’s Retreat would be a wonderful thing. It could be a volunteer meeting for any who wish to attend. A place of refreshment & renewal with like…

  20. Jason Dorsey says:

    Ray, I think this is a great idea and I’m on board. I would suggest a bi annual rhythm for the national gathering with the off year encouraging TEs and REs to gather for retreat and renewal with our wives at a Presbytery level. This could be a catalytic way to encourage a culture if fellowship and mission at both the national and presbytery levels.

  21. Worth Carson says:

    Ray…thanks for this. So needed. Will participate if the ball gets rolling.

  22. Paul Ranheim says:

    Two thumbs way up! Thanks Ray!