It comes around every June — the PCA General Assembly (GA). Probably everyone in the denomination knows of it, but only a few members have ever attended one. For many who haven’t, these answers to a few questions may shed some light on what happens at GA.
What is General Assembly?
The PCA is led by elders who exercise their leadership at three levels: the local church (the “session”), the regional church (“presbytery”), and the national church, General Assembly, where elders representing all the churches (“commissioners”) meet annually to make decisions that affect the denomination.
At press time, 24 overtures have been submitted to the 46th General Assembly.
How is the General Assembly’s business conducted?
In its opening session, the Assembly elects one of its commissioners to preside over its meetings as moderator. He is assisted in maintaining order by the stated clerk, an officer of the Assembly who serves year-round. The clerk refers matters that come to the Assembly to the proper committees, prepares the Assembly docket and a handbook for commissioners containing everything the Assembly will consider, and keeps the record of all the Assembly’s actions. He is assisted at the Assembly by a number of parliamentarians who help him advise the moderator and recording clerks who take minutes.
Most of the Assembly’s business is prepared for action before the meeting is called to order. Proposals for the Assembly’s actions come from a number of quarters, but there are two main sources:
Overtures from the presbyteries: “Overture” in the PCA is a technical term for a request for action on a specific matter. An overture may propose anything a presbytery thinks the Assembly should do — amend the Book of Church Order (BCO), create a committee to study an important issue, create a new presbytery. Most overtures are referred to the Overtures Committee (OC), made up of one teaching elder and one ruling (lay) elder commissioner from each presbytery. The OC meets before the Assembly to formulate a recommended response to each overture. They are advised on the constitutionality of the actions the overtures propose by the Committee on Constitutional Business. The OC may recommend that the Assembly approve an overture (“answer in the affirmative” — sometimes with amendments) or disapprove it (“answer in the negative”). Because extensive discussion of each overture is allowed in the OC, its recommendations cannot be amended by the Assembly. The Assembly must approve or disapprove them, or in rare cases it may refer the overture back to the OC for further work.
Three worship services are held at General Assembly. This year’s speakers include Alex Jun, Randy Pope, and Joe Novenson.
Reports from committees and boards: The reports of the five permanent committees established by the BCO, the boards of the five agencies instituted by the PCA’s corporate bylaws, and the Interchurch Relations Committee are reviewed by committees of commissioners for each, made up of one commissioner from each presbytery. If a committee of commissioners disagrees with a recommendation made by its committee or board, it may offer a substitute for the Assembly to consider; the Assembly will choose the substitute or the original recommendation. The Nominating Committee, with one elder elected by each presbytery, selects one nominee for each seat on the committees, boards, and the Standing Judicial Commission. The Assembly may elect these nominees or may choose nominees offered from the floor during the Assembly. The Review of Presbytery Records Committee, with one elder elected by each presbytery, is charged to make certain the presbyteries have acted according to the Constitution. Where it believes a presbytery has failed to do so, it asks the Assembly to take exception to that action and direct the presbytery to explain its action at the next Assembly. The Assembly occasionally creates temporary Ad Interim committees to study an important issue and report its findings and recommendations to the Assembly (for example, the Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation Study Committee, which reports this year). The Standing Judicial Commission, Theological Examining Committee, and Cooperative Ministries Committee also report to the Assembly but do not make recommendations.
Is business the only focus at General Assembly?
Though General Assembly is a business meeting, it also provides opportunities for commissioners to enhance their ministries. Corporate worship services allow them to join others from across the PCA to be led in worship by gifted musicians, sit under excellent preaching, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. They can attend instructional seminars and interact with more than 100 exhibitors. But just as important are personal relationships built informally in the hallways of the Assembly.
This description is hardly exhaustive, but it gives a taste of what your elders are doing during that week.
For more information about the 46th General Assembly, please visit pcaac.org/general-assembly.