At its 2014 meeting, the Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) identified five key issues facing the PCA: the role of women in the church, ruling-elder participation at General Assembly, ethnic diversity of the PCA, the church’s response to gay issues, and generational conflict. The 2014 group assigned subcommittees to bring recommendations for how the denomination might deal with those issues.
On Jan. 14, 2015, four of the subcommittees reported on their progress. ByFaith has reported on the subcommittee dealing with women’s role in the church here. The report on generational conflict hasn’t yet been made.
A recap of the other reports follows.
The CMC is composed of the presidents and coordinators of the PCA permanent agencies and committees. It also includes the moderators of the past six General Assemblies as nonvoting members.
Ruling Elders Need Training and Mentoring
According to the CMC subcommittee on ruling-elder (RE) participation at General Assembly (GA), two factors inhibit ruling elders from participating at General Assembly: First, many REs don’t fully understand their responsibilities beyond the local church. And second, it’s difficult for REs to make connections at GA and feel as though they belong.
To combat the first issue, the subcommittee believes the PCA needs to develop training materials that emphasize the RE’s role at presbytery and General Assembly.
Such materials, the subcommittee reported, would have to be buttressed by teaching elders (TE) at the local level. Every TE needs to bring an RE to presbytery. They need to mentor REs and explain how presbytery and GA function. As the more experienced churchmen, pastors need to encourage the laymen to participate in the denomination’s government.
Former GA moderator Brad Bradley, the subcommittee chairman, explained, “We need an RE advocate at each presbytery.” That advocate, working in conjunction with the nominating committee, would encourage REs to serve on presbytery and GA committees. He would provide training for REs and structure presbytery activities to make REs feel more connected.
The second issue — assimilation — may be the tougher of the two. According to the subcommittee’s preliminary report, REs don’t enjoy the connections and networking opportunities that are available to their TE counterparts. As a result, they struggle to engage in the process, are uncomfortable on the Assembly floor, and tend to feel awkward and alone between sessions. Consequently, they come away sensing that their time was poorly spent; therefore, few look forward to returning.
To combat these problems, the subcommittee recommended an orientation program to make first-timers aware of opportunities to learn, participate, and connect with other commissioners. A second suggestion involved the creation of events specially designed to introduce first-time commissioners to other commissioners, denominational staff members, and PCA leaders.
The subcommittee also hopes that presbyteries will do more to coordinate travel plans and lunch and dinner plans. These, Bradley said encourage fellowship and a sense of belonging.
We also need to communicate more about GA overtures, Bradley reported: why certain issues are raised and the likely arguments from different sides of contested questions. The more a new commissioner understands, the more he’ll appreciate the work he’s doing.
CMC Subcommittee on Diversity: “Cultivate More Ethnic Leaders”
According to a USA Today article by Greg Toppo and Paul Overberg, by the year 2060 there will be less than a 1-in-3 chance that the next person you meet will share your ethnicity. The article also pointed out that in public schools across the nation, the 2014-15 school year began for the first time with non-Hispanic white students in the minority. As the nation rapidly diversifies, the PCA is paying attention.
The CMC subcommittee on diversity made six preliminary recommendations. According to the subcommittee, the PCA should consider the following steps:
- Develop a strategy to communicate about resources available to promote better ethnic diversity in the denomination.
- Compare the current profile of ethnic diversity among teaching elders to the ethnic profile in the United States and consider ways to make the former better reflect the latter. For instance, while more than 13 percent of the U.S. population is African-American, only 1.4 percent of PCA teaching elders are African-American. Likewise, 17 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, but that number is only 0.7 percent among the denomination’s teaching elders.
- Find ways to nominate more Asian-American, Hispanic, and African-American leaders for positions on the PCA’s various committees and agencies.
- Explore how “equivalency seminary training” can be implemented for ethnic ministerial candidates.
- Encourage “multiplication and mobilization” of qualified ethnic ruling elders.
- Create opportunities for forums where non-Anglo leaders can dialogue with Anglo leaders about the challenges they face in the PCA and work together to remove any obstacles.
Jim Bland, Mission to North America (MNA) coordinator and member of the subcommittee, said, “We have a long way to go, and we take on that responsibility to move us, by God’s grace, forward in engaging the diversity of our nation.”
Subcommittee on Homosexuality: “PCA Must Speak the Truth in Love”
The CMC subcommittee exploring homosexuality and the church affirmed that God’s intention for sexual intimacy has always been between a man and a woman in heterosexual marriage. Because of man’s fall into sin, humans experience distorted desires, and all sexual sins have their root in original sin.
In recent years, the subcommittee reported, modern culture has successfully equated one’s sexual orientation with other unchangeable aspects of identity such as ethnicity and gender. A growing number of civil courts have declared same-sex marriage constitutional, and nearly all the mainline American Protestant denominations have changed their positions to accept same-sex relationships.
Because of changing cultural norms, maintaining the biblical position on homosexuality will become increasingly out of step with the culture. While the subcommittee believes the PCA has already taken a clear position on the issue of homosexuality, it wanted to offer guidance to churches on how to handle these issues pastorally.
The subcommittee asked to continue meeting for another year, but its final recommendations, when made, will take several points into consideration, including the importance of speaking the truth in love and recognizing the complexity of same-sex attraction. Churches must recognize that some Christians who experience same-sex attraction will be able to enter into heterosexual marriage, while others might be called to lifelong celibacy to maintain sexual purity. Churches must also realize that people who struggle with same-sex attraction sometimes relapse.
Rather than practicing a spiritual-museum model where perfected individuals seem to be on display, the church needs to practice the spiritual-hospital model where imperfect people are in various stages of recovery. The subcommittee could also encourage churches to develop ministries to bring lonely people into the church’s fellowship and to work in cooperation with other evangelical denominations that have developed gospel ministries to those experiencing sexual brokenness.