The 46th PCA General Assembly has elected Dr. Irwyn Ince as its moderator. He is the first African-American elected to the position.
Ince is a teaching elder in Potomac Presbytery and the director of the GraceDC Network Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission.
He was elected unanimously.
Charles McGowan, himself a former General Assembly moderator, nominated Ince for the role. After Ince’s election, McGowan said, “The PCA is blessed to have chosen Irwyn Ince as her newly-elected moderator. We have done more than elect the first black moderator in the history of our denomination. We have wisely chosen a proven, capable young leader and a respected and faithful churchman. He will be a skilled moderator and represent the denomination well throughout the year.”
In recent years Ince has accepted increased leadership at the General Assembly. He moderated the Overtures Committee in 2016 and chaired the Study Committee on Women in Ministry from 2016 to 2017. He also preached during a 2017 General Assembly worship service.
“It is extremely humbling to think of serving in this role,” Ince said. “Of all of the qualified people who happen to be people of color, to get this opportunity to serve the church in this way blows me away.”
But those who know Ince say this role is perfect for such a humble leader and skilled preacher with a fervent love for God’s Word.
From MBA to RTS
Born in 1968, Ince grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from City College of New York. His family attended Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church.
After college, Ince worked for Motorola and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, part of the urban development between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. While attending New Bethel Baptist Church, he discovered Ligonier Ministry’s “Renewing Your Mind Radio with R.C. Sproul.” By 1997, Ince subscribed to Tabletalk Magazine and used it for his daily devotions.
Though Ince was climbing the corporate ladder as one of Motorola’s lead engineers, God gave the ladder a good shake. As he taught Sunday school at New Bethel, Ince found himself thinking about attending seminary more than earning the MBA that would further his business career.
“I remember telling the Lord, ‘I don’t understand why I want to go to seminary because I know you don’t want me to be a pastor,’” he laughed.
But eventually Ince lost interest in the MBA and investigated seminary. After more prayer and wrestling, Ince submitted to God changing his life trajectory. He attended Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, for six years as a part-time student and graduated with his master of arts degree in religion in 2006.
In 2016 Ince earned his doctor of ministry degree from Covenant Theological Seminary.
A “Soft Landing” in the PCA
Once he settled on a career change, it took more convincing for Ince to join the PCA. In 2000, he had five separate conversations with individuals urging him to meet Kevin Smith. Finally, Ince took the hint and contacted Smith, soon realizing the reason everyone wanted him to meet Smith was that Smith was the only black teaching elder in Potomac Presbytery.
Smith was accustomed to RTS black students pursuing him, but Ince stood out from the moment they met.
“This guy comes in — he’s sharp, inquisitive, fit, humble, and has this great smile. It was amazing,” Smith said. Immediately Smith knew he wanted Ince to join him in his denomination, and he began praying that the Lord would lead Ince to the PCA.
A few months into their friendship, Ince told Smith, “I don’t know if you’re looking for someone to mentor, but I’m looking for someone to mentor me, and God said you’re it.” This mentoring relationship brought about Ince’s soft landing in the PCA.
As a second-career seminarian, Ince was older than most students who contacted Smith. The two men are only five years apart, and Smith thinks it took great humility for Ince to stick with a mentor who was so close to his age.
Ince interned under Smith at the mission church Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church in Bowie, Maryland, and when Smith moved to south Florida in 2005, Ince served as pulpit supply for Mt. Zion.
In 2007, the congregation at Mt. Zion joined with another mission church to start City of Hope PCA in Columbia, Maryland, with Ince as pastor.
For Smith, seeing a former mentee and godly man like Ince elected moderator is a very proud moment. And as a teaching elder who has invested 30 years in the PCA, Smith is encouraged to see the denomination he loves take this step in publicly valuing the gifts of its African-American members.
“To see an African-American teaching elder as moderator is one of the great moments in our denomination,” he said. “We still have a ways to go, but it says to the watching evangelical world that the PCA is not just talking kingdom diversity but pursuing it for the sake of the Great Commission.”
A Ministry of Reconciliation
In a 2016 article for byFaith, Ince recounted how in 1947 his grandmother left North Carolina in search of a better life for her family in New York. She was part of what author Isabel Wilkerson called “the great migration,” millions of African-Americans leaving the oppressive Jim Crow South to carve out lives with more freedom in the North and Midwest.
“Over the course of 60 years, millions of people — all God’s image bearers, fed up with segregation, oppression, inequality, and an array of dehumanizing policies and attitudes — were induced to leave the Southern states,” Ince wrote. “So when the PCA considered the  personal resolution from Drs. Lucas and Duncan on confession and repentance for sins committed during the civil rights period, I could not help but connect our denomination’s history to my family’s story.”
Since his seminary days Ince has seen racial and ethnic reconciliation as essential to gospel ministry that is faithful to the Great Commission. During seminar, Ince developed a ministry mission statement that still guides his work: “The ministry of reconciliation as demonstrated in the local church by the gathering of people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities is the natural outworking of a rich covenantal theological commitment.”
To Ince these ideas are fundamentally biblical, but not accidental. This kind of ministry only happens with intentional work.
“We are going to drift toward our likes and preferences, so we have to be intentional in [pursuing racial and ethnic reconciliation] because you won’t drift into it, and it is hard,” he said.
In January 2018, Ince entered a new phase of ministry as director of the GraceDC Network Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission. His work at ICCM includes pastoral ministry but also allows him to develop the next generation of church leaders who are committed to the work of reconciliation.
Smith sees Ince as a natural leader who is warm and respected. “[Ince] is a committed preacher of the word and a language scholar who has the discipline to keep up his skills,” Smith said.
But Ince’s public ministry has never eclipsed his first commitments to his wife of 26 years, Kim, and his four children.
“He is committed to his family, and his children love him and go to him for advice,” Smith said. “His wife respects him. A man who has the respect of his family is a good leader.”