Minding the Church’s Business
By Andy Jones
John Robertson

As he exited the convention center in Memphis, Tennessee, John Robertson turned out the lights on his final General Assembly as the business administrator for the Presbyterian Church in America. The denomination has depended on Robertson’s management and accounting skills for half of its existence. 

The PCA appoints a stated clerk to manage the church’s ecclesiastical affairs. But the stated clerk appoints a business administrator to manage the church’s business affairs. For the past 25 years, Robertson has served in that role, and by all accounts, it is difficult to imagine someone better suited for it.

The PCA is a church. Like any church, there are shared beliefs and a shared mission. But like any church, there are also staff to hire, bills to pay, and legal issues to adjudicate. Though less visible than the stated clerk, the business administrator’s role has proven to be just as essential. 

Managing the PCA’s business affairs is complex because the Administrative Committee has no permanent funding source. Every year, the Assembly decides to create new initiatives and study committees, but it is up to the Administrative Committee to find room for these items in its budget while maintaining its normal operations. Robertson proved highly capable in helping the church achieve its agenda without breaking the bank. 

“Selecting John Robertson to serve as business administrator was one of the wisest decisions I ever made.”
– Roy Taylor

Robertson was an accountant who became a pastor. As an ordained minister and certified public accountant, Robertson’s fluency in both Presbyterian polity and finances proved to be the right combination to help the PCA manage growth while also maturing in its operations and financial affairs. 

In 1972, Robertson was a married seminary student at Reformed Theological Seminary. But he needed internship experience as he prepared to graduate and pursue ordination. He eventually came on staff at a church in New Orleans. It was there that he and his wife, Ann, met another young couple, Roy and Donna Taylor. Roy Taylor was a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary student who had recently become convinced of Presbyterian beliefs. Neither Robertson nor Taylor realized that their new friendship would evolve into a lengthy working relationship. 

When Robertson graduated from college, the new denomination needed church planters, and he accepted a call to plant a new church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Riverwood Presbyterian Church would be the first and only church he pastored. The church continues today as a thriving congregation in Warrior Presbytery.

But his life changed when he received a phone call from Taylor, who was being tapped to serve as the new stated clerk and wanted Robertson to serve alongside him as business administrator. As Taylor looks back, he realizes, “Selecting John Robertson to serve as business administrator was one of the wisest decisions I ever made.” 

The PCA had just finished celebrating its 25th anniversary when Robertson had his first day on the job. The denomination was still struggling for financial stability. In fact, the Administrative Committee was in debt, and the aging offices needed more than $1 million in improvements. Robertson was faced with his first crisis. 

After consultation with Paul Kooistra at Mission to the World, a plan was formulated for the growing denomination to build a new office building in the northeast suburbs of Atlanta. If it was going to pour money into a building, it made more sense to have a property that fit the church’s needs. Within two years, the denominational offices were relocated to Lawrenceville, Georgia, where they remain today. 

Robertson’s track record also includes helping the PCA prevail in a six-year court case, survive the Great Recession, and navigate its first canceled General Assembly. Those who know John describe him as a man who cannot multi task. He has a one-track mind. Whatever is in front of him is the only thing he’s thinking about. Instead of a weakness, it’s been a blessing to the church. His ability to focus on a complex matter and find innovative solutions has benefited the denomination in countless ways, and has been a blessing to the church. 

In 2008, the national economic downturn severely decreased the amount of contributions to the work of the Administrative Committee. It was obvious there wasn’t going to be enough money to pay the bills. Robertson’s pastoral instincts kicked in, and he wanted to protect the staff from any cuts. Instead, he and Taylor decided to cut their own compensation to help limit the losses. The Administrative Committee was able to survive the downturn without losing people or accumulating debt. 

Another significant crisis came in 2020 when a novel virus swept through the country, making it impossible for the General Assembly to convene as scheduled. Once the decision was made to cancel the Assembly, Robertson faced a challenging probem. He had money in the bank from registered commissioners and exhibitors that needed to be refunded. But he also had signed contracts with vendors. He negotiated with all involved and was able to minimize the financial impact.

As he retires, Robertson leaves the Administrative Committee on better financial footing than it has ever experienced. But those who worked under his leadership talk more about his pastoral skills than his accounting skills. They recall how he is brought to tears when talking about small churches donating to the denomination, realizing the great sacrifice their gift requires. Though he is paid to evaluate the numbers, it is obvious to those working alongside him that he sees his work as being a shepherd of Christ’s flock.

Though he carried the title of business administrator, Robertson also served as a resource for church leaders throughout the denomination who sought advice on all types of issues. He offered advice on polity matters and served as a customer service representative for those who felt the denomination wasn’t being responsive to their needs. As a result, Robertson developed a large relational network across all interest groups in the denomination and was an encyclopedia of institutional knowledge. 

Like Taylor, Bryan Chapell also reached out to John Robertson when he accepted the role of stated clerk in 2020. He asked Robertson to remain in the role for at least a few more years, to which he agreed. As part of his final act, Robertson has helped the church address inflationary pressures while also celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

As he exits his role as business administrator, the only thing Robertson plans to keep track of is his grandchildren, who are spread out across North and South America. And his primary agenda will be the one given to him by his wife. All the while, the PCA will enjoy the fruit of his labors for decades to come.

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