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.