During our time away in June (almost four whole weeks!), I'll spend five days in Greenville, South Carolina for the 41st General Assembly of the PCA — our annual meeting for the whole denomination. I thought it might be worthwhile to use my column this month to mention a few things about General Assembly, and why I love attending it every year.
What is General Assembly?
A lot of people don't really know what General Assembly is; one year (when G.A. was in Virginia Beach), a well-meaning church member asked me if I had enjoyed my week on the sand working on my tan! In fact, I only saw the beach when I was driving past it on the way to the convention center…
Our denomination's constitution calls for a meeting, at least annually, wherein the entire denomination gathers. Every man ordained as a Teaching Elder may register as a Commissioner, and every congregation may also send representative Ruling Elders as Commissioners. Typically, there are between 1200 and 1500 men present as registered Commissioners (meaning they can participate in discussion and vote on voting matters). Usually there are another few hundred men there who are not registered, as well as hundreds of wives and children.
Throughout the week, a number of things happen. Seminars are offered about a wide range of topics, which can be great food for thought and discussion. Fellowship events are organized for all manner of groupings, from seminary alumni gatherings to missions presentations to further specialized training. A large hall of exhibitors offer opportunities to gather information about ministry matters, denominational agencies, further teaching and seminary training, and what's new in Christian publishing. The PCA Bookstore sets up a large store presence, and many books are available at a discount.
The assembly itself is also an interesting series of events. There will be reports from the different agencies — domestic and foreign missions, Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, the PCA Foundation and Retirement & Benefits, Ridgehaven (our camp and conference center), Reformed University Fellowship, the Administrative Committee, and our Christian Education & Publications division. There are also reports and words of greeting from sister denominations, and information on our formal affiliations with them. We'll hear reports from study committees and receive recommendations from them for how we might act on their findings. There are discussions about how we might improve our church constitution, and actions that we take to exercise oversight and accountability.
Then there's worship: every day, the whole gathered assembly (including non-registered folks) gather to worship together. Some of the best preachers in the denomination are invited to open God's Word to us, and we share in celebration of the Lord's Supper in the opening service. Additionally, throughout the day we will often pause for prayer, and we regularly take time to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs together.
Finally, there's the informal fellowship that abounds. Many friends old and new reunite each year: seminary classmates, former co-workers and fellow pastors, men who served together in presbyteries at some point, and brothers who have grown in friendship simply by attending the assembly year after year. Often, these are the only times these friends connect, but this annual re-grouping is much like a class reunion or a homecoming.
What I Love
Frankly, I love each part of what I named above. I could go through and tell why each delights me in its own way (and I would be happy to if you ask me!). But there are some specific things that make me look forward to it each year…
- Being Presbyterian: I love to see the Body of Christ at work, coming together beyond the boundaries of the local congregation and collaborating, cooperating, engaging in healthy and brotherly discussion, and seeking a common end. While I inevitably disagree with some of the things said, all of us seek the same end: Christ's glory and the advance of His Kingdom. And part of what is great about being Presbyterian is that, ultimately, we are called on to trust the larger Body of Christ — and the decisions made in gatherings like this — over our own preferences.
- Continuing Relationships: I've learned that there are far too many friends to re-connect with than there is time to do it. Every year, I fill up my calendar with appointments for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and other free times. There isn't a lot of extra time at G.A., but I try to make use of as much of it as possible.
- Seminars: I usually attend one or two seminars each year; the list of possible topics is always very long, and it's hard to decide! I've also had the privilege of teaching a seminar or two most years, and this year I'll be teaching another: "Rethinking Biblical Repentance". I'm always challenged by the prospect of developing my seminars (and this year is no different), as well as by the discussion that ensues during and after my seminars. I'm always grateful for the opportunity to share ideas with others, and seminars are a super occasion to do so.
- Doulos Resources: as most of you know, I serve as the Director and Board Chairman for a small side-ministry called Doulos Resources; our goal is to equip the church, and especially the leaders of the church, with resources in order to build up the Body of Christ. Our annual meeting is always on the Tuesday of General Assembly, and it is a wonderful time to connect with the dear friends and brothers I serve with.
- Committee Meetings: most years, I have been asked to represent our presbytery on one of the "Committees of Commissioners" — these are committees that meet before the assembly officially convenes, in order to read over the records and actions of the various ministries and agencies of our denomination. This year, I will serve on the Committee of Commissioners for Covenant College, and I'm looking forward to considering with the other commissioners how God has been at work through this great school (especially during the first year of their new President, Derek Halverson).
- Exhibits: the exhibit hall is a great place to learn about new programs, curricula, missions efforts, and other ways that our local church can better minister to our members and to/with the larger church. I usually have a few things that I want to seek out each year, in hopes of gleaning some ideas for advancing the ministry of our church once I get home.
Thanks for enabling me to go to our General Assembly! I expect it will be a lot of hard work, and probably a little exhausting! But it will also be an awesome time for ministry and for my edification.