Day One (or -1) of the 2014 PCA GA – Pre-General Assembly Committee Meetings

Caring for physical and spiritual needs

I’m participating in one of the committees of commissioners this year. This is about as pre-pre as one can get without being a director or staff member with the denomination’s various offices and subsidiaries/ministries.

As with most conventions, many things have changed over the years. Most of those changes have been precipitated by the growth and collaboration of para-church ministries, technology and expectations.

With an ever-increasing exhibitor population, from the get-go pastors and ruling elders are attention challenged.

The General Assembly has some very specific business matters to handle as, essentially, the denomination’s supreme court. At the same time, it is equal parts family reunion, worship retreat, fellowship, training seminar, networking event, and oversight body hearing reports on progress within the denomination’s agencies.

In the briefing session for committee members, the General Assembly’s Stated Clerk Dr. L. Roy Taylor said, “Everything should be done decently and in order.” He also said that it is part of our DNA as Presbyterians that we are distinctive with regard to our governing structure. But that’s not a bad thing if we are able to learn from the lessons of the past and seek to affirm the commitments that have brought us to where we are and not try to re-invent or re-do the past, even if we are allowed.

There were six committees that met today and there will be six more tomorrow.  I served on the PCA Retirement and Benefits, Inc. Committee of Commissioners. It was my first experience on this committee and I was officially representing the Metro Atlanta Presbytery. Each presbytery may have one ruling elder and one teaching elder on each committee.

Amongst the highlights of my experience were hearing that there is a benefits guidelines package for churches and presbyteries to use when new pastors are called, the amount of capital that a non-profit provider needs is equal to six months of operating expenses, and preparing “baby boomers” for retirement is a growing trend.

The agency has taken some commendable steps in recent years to provide the kind of products and services that are of the highest quality and best practices for a community of faith in Jesus Christ. PCA R&BI has transitioned two large-cap investment funds to 75% morally screened index funds and they are offering to provide management assistance with no special management fees to all retirement plan participants. So, participants will get the kind of portfolio balancing necessary for optimal returns targeted to their expected retirement age. Of course, participants can opt out of managed offering if they want to continue to direct their investments personally.

The aspect of the agency that I was personally most taken by was PCA Ministerial Relief: A ministry of encouragement and financial assistance. This is the ministry to widows and widowers within the PCA family, as well as pastors and their families who are in financial or other types of distress. Widows are a growing segment of society’s population and the church is no exception. So, there is an equally increasing opportunity for caring for and befriending the widows in our congregations and communities.

Several months ago while in Montreal, Quebec, I read a major study in a local newspaper on how many people live alone, eat alone, and spend their days without connecting with anybody. The numbers are staggering. And the older we get, the more “alone” we become. Like most people, our widows need friendship and normal relationships. Like people who have disabilities, cancer or other health challenges, we shy away from engaging with those who are different from ourselves. Of course, this flies in the face of the way that Jesus lived when he went out of his way to connect with the outcast or the isolated. From the tax collector and the leper to the widow and the disabled, Jesus felt a special connection to those who were friendless.

I felt strongly challenged by the Spirit and the Word to re-think my giving priorities and to look for ways to reach out to widows and widowers in my local congregation and community. One disappointing statistic that challenged all of us was that the ministerial relief team has received approximately $665,000 in gifts and donations this year for giving to those in need and some 70 percent of our churches do not participate at all. It seems that this is incongruous with the vision for our diaconates and small groups who are charged with taking care of the poor and needy among us.

These passages from Scripture instruct our hearts to action:

Acts 6: In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

1 Timothy 5:  Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

I’ll leave you with that from today’s PCA GA. The peace of the Lord be with you all.