Summer time is when schools are let out, vacations begin, summer camps begin, baseball is in full swing (sorry), and…denominational gatherings happen. As a pastor friend stated a year ago about the PCA General Assembly, it is like Space Camp for Presbyterian Ministers.
As these denominational gatherings happen, the post-hoc analysis/summary happens from various quarters of that denomination. Blogs, podcasts, Twitter threads all try to summarize someone’s highs and lows of that denominational meeting.
Even though I used to write these sorts of summaries, I have come to not enjoy our collective practice of treating Jesus’ church like a headline on a cable news network. More recently, we seem to publicly publish things like Presbytery votes, BCO amendment tallies on spreadsheets, etc. These things aren’t wrong in themselves, but I have found these activities to shape an unhealthy ethos toward the work of the church.
Many Pastors I know enjoy coming back to their churches and give a summary of the PCA General Assembly. They give the summary on Sunday morning or email a lengthy newsletter to their congregation.
My summary to my church on Sunday went something like this, “Thank you for allowing me to attend our denominational gathering known as the General Assembly. While it was a hot week in Birmingham, it was a good week. I had the privilege of sitting on the RUF Committee and hearing how we are spreading the good news of Jesus on college campuses. And yes, I heard reports, voted on motions, etc., but the highlights of the week were the worship services as I received the Word and Sacrament, catching up with old friends, and being counseled and encouraged by other Pastors and Elders as I shared with them ministry and family struggles. So again, thank you for making it possible for me to attend the PCA General Assembly. I came back refreshed and encouraged.”
I guess I could have talked about the PCA voting to leave the NAE, controversial overtures on homosexuality, etc. But, those things weren’t very important to me (or to my congregation).
Here are my personal highlights
1. I bumped into the Moderator of my Presbytery at the Atlanta airport as we were on the same connecting flight. This Pastor would actually have an evangelistic conversation with someone on that flight!
2. A gentleman who used to attend my church but retired and moved to Birmingham offered to pick me up from the airport and give me a ride to the convention center. I had seen this brother a couple of weeks prior as I officiated the memorial service for his wife who passed away from cancer last December.
But on Tuesday night, he called me and said that his mother-in-law passed away that day. We were able to grab lunch along with his daughter (she grew up in our church and now also lives in Birmingham). It was providential that I could be in the same town and break bread with these two and be their Pastor again.
3. Tuesday morning breakfast and coffee with Ruling Elder Jim Pocta. Jim served on the GA’s Ad-Interim Committee on Sexuality, which the denomination unanimously approved in 2021. Jim’s own story is unique and beautiful to learn.
4. A hug and hello from Ligon Duncan, who somehow always remembers my name even though thousands of people clamor for his attention.
5. Dinner with fellow men in my Presbytery with a Pastor who used to be the Stated Clerk in our Presbytery but transferred elsewhere a year ago.
6. Wednesday night coffee (decaf) with a dear brother in my Presbytery. We bumped into each other outside of the coffee shop, and we decided to grab a drink. We shared our ministry and family struggles. He encouraged me and gospeled my heart in amazing ways. Some things were weighing heavy on me, and he eased those burdens with Jesus
7. Thursday afternoon I sat on one of the comfy couches in the exhibit hall. I chatted for several minutes with Joel Hathaway, who works for Covenant Theological Seminary. I knew Joel’s dad in my former denomination, and I knew his mom during my seminary years. (Joel’s mom was gracious enough to give me an extension on some deadlines for some online classes after my father passed away one semester.)
I shared with Joel things I discussed with my friend the evening before. Joel listened and encouraged me in my callings (Pastor, Husband, Father) and shared his own story to show solidarity with me.
8. During some of the humorous shenanigans of our business during GA, my Presbytery buddies cracked jokes with me and helped the time fly by. Presbyterians can be very awkward and hilarious. It is good to laugh at ourselves.
9. I bought the newly published book Beautiful People Just Don’t Happen by Scott Sauls. Scott is a friend who has generously corresponded with me over the years even though he probably gets lots of DMs from younger Pastors. I saw him during GA and asked him to sign his new book for me. We had a delightful conversation. Now I need to dig into the book and cry like I’m watching an episode of This Is Us.
10. I hung out one evening with National Partnership guys and the next evening with GRN guys. Both were delightful gatherings. I hope our denomination learns how to embrace the diversity we have within our confessional boundaries.
11. Monday evening I had dinner with my RUF Campus Minister (who officiated my wedding) and a couple of other RUF guys. RUF is maybe the biggest reason I am a Pastor in a local church. RUF gave me a love for the church and for our confessional/biblical doctrines of union with Christ, adoption, imputation, justification, sanctification, and glorification. So, I was glad to be a Commissioner for the RUF CoC Monday afternoon hearing from Will Huss and others about how the Lord is using RUF to spread the gospel on college campuses.
12. Somewhat connected to RUF, I always benefit from seeing Rod Mays. I met Rod when I was a seminary student and had him for four classes. The universal opinion at RTS Charlotte was that the only thing one really needs to be trained for pastoral ministry are the biblical languages and spending a few months doing yard work with Rod as he tells stories about ministry. Seriously, that’s all you need. (I am joking…sort of.)
13. Sharing a conversation, laugh, and selfie with Dr. Roy Taylor. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that.
I’m sure there were more enjoyable moments of GA that encouraged me. But these are the ones that I remember right now.
I apologize if this wasn’t the summary you were looking for. But I hope this kind of summary of GA becomes more of the norm for us in the future.