In Presbyterian Church government, there are historically three ruling bodies or courts. First, there is the Session which is the name given for the ruling body of a local church (i.e. eldership). Second, there is the Presbytery, which is the name for the ruling body of a particular region. The Presbytery is made up of all the teaching elders (pastors) and commissioned ruling elders from each member church in the presbytery (e.g. Nashville Presbytery) Lastly, there is the General Assembly. This is the name for the ruling body of the entire denomination. It’s made up of all commissioned teaching elders and the prescribed number of ruling elders from every church in the denomination.
Once a year in the summer, the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) meets together. Pastors, ruling elders, delegates from fraternal denominations, and guests from around the globe will gather to worship, fellowship, and conduct the business of the church. This year’s annual meeting is June 11-15 in Atlanta, GA. Rev. Tony Giles and I along with two of our ruling elders, Mr. Terry Cheney and Mr. Jim Payne, will be attending as commissioners representing Cornerstone Presbyterian Church.
Before I attended my first GA back in 2005 as a seminary student, I often wondered, “What happens at GA?” Maybe you’ve wondered the same thing. Truth is, there are a lot of things that happen at GA, because the design of GA is to accomplish a number of mission critical purposes for the denomination.
First, GA is where our denominational organizations and agencies like Mission to the World, Mission to North America, Covenant College, Covenant Theological Seminary, Reformed University Fellowship, etc. meet yearly with pastor and elder representatives to submit budgets, make personnel changes, give reports on ministry health, and address any other pertinent matters of business relating to their organization or agency.
Secondly, GA is a time for pastors and elders to receive ongoing education and training for the work of ministry. Every year there are dozens of seminars led by ministers and scholars on a vast array of theological, historical, and practical subjects. This year there will be seminars on church planting, church revitalization, leadership dynamics, worship, preaching, cross-cultural missions, intergenerational relationships, racial reconciliation, social reform, and many, many other subjects.
Third, GA is also a time for the whole denomination to come together for worship and fellowship. Each day’s session of GA is closed with a worship service, and the breakfast, lunch, and dinner slots are filled with both organized and casual opportunities for pastors and elders to spend time together in fellowship.
Fourth and finally, the primary purpose of the General Assembly is to address mission critical denominational matters. This includes, but is not limited to, matters of theological, cultural, ecclesiastical, and administrative importance to the denomination and its presbyteries.
Following the GA, I will use this space to summarize some of the highpoints and key items of business. In the meantime, if you have interest in learning more about this year’s General Assembly, you can visit the General Assembly’s website hosted by the PCA’s Administrative Committee. The web address is http://www.pcaac.org/general-assembly/