Leadership in the PCA: protecting power structures while tossing a bone to younger men...

The third key issue (first here and second here) identified by the Cooperative Ministries Committee of the PCA at this year's General Assembly was "The rising generation of leaders in the PCA:

The rising generation of leaders in the PCA – particularly, seeking to find new avenues of including younger people in denominational leadership.

Are the fathers of the PCA really ready to grant younger men access to the reins of power? Here's a case study based on the Board of Trustees of the denomination's Covenant Theological Seminary...

At last year's 41st General Assembly in Greenville, SC, I was the nominee for a vacancy on Covenant Theological Seminary's Board of Trustees. Votes by Calvary Presbytery and the PCA's Nominating Committee led to me being an uncontested candidate for the position. My credentials: I was a 39 year-old (in the PCA that's young), I had served as the dean of a pastor's college for several years, I held a doctorate from Indiana University, I had gone on to earn my M.Div. (cum laude) at Covenant Theological Seminary; and most significantly, since completing my work at Covenant I have been serving as a pastor (teaching elder).

The opening on Covenant's Board of Trustees could be filled by either a teaching or ruling elder and, just prior to the vote, a second candidate was nominated from the floor who went on to win the election. Who was he?

The new member of Covenant's Board of Trustees was a ruling elder who, at the time, was already serving as Chairman of Covenant's Board Advancement (Fundraising) Committee. He also sat on Covenant's Advisory Board and, outside the church and her agencies, he works as the Executive Vice-President of a management group. In other words this floor nominee was well-heeled and well-connected in the PCA.

Do I object to a man with such stellar qualifications being elected?

No. He's the perfect choice to further the advancement of this institution. No question about it.

At the same time, this is an example of how the denomination operates. The PCA's institutional men had an opportunity to address the dearth of rising young leadership. Instead, they went to extraordinary lengths to avoid it, putting forward well-connected money and administrative management instead.

Was this move profitable for them?

I suppose so, although I'm not privy to the details.

There's a little more to the story. I'm guessing the floor nomination came from someone associated with CTS who was nervous about my serving as a trustee. During my years there, from 2001 through 2004, I had spoken of my disappointment with the weakness of CTS's teaching on sexuality. Having just finished a Ph.D. at Indiana University, home to the notorious Kinsey Institute and one the most intense GLBT environments in the country, I had been anticipating studying under men who would teach the Biblical doctrine of sexuality with faithfulness and wisdom. After all, they were being paid to profess the Christian faith at a school that existed to train pastors whose development money came from Christian men. Surely these men fund Covenant because of their desire to raise up pastors who are unashamed to proclaim that God made sexuality and declared it "good," right? Even at this late date, is this not a reasonable expectation for our denominational seminary?

Sadly, I found Covenant's confession of Biblical sexuality and God's Creation Order so very bad that I set up several meetings with faculty members to express my concerns. Maybe they would allow me to help them address their blind spots?

For example, in Covenant's Marriage and Family Counseling Class, I was scandalized that Ephesians 5 was never mentioned, nor its wisdom on marriage and family life ever taught. Then there was Covenant's resident feminist professor, Jerram Barrs: he taught us that the complementarian tome, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, was "demeaning to women." And there was the issue of feminist Bibles: although the PCA's General Assembly had warned her churches against gender-neutral versions of Scripture, CTS's Greek professor commended the gender-neutral TNIV. I'm reasonably certain the cumulative effect of these meetings was for me to become a fly in CTS's ointment. Jump forward a few years and it's understandable that, when an opportunity came for me to go beyond office-hours conversations with professors, CTS acted to shut me down.

So now, back to the Cooperative Ministries Committee's key issue of "finding new avenues of including younger leaders in denominational leadership." The problem with younger men is that they see their father's sins. They believe the church should be reformed, and always reforming. And in the case of Covenant Theological Seminary, this means younger men have faith to live and breathe and preach Scripture's glorious truths concerning God creating Adam first, then Eve.

No one can accuse me of being cynical when I make the blindingly obvious observation that denominational agencies are going to protect themselves from discipline. They're going to pad their boards with yes-men, and thus this goal of the Cooperative Ministries Committee will remain a goal, never becoming a reality. Discipline is what the PCA's denominational seminary needs and it's right for the fathers of the PCA to seek younger men to put into leadership because younger men have the faith to correct their beloved fathers' sins. God has ordained that the faith and leadership of sons are the corrective to the sins of their fathers.

And yet, if our fathers refuse to hear our calls for reform, there are other young men chomping at the bit to take over the leadership of the PCA and lead her into waters of compromise and surrender, rather than reform. Jerram Barrs and Tim Keller have trained them well and they are ready to put Baby Boomers out to pasture, bringing in deform rather than reform.

Hopefully, though, such younger men are becoming less interested in working within the PCA. In Stated Clerk Roy Taylor's stats for 2013, we find this:

  • Candidates for ministry – 366, a decrease of 202

That's about a 36% decrease, meaning the PCA is old and getting older.

What accounts for this? Acts 29? The rise of the EPC (kinder and gentler on women's ordination)?

I'm not sure. Fewer young men in the denomination coupled with the refusal of denominational boards to open up their institutions to their sons doesn't bode well for this Cooperative Ministries Committee goal. Likely all that will happen is the Cooperative Ministries Committee will suggest the PCA include thirty-something pastors in those exhausting, self-important, navel-gazing seminars about The Identity of the PCA—Past, Present, and Future.

They'll throw a bone to the younger men while resisting the delegation of real authority, and they'll do so to the bitter end.

Andrew Dionne is the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Spartanburg, SC. He and his wife Sarah have six children.

Comments

I see this kind of thing all over--one of the hardest things to do when you're in leadership anywhere is to make sure that you strive to work yourself out of a job. It's especially hard these days as we have so many situations in the workaday world where the thinking is short term--not a lot of room for nurturing people over time.

I thank God for Denny Devries, who pulled me aside when I was a young deacon and gave me that admonition.

Makes me wonder if there is something to the Levites having to retire at age 50 to become assistants to the younger guys (Num. 8:23-25)...

I tried to minister in the PCA and wasn't even given an audience to the creditial committee/exam. Here's my story.

I'm just going to say it. This happened YEARS ago and I'm over it...I promise but it illustrates the point. I went to Bible College and earned a 4 Year Degree with over 120 hours of Bible credits from an evangelical Bible College (which included 2 years of Greek). Then I went to a Seminary where I earned 2 Masters Degrees, one in Christian Ed and the other in Ecclesiastical History. I did not choose the M.Div. because as I looked at the program it was essentially what I had in undergrad....why would I spend another $25K on that?

That was 13 and 12 years ago respectively. Fast forward 9 years and My theological persuasion changes to a higher church tradition whereat ministers growing up in said tradition follow a fairly cookie cutter path: 1. Undergrad in Engineering (or something non theological), 2. Go to seminary from an approved school and get an M.Div., 3. Get ordained based on the merits of that seminary...not necessarily the candidate's answers in committee (I've seen it first hand).

That's the path. So when Scott Pitts' call from his youth is rekindled later in life with an established family and good job he is told that his education is not good enough. I bought the Hebrew stuff and submitted and took a course. Still wasn't good enough. I was told to literally do what everyone else does in this tradition...go to one of there approved seminaries. That's right...quit my well paying job, and submit my 6 children to a life of poverty and debt. Makes sense. Make a man who is an ordained deacon, has three church's and hundreds more people in the denomination who can attest to his convictions to said tradition's doctrine and polity to go back to seminary....even though, technically, he has more theological training than those being ordained.

It's all well and good....I know that if we were all just sitting around with beers you hear my heart....I was bitter for a while but that was years ago. Jesus has given me victory over that and I could really care less honestly. I'm in ministry now and all is good. But THIS IS A PROBLEM. I would say it's not the church that is entrepreneurial it's the seminaries.

How much education for ministry do people actually need? An average Pentecostal pastor, which is the background I come from, will have two years full-time in Bible College (and more commonly nowadays, a tertiary qualification in something else, like accounting). Sometimes they will have been through an internship of some sort to 'test the calling'. Generally, this is more than enough to get started.

I can see the point of, and the need for, seminary education, but I can well understand Scott's point above.

To build on Ross' question and Scott's difficulty, I'd suggest that we need a different kind of training. We use an academic system where we segregate future church leaders from the world for the better part of a decade, and then we wonder where the new pastor's people skills went. Jesus more or less apprenticed His disciples.

Not that Hebrew and Greek aren't important. They are. But an apprentice can learn them, too.

Bert,

I know of two excellent schools that apprentice pastors within the church:

Clearnote Pastors College

Reformed Evangelical Pastors College

 

Ross, it's a good question as to how learned a pastor has to be. It is nonetheless a learned profession--- the pastor is serving as the church's resident expert on theology and the Bible, both bookish subjects--- and no matter how good he is at counselling, exhortation, etc., the church has a big hole if it doesn't have someone knowing theology and Bible. Of course, having gotten a seminary degree is neither necessary nor sufficient to know those things. And knowing those things is not sufficient to be qualified to be a pastor. But it is probably necessary.

Andrew,

I'm sorry about the floor nomination. Yes, our denominational agencies are in self-preservation mode. Anyone who is a potential threat to their goals and objectives is suspect. Two stories to prove this points.

1) In 2007 when GA was in Memphis, I was approached by a high level MTW person who was whipping votes against a nominee for that agency. The MTW folks were alarmed that someone might be elected who would challenge some of their goals. This person made it is duty to politic against this man and strongly advocate for a floor nominee. As you might guess the floor nominee won.

2) I served on the Nominations Committee in 2011 or 2012. A confessional man was nominated to serve on the Administrative Committee. As his name was put forth a well-known RE spoke up concerned that this man was "too controversial." Sad to say but the man who was nominated was in the room and this made for an awkward moment. The ruling elder eventually apologized and surprisingly the man was nominated and then elected by the GA. But my point remains - anyone who will rock the boat will be marginalized. They are free to write blogs, and make speeches on the floor of GA but don't allow them to sit at the table.

Let me comment on the other matter you raise - a decrease in ministerial candidates. Yes there are those who are going to the EPC and/or the Acts 29 route. There are also those who are going to other NAPARC churches - OPC, RPCNA, RC-US, Heritage Reformed, URCNA. They are tired of the politics but they are also weary of a denomination that refuses admonition and correction.

Amen to what Dave S. just wrote. The PCA and MTW and Covenant Seminary want company men who will not rock the boat. I was at GA a few years back and was on the Covenant College committee and raised some "controversial" issues. Joel Belz came up to me later and told me how glad he was that I was there. Joel is a rare bird.

The other thing about Bible colleges is that they have the additional benefit of providing a solid Biblical education to people who won't end up in full-time ministry, but who will end up being that priceless asset to any pastor: a Biblically literate laity.

Andrew--were I in Toledo or Bloomington......well said!

Here's my story. It may sound a bit like I'm venting, but I think it's pertinent, at least to some of the blog comments, if not to Andrew's article.

In early 2000, at the ripe old age of 36, I quit my job, uprooted my family and moved to St. Louis to attend Covenant Theological Seminary. At that time, I had the misplaced idea that Covenant would teach me to be a compassionate, competent, pastor/teacher in the PCA. Boy, was I wrong. Instead, what I walked into was an institution that seemed more concerned with playing academic politics and which was forcefully prejudiced and retaliatory against anyone with the boldness to question a professor's unbiblical, anti-WCF comments (as I sometimes did). Being an "older" student (and understanding the value of the $264.00 per credit hour I was paying), I felt justified in asking a certain professor why he was teaching something that was anti-confessional and against his sworn (and contractually binding) duty never to do that, and why he was showing favoritism to his female students when it came to mid-term exams and final grades. It wasn't like this professor was trying to hide his favoritism. As for most of the rest of the faculty and seminary administration, anyone with eyes could see clearly through the thinly veiled pro-Feminist, pro-wealthy, pro-establishment agenda the school was pushing. As I pointed this out to other students, and a few professors (which often caused them to rage against me), I was summarily ostracized and relinquished to the academic dumpster. But, alas, I graduated with an MDiv (cum laude, simply because of my surprisingly high aptitude for the languages) and left academia for real-life ministry (for which I was grossly underprepared); first in the Army and now as a local church pastor.

Having first-hand experience of some of what Andrew wrote in his article, I would never recommend that an aspiring pastor attend Covenant. And, unfortunately, based on discussions with men who attended other schools, I can't think of a seminary I would recommend. Maybe Andrew's blog post recommendations are the answer.

Share your sentiments and empathize with your experiences at CTS as an AD Army chaplain who also earned his M.Div. (cum laude) in 2003.

Dear AR and Steve,

Thank you for commenting on the post and making public record of your experiences at CTS. She needs reform in order to be useful to the church...and I pray that Mark Dalbey will have the courage to bring it.

Blessings,

A Dionne, Since I am indeed on record, I should clarify:...
I commented to agree/empathize with A Dionne's posting and sentiments and experiences. I did not see AR's posting when I commented, altho I brought this post to AR's attention. In my opinion AR is too harsh in speaking of CTS as an institution overall, especially considering such outstanding faculty members I experienced at the time who in my opinion did great conservative work in upholding evangelical/Reformed biblical standads and scholarship in all their academic leadership such as Dr. Peterson, Dr. John Collins, and Dr. Doriani, and Dr. Chapman who maintained a spirit of independence amidst some of the influences of which Dr. Dionne complains. I do hope that the general feminizing influence apparent at that time, the lack of any Christian resources or authors in any of the books assigned during the Marriage and Family Counseling class, and a spirit of suspicion and "us v. them" that is too often apparent at those who dissented from these influences at CTS at that time have been and will continue to be tempered. While we may not agree with the extent of the conclusions of AR's own experiences, those experiences and that passion speak to a problem to be considered that could be connected to our lack of growth and influence.

Hello, Steve Prost:

Thanks for your comment, and since I, too, am “on the record,” I would like to clarify my post as well:

The comments about my experience at Covenant were meant to be just that—my experience. I was not seeking confirmation, approval, or sympathy from pastor Dionne or from you. As you state in your clarification post above, if you think I was "...too harsh in speaking of CTS as an institution overall," and especially about some of the faculty members you considered to have done "...great conservative work in upholding evangelical/Reformed biblical standards and scholarship in all their academic leadership"—hooray for you, that's your opinion. You’re entitled to it. In fact, I don’t completely disagree with your list of professors (however, I think your use of “all” is an overstatement). But that's the glory of a blog—we don't have to agree with each other on everything. And thank God for that, because I wholeheartedly disagree with your remark about hoping that the "spirit of suspicion and 'us v. them'…will continue to be tempered." In my opinion, the only way to get thinking men to explore concerns like those raised by pastor Dionne is to ensure that the “spirit of suspicion” is never tempered. Being an attorney, you, of all people, ought to know that. Because it’s the “spirit of suspicion” that often generates meaningful investigation (see Gen 18:20-21). To ignore such an important issue concerning the ideological direction of CTS (even if it’s only a potential direction), especially one that seems to be experiencing a growing list of complaints (even if the evidence is subjective and only begins as hearsay), you are implying that we should all just stick our heads in the sand and pretend that all is well with CTS. Thinking like that could lead the PCA to one day wake up and find itself flying down the icy slope toward the great cliff of Liberalism and Feminism like the EPC is doing and the PCUSA has already done. By the way, it was the “spirit of suspicion” that lead J. Gresham Machen to begin investigating the Northern Presbyterian Church and to ultimately write-up his findings in his book “Christianity and Liberalism.” Personally, I think the idea of tempering the “spirit of suspicion” has already opened the door for subtle (and possibly pervasive) corruptions within CTS. I hope I’m wrong. Time will tell.

>>Time will tell.

Dear Brothers,

Time has already told, years ago. A decade ago I told my dear brother, Joel Belz, that Bryan Chapell's leadership of Covenant Seminary was killing the Biblical commitments of the PCA. He was sending out men who couldn't preach their way out of an envelope (no preaching to the conscience, no law, and no repentance) as well as teaching his students that he himself was the perfect keeper of all conflict, and that they should have nothing to do with it themselves. My friend, Mark Dalbey, may correct some of Bryan's long-term damage, but in my estimation, the ship is unlikely to be saved when the past president presided so long over its scuttling. 

And concerning Bryan himself, I met with him for four hours about eight years ago and pushed him as hard as I knew how, to clean out his faculty. I told him that no church could live long without an excommunication, and no college or seminary without a couple faculty firings. I told him for the sake of God and His Word, he needed to fire Jerram Barrs. Barrs has long been what I recognize as a feminist, although hidden somewhat in how he expresses his ideology. Jack Collins should also have been fired—how do you keep a man on faculty, training the next generation of preachers and shepherds, who undercuts (see one and two) the Biblical account of creation as plainly and condescendingly as Jack does? Back in the day, David Jones should have been fired for promoting the repeal of all sodomy laws across our country. Duh!

There are others who should privately be admonished, but if Bryan and his trustees had been faithful with David and Jerram, they may not have had to deal with Jack. You know how Scripture says that when one is rebuked, the whole congregation takes warning?

Preaching on Acts 15, recently, it's been so clear how the Holy Spirit blesses controversy (which is to say fierce argument and debate) to bring and protect unity and peace. Read the account of the council of Jerusalem and see what led up to the joy of the church in Antioch when they received the letter reporting that the Judaizers had lost the battle. Read the process which led to the statement from the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem, "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us."

The PCA is too pomo hipster and good-ol-boy Southern gentleman to do the dirty work that unity and peace require—which is doctrinal battle. 

Covenant would never allow doctrinal battle and discipline. As they see it, "we have the Westminster divines for that. They did it so we don't have to."

But Covenant would be willing to spend a whole BUNCH of money paying outside peacemakers to come in and advise the trustees, administration, and faculty how best to heal their internal divisions. And like all good pomo hipsters and southern gentlemen, every conflict and division would be chalked up to personal offense. He's too egotistical. He's insensitive. He's dogmatic. He's not too bright. He hurts people's feelings. And so on.

Never something as direct and honest as examining a man to see if he denies the substitutionary atonement or if he's a feminist or if he denies Scripture's account of creation or if he says laws against sodomy should be repealed? And never ever ever that this man has not been faithful to his vows and the Word of God and needs to be removed.

There's a church I often attend outside Bloomington where, for a couple years now, every time I go I expect to hear another sermon exhorting the congregation to stop fighting and live in peace, loving one another. At first it was interesting and made me hopeful, but now it's boring and makes me want to pull my hair out. Why?

Because the division is in the elders board and it's doctrinal, so it's not the congregation that needs to be harangued about unity, but the church's officers. They refuse to argue with each others, so the division runs through the congregation and the pastors harangue the congregation for being divided and on it goes. From the outside, it's so obvious.

This is what has happened to the PCA. Southern gentlemen and hipsters aren't capable of engaging in principled conflict. They're effeminate and don't believe in battle, although one side of the pair adores Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. To them, everything is personal and political, and nothing is principial. So the denomination has seen it's alpha and is well on its way to its omega. When Lig Duncan can't stand up and say "no" to Tim Keller and Ken Pierce talks publicly about how much he reeeeaaaalllly likes being in the same denomination as Tim Keller, whaddyaaagonnadooo?

For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. (1Corinthians 11:19)

Love,

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