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.


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.


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.


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!

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