Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

Resolution of Thanks

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

The series of reflections on this year’s General Assembly did not pan out as I had hoped, so I’m going to conclude with posting this year’s resolution of thanks. This resolution, presented each year by Mel Duncan, a ruling elder from Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC highlights some features of the area where the GA was held as well as expressing thanks and hope for the Church.

Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod here at the 39th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.

For here we stand on the edge of the new world hoping for a world to come in this commonwealth cradle of American civilization, the Old Dominion, mother of Presidents. Here we sing the ancient psalms of exile from French Huguenots fleeing to Virginia and the spirituals of enslaved African peoples singing new songs of freedom.  We recall that we are near where a Native American named Pocahontas was baptized into the Christian faith.

We rejoice that in 1683 the Irish Presbytery of Laggan sent Francis Makemie across the ocean, founding four small mission works near where we are meeting and later a presbytery in Philadelphia to begin our long story of American Presbyterianism.

We remember Old Hanover Presbytery of Virginia and praise God for the hundreds of churches, scores of presbyteries, colleges and seminaries to which she helped over the centuries.

We remember today a long line of godly Virginians; Rev John Chavis and Baptist worthy Lottie Moon. More recently we remember Dr. Nelson Bell and the Honorable Kay James who have served faithfully the risen Christ.

We commend the fine work of Assembly Moderator Ruling Elder Dan Carrell, a Virginian, and our faithful Stated Clerk, Dr Roy Taylor and his efficient staff for their outstanding leadership of the church’s courts.  We give thanks for the constant labors of our PCA Agencies and Committees on behalf of a grateful family of churches. We give praise for our host committee and the many people of James River Presbytery who have cared for our every need, skillfully commissioning new songs of worship and working so diligently to bring our church together.

We go on our way rejoicing with the fruitfulness of so many witnesses, His holy name be praised. We also grieve because our own idols keep us from pursuing our Great Commission. We thank you for sending to this General Assembly the fine preaching of Harry Reeder, Tim Keller and Mike Campbell, who reminded us of our church’s worship, mission, and unity. What a marvelous engine we have under the hood indeed! We depart with the fervent prayer that God the Holy Spirit would put in a double portion of the spirit of Samuel Davies, the Apostle to Virginia, and of the fervent evangelist William E. Hill – men who for the sake of Christ’s Church counted all things but loss.

Commissioners of the 39th General Assembly, here we stand, here we sing, here we rejoice, here we remember, here we give praise and thanksgiving. Here in Virginia Beach we proclaim “Christ for the World.”

TE Henry Lewis Smith (Chairman) Presbytery of Southeast Alabama

RE Melton L. Duncan (Secretary) Presbytery of Calvary

A Successful Assembly?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Today begins a series of posts from guest bloggers on their post-General Assembly reflections. Today’s blog is by my friend, Stan Gale. Stan serves as a pastor in the Philadelphia Metro West Presbytery.

Stanley D. Gale (M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary; D.Min. Covenant Theological Seminary) has served as a pastor for 25 years.  He and his wife, Linda, live in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  He is the author of several books, including The Prayer of Jehoshaphat: Seeing Beyond Life’s StormsWhat is Spiritual Warfare? (Basics of the Faith Series) and most recently, Making Sanity Out of Vanity: Christian Realism in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He can be reached at

What makes a “successful” General Assembly?  I guess it depends on whom you ask.  James River Presbytery, who hosted this year’s GA in Virginia Beach, might answer “an assembly that runs without problems.”  Tim Schirm, manager of the PCA Bookstore, might be happy with good sales and less inventory to cart back to Atlanta.  Sponsors of the various overtures would likely delight in an affirmative answer.  Exhibitors might well revel in contacts made and seed sown to further the cause of their respective ministries or offerings.

For me, success can be described in three F’s.

The first F is faithfulness.  My church paid for my travel and time.  I was present as a commissioner.  My job in service to Christ was to be engaged in the business of the Assembly—digesting reports, processing debate and voting intelligently.

That meant long hours and a worn out body.  We finished up about 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, having to reconvene after the worship service to deal with backed up business.  I am not one accustomed to late nights.  That plus an aggregate weariness from the travel and meeting demands meant fatigue.  That late night was greeted with an early Friday start. But that’s just part of the cost of diligence in my role as a commissioner.

The second F is fulfilling.  Sometimes at GA I am able to enjoy the area attractions. Not this year.  Holding the Assembly at Virginia Beach was a big tease, promising fun in the sun but at arm’s length because of the weight of responsibilities.  The extent of my tourist activity was noticing the statue of Neptune at 31st Street as I drove by on my way home.  However, refreshment was to be found in other ways.

General Assembly offers far more than a business meeting for the work of the church.  It provides an opportunity for replenishment.  The worship, the fellowship, reconnecting with people I only see once a year, the change of pace from regular pastoral responsibilities, the wealth of resources from the exhibitors, the seminars covering a wide range of topics—all contribute to sending me back to my local church with renewed enthusiasm for Christ and his church.

I confess that I did go with an agenda of my own, which I shamelessly promote here.  I suppose the appropriate F here would be fruitfulness.  For me, GA is an opportunity to promote ministries and tools I have developed for the work of the church, what might be called networking.  A book I had just written was released at GA.  In fact, I saw it in the PCA bookstore before I had seen it myself and had to buy a copy.  (The PCA bookstore is offering my book, Making Sanity Out of Vanity, at the GA 50% discount while supplies last.)

I held a seminar on “Reformed Evangelism,” in part to let the larger church know of a resource for evangelism I had developed for resourcing/equipping Christ’s disciples in their witness for the gospel of the kingdom.  (The bookstore also carries my booklet, How Can I Know Eternal Life?) Two articles of interest I referenced in my seminar are “Goldilocks and the Gospel,” a description of the booklet  and “A ‘Reformed’ Presentation of the Gospel,” currently posted on the byFaithonline website.

Was the Assembly a success for me?  Unequivocally yes.  In this case, three solid F’s means passing with flying colors.  Each one represents an answer to prayer in which God allowed me to faithfully serve him, to find renewed fulfillment for his service and the encouragement of fruitfulness as evidenced by contacts made and strong interest expressed in my ministry efforts.

The Ministry of the Few or the Ministry of the Pew?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

How are you going to minister this coming Lord’s Day? Teach Sunday School? Be a greeter? Usher? Preach? That’s great if you’re involved in one of those activities, but if you add up the pastor, elders, deacons and all of the Sunday School teachers, greeters, and ushers, that’s still a relatively small percentage of the average congregation. It’s the ministry of the few.

So how are YOU going to minister?

Have you considered the ministry of the pew? The ministry of the pew, you say? What’s that? It’s a way to use where you sit at church as a means to serve others.

Years ago my parents attended a church, found a pew, and sat down only to be approached by a couple informing them that Mom and Dad were in their pew. These folks obviously had their favorite place to sit and were not happy sitting anywhere else. I can understand that. I always like to sit to the left of a speaker. I don’t know why. There’s no good reason; it has just become a habit. But do you think about and even pray about where you sit in church? All of us should.

Colin Marshall was once challenged about where he sat and why. He wrote, “Some years ago a pastor, Ray Ewers, instructed me in the finer art of how to walk into church. To most people, this might appear to be a rather basic accomplishment requiring little or no tutelage. Perhaps a family with five toddlers would appreciate some advice, but most of us would never give it a thought. Ray’s instruction was very brief: ‘Pray about where you sit’.

Praying seemed like a great way to walk into church, better than grumbling about the full car park or feeling annoyed that the first hymn, ‘Tell Out My Soul’, was sung to Tidings and not Woodlands. But of all the things to pray about, why should I be concerned with seating position? After all, I sit in my pew every week.

Ray’s advice was based on a particular view of church. He saw church as a place where Christians go to work. Church is a gathering of God’s people to hear his word and respond in faith and obedience. In this gathering, we are in fellowship with each other, through the blood of Jesus, and, because of our fellowship, we seek to serve each other. We use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another and build Christ’s Church—‘edification’ is the word often used to describe what goes on in church. All believers are involved in building the church, not just clergy or preachers. The New Testament consistently teaches that in the growth of the body of Christ each part must do its work (see Eph 4; 1 Cor 12-14). Because of this, we aren’t to see ourselves merely as part of an organization called ‘St Hubert’s Church’, but as servants of God’s people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means sacrificing our own.”

While I have one caveat regarding Colin’s article (I don’t believe we need to change traditional-style services to make people feel comfortable), his emphasis is “spot on.”

Will you pray about where you sit this coming Sunday? I encourage you to take a couple of minutes to read the rest of the article and learn some strategic ways to serve the Lord on his day. Don’t leave ministry to the few. Get involved in the ministry of the pew!

For Colin Marshall’s complete article, click here.

Still Standing but Standing Still

Friday, January 29th, 2010

To grow a healthy church should be the concern of every Christian, not just pastors and elders. It’s fairly easy to detect the signs of church illness. The preaching fails to grapple with the text and, in spite of vaunted claims of Christ-centeredness, the messages are more about man or (worse yet) the preacher. In sick churches, elders become yes men rather than shepherds. And if church discipline is exercised, it’s done so with a heavy hand. Eventually folks seek healthier, greener pastures and, as often as not, the leadership remains oblivious.

But what about a stagnant church? Churches can be doctrinally healthy, even confessional, and yet enter a period where life becomes stale and dull. The routine continues. No one detects heresy in the pulpit. Folks are still friendly. But, like sails without wind, the ship lies still in the water, bobbing up and down but going nowhere.

In the latest issue of Evangelicals Now, Marcus Honeysett discusses this very issue and offers a penetrating analysis of stagnant church life. Here’s one example why churches stall.

Not understanding how to release and encourage everyone in the church to use their spiritual gifts for the building up of the church. This stall can take several different forms: the church (or the leader) that expects the leader to do everything and everyone else to do nothing; the church that thinks that participation is not a matter of identifying and utilising gifts but of exercising a vote at a church meeting; the church that doesn’t want to be challenged out of a cultural comfort zone and that insists that its leaders act as their chaplains for meeting exclusively internal spiritual needs. There are two types of DNA in churches. One type of church says ‘we exist to have our personal spiritual needs met’, the other ‘we exist to impact our locality and the world with the gospel of the grace of God in Christ’. The first type is a stalled church.

I encourage you to read the full article. It’s brief and will only take a couple of minutes, but I believe it will offer you a template against which to examine your own attitude toward the Lord’s work as well as a guide to praying for your church leadership.