Associate vs Assistant Pastor in the PCA

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Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
In my licensure exams this past week, I was asked if I had any stated differences with the form of government of the PCA prescribed in the BCO. I had stated on my written exams and repeated this in my oral exams that while I am perfectly willing to submit to my brothers in the Lord on this issue, I do have a reservation about the associate vs assistant pastor distinction in the BCO. Here are the relevant portions of the BCO:

22-1. The various pastoral relations are pastor, associate pastor, and assistant pastor.
22-2. The pastor and associate pastor are elected by the congregation using the form of call in BCO 20-6. Being elected by the congregation, they become members of the Session.
22-3. An assistant pastor is called by the Session, by the permission and approval of Presbytery, under the provisions of BCO 20-1 and 13-2, with Presbytery membership being governed by the same provisions that apply to pastors. He is not a member of the Session, but may be appointed on special occasions to moderate the Session under the provisions of BCO 12-4.
22-4. The relationship of the associate pastor to the church is determined by the congregation. The relationship of the assistant pastor to the church is determined by the Session. The dissolution of the relationship of both is governed by the provision of BCO 23.

The basic distinction between them is that an associate pastor is called by the church and is a member of the session (thus having authority as a member of the session over the congregation). An assistant pastor is called by the session and is not a member of the session. In practice, I have often seen men called as an assistant pastor in order for him to serve the congregation while they get to know him, and then later he is called as an associate pastor by the election of the congregation.

I understand some of the pragmatic reasons for this distinction and the fact that much of the BCO is not guided by direct Scriptural command but by biblical inference and the light of nature. The reason that I have a reservation about this is that in Scripture, it seems like elders are always to have authority over the flock to which they minister (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5, Acts 20:28, etc). It seems to me that the Assistant Pastor designation falls somewhere outside of the role of elder prescribed in the Scriptures.

So my question is this: do any of you have any thoughts to clarify this? I would appreciate even historical reflections on why the PCA established things this way, as well as how this does fit with the Scriptures.

As I said above, I am not overly concerned about this. But I had to sign on the dotted line that I had read the BCO and was asked if I had any differences, so I would like to think through this a little more so that I can know whether I should still by conscience mention it in my ordination exams, or if I should just take a chill pill and forget about it.
 

Wayne

Tempus faciendi, Domine.
I haven't done sufficient study on this as yet, but the provision for an assistant pastor is unique to the PCA.

[edit: or so I thought, until Edward's post. Now I have to check that too!]

Moreover, it was not a provision which was instituted in 1973, but only later. I'd have to do the research to
track down when.
 
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Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
In practice, making the assistants members of the session gives greater control to the senior pastor in the running of the church. Generally, the senior pastor will have significant control over the hiring and firing of assistants, and an assistant will cross the pastor in a session vote at significant peril. So on divisive issues, the senior pastor will have to garner fewer votes from the ruling elders.

Associate pastors, on the other hand, are called by the congregation, and can more easily do what they determine is right.

I've seen this happen in the PCUSA, where assistants did have the vote on session. So count me as a supporter of the PCA BCO on the issue.

---------- Post added at 07:51 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:49 PM ----------

I haven't done sufficient study on this as yet, but the provision for an assistant pastor is unique to the PCA.
Moreover, it was not a provision which was instituted in 1973, but only later. I'd have to do the research to
track down when.

This was the practice in the PCUS pre-merger, as I recall. It is not a PCA innovation, to my recollection. That being said, I'm pretty sure I don't have a PCUS BCO around here to check.

Edit:

I've looked at the material at the historical center, but it seems to end before the 1960s. And no luck turning up a late 1960s PCUS BCO on the web. My memory from the membership class when I was 12 may be a bit foggy these days, however.
 
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Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Associate Pastors are called by the congregation which vows to competently support them.

Assistant Pastors are called by the Session which really, hire them.

It almost like getting tenure, that is provides a bit more freedom and job security for the Associate Pastor.

I'm not sure this distinction is based on a principle from good and necessary consequence from Scripture though you are right to acknowledge there is doctrine reflected in the BCO, and it is constitution (that's why it so egregious for a few to violate it with women deacons- they violate doctrine, confessed polity and their vows).

Practically, it results in different mechanisms for discipline and accountability, which does have value. Having seen this in practice, I have seen the wisdom in this.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
How could an Assistant Pastor have a sessional vote? I can understand sitting with the Session, providing input, etc. After all, I was an Assistant Pastor (in the PCA). But I did not have a vote on the Session of the church I served. I was not entitled to rule over a congregation that had not called me.


On the other hand, as a properly called Assistant Pastor, I was a member of Presbytery. I took all my ordination exams, was admitted as a man with a proper call, and took my seat in the Presbytery, as an ordained servant. There is a Big Problem when a ministerial member of Presbytery has the same title in a congregation (Assistant Pastor) as the "Assistant Pastor" for X (youth, visitation, finance) who might have a college degree, and no other credential.



I did have to "work through" the propriety of this question myself, before I could accept the call. I came from a lifetime in the OPC, where such a call was unknown.

But there are calls recognized by the church, that are not regularly governmental. Certain Professorships, for example.

There is also the fact that the Session in session is a called meeting of the church. Not some adjunct of the church. Not some supra-ecclesiastic conclave. But the church at meeting. This reality is one reason why Session meetings, as a rule, are PUBLIC. The same factors are at work in Presbytery. It is a meeting of the church.


So, if the Session calls a man to a job that the greater Church-body (denomination) has determined to recognize as a legitimate call, then we should realize that the church has called this man. The terms of the call, and the nature of the position, do not allow this man to rule the congregation (i.e. vote on Session) where that calling Session exercises its rule.

Now, this raises another issue: is the function of preaching (an authoritative function) a type of rule? Yes and no. Yes, it is an exercise of the Minister's authority, qua the Ministry to which he belongs, by virtue of his ordination. The WORD is what rules the people, not the Minister. But how often an Assistant Pastor shall stand before the congregation, that they may receive the Word by his mouth, is by Session's approval (as ever it is, when they invite a man from outside the Session to speak).

I would expect an Associate Pastor to insist, as terms of his call, on the right to preach so-many-times per month, to the congregation that called him. I would not expect an Assistant Pastor to insist on any presumed right to preach to a congregation that did not call him.


All this I've said as a man who was called to my first call by a PCA Session, an Assistant Pastor. I wish every such Pastor could have had the wonderful experience I had in that job. This church was not a large church, and my services were needed in a role for which the Assistant Pastor position seemed tailor-made. It would be hypocritical of me to wish that the PCA did not have this position, then or now.

All the same, in the OPC where I now serve (the denomination of my childhood), I am not anxious to have us recognize a call to Assistant Pastor. I think it is (in the main) a superfluous position. I agree with the commentator above, who sees in the Assistant Pastor's position a way to increase "staff" in a Big Church, without diluting the positions of direct Ministerial power in that congregation. I do not think that the Church is well served, in the larger scope, by churches so big they require Big Men (one or a few) to lead them at the top, with the council of Ruling Elders, and supported by one or more other Pastors who pad the rolls of the "pastoral staff" (with or without ordination). I think, if a church really needs a Pastor in a position, then they should bring him to the congregation for a vote; and the rulers of the church need to give up or dilute the power they wield, to accommodate the need. If they don't need a Pastor like that (an Associate), then they probably don't need an ordained man at all. And don't call that unordained man: "Pastor."

Rather than a bigger administration and bureaucracy, Big Churches need to divide, rather than concentrating power. A Big Church, could potentially (with $$) bring on board a HUGE staff of ordained Assistant Pastors; and one Session, with at-will hiring and firing power over a number of other ministerial members of Presbytery, could (if they were unscrupulous) be able to create a power-bloc in Presbytery. Big Churches and Big Men often dominate Presbyteries, where their sheer success (in terms of # & $) give them gravitas. Having a bunch of yes-men to do their bidding makes getting in the driver's seat a whole lot easier.

I'm not saying this is what inevitably does happen. I'm saying that, given the realities of sin and the examples of history, it pays to be wise to the potential for abuse in any system.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
One of the practical advantages is in checks and balances on power-
in a sense, the assistant pastor is called by the session as is primarily accountable there whereas the associate pastor is called by the congregation and primarily, though not exclusively, accountable there.

It can (not a guarantee) tend to break up one-man rule.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
I would expect an Associate Pastor to insist, as terms of his call, on the right to preach so-many-times per month, to the congregation that called him. I would not expect an Assistant Pastor to insist on any presumed right to preach to a congregation that did not call him.

This is one reason the distinction can be a useful one in large churches, particularly. Suppose a church wants a man with pastoral credentials and training to serve in a role that doesn't include regularly preaching to the congregation. Examples might include a pastor for counseling or a pastor for Christian education—where an ordained man's training is helpful but preaching is not a regular part of the job. The assistant pastor designation allows the man to take this job as a trained and ordained pastor (not just a hired hand) without requiring a call that gives him Teaching Elder authority over the whole congregation (which may not be appropriate, depending on his role).

I agree that the designation should only be for ordained men. I thought this was a PCA rule, though perhaps it's only encouraged or is loosely enforced.

From a small church perspective, the assistant pastor option is hardly necessary and potentially troublesome. In larger churches, though, it can be useful.
 

ADKing

Puritan Board Junior
In practice, making the assistants members of the session gives greater control to the senior pastor in the running of the church. Generally, the senior pastor will have significant control over the hiring and firing of assistants, and an assistant will cross the pastor in a session vote at significant peril.

How is this different than prelacy? "Senior" pastors, hiring and firing other "assistant" pastors? One of the core principles of presbyterianism has been the parity of all ministers of the word. This sounds an awful lot like a form of government presbyterians have historically abjured.
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks for all the responses. This has helped me think through it.

In particular, Bruce's comments about how the presbytery can ordain a man with a different call (e.g., professor, or in my case, to labor overseas, or to perform a certain task within a congregation) does seem to make some sense here.

I guess my question was less over whether Assistant pastors should be able to vote, but whether there should just shouldn't be that category at all. I can see how, particularly in a smaller church, it could be a problem to have assistants vote on session.

Probably my initial reticence on the issue arises not only from some of my questions from Scripture on it, but also from past experience (not in a PCA church, an independent church with a similar structure) in which the session called a man that possibly most people would have voted against if they had been given a vote, but instead the session (at the influence of the senior pastor) simply called him. Thus he was a pastor, but not an elder at the church. A church split followed a little while later.

Anyhow, I see the wisdom of the designation, though it still seems strange that a man could be say, in charge of the discipleship of the youth in a church as an ordained teaching elder, and yet not be on the session.
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
How is this different than prelacy? "Senior" pastors, hiring and firing other "assistant" pastors? One of the core principles of presbyterianism has been the parity of all ministers of the word. This sounds an awful lot like a form of government presbyterians have historically abjured.

I don't think he's saying that a senior pastor could just hire or fire an assistant pastor. The session has to decide that. But if the pastor had a great deal of influence over a small session, he could perhaps more easily get what he wanted regarding the hiring/firing of a session. But hopefully that is not the norm. I know in our church an assistant was hired after being interviewed by a search committee and then the session. The session voted and then called him.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Thanks for all the responses. This has helped me think through it.

In particular, Bruce's comments about how the presbytery can ordain a man with a different call (e.g., professor, or in my case, to labor overseas, or to perform a certain task within a congregation) does seem to make some sense here.

I guess my question was less over whether Assistant pastors should be able to vote, but whether there should just shouldn't be that category at all. I can see how, particularly in a smaller church, it could be a problem to have assistants vote on session.

Probably my initial reticence on the issue arises not only from some of my questions from Scripture on it, but also from past experience (not in a PCA church, an independent church with a similar structure) in which the session called a man that possibly most people would have voted against if they had been given a vote, but instead the session (at the influence of the senior pastor) simply called him. Thus he was a pastor, but not an elder at the church. A church split followed a little while later.

Anyhow, I see the wisdom of the designation, though it still seems strange that a man could be say, in charge of the discipleship of the youth in a church as an ordained teaching elder, and yet not be on the session.
Joel,

You likely know this, but be careful with allowing Providence to be your guide in this. What you describe is a bad practice, and more often indulged than should be; but it is just as often that an Associate Pastor undermines the Senior Pastor, and causes a church split. So often, in fact, that the BCO has a special provision requiring a super-majority at Presbytery to allow an Associate to become the Senior Pastor of a church.
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
Has anyone stated that Assistant Pastors have no vote on the Session? If not, they don't have a vote on the Session for they are not called by the Congregation to be on it.
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
Joel,

You likely know this, but be careful with allowing Providence to be your guide in this. What you describe is a bad practice, and more often indulged than should be; but it is just as often that an Associate Pastor undermines the Senior Pastor, and causes a church split. So often, in fact, that the BCO has a special provision requiring a super-majority at Presbytery to allow an Associate to become the Senior Pastor of a church.

Hi Fred,

Thanks for your thoughts. I've definitely heard of it happening that way too. And one of the TEs on our credentials committee pointed out that in the situation I described, the problem wasn't necessarily the BCO provision, it was simply bad leadership.

And to be honest, the situation in this independent church probably wasn't all that similar to the exact provisions of the BCO, as the man called as an Assistant Pastor was not ordained as he would be in the PCA. As Bruce pointed out, an Assistant Pastor's membership is still in Presbytery, so he has the same process and oversight as an Associate there.

I think I already feel much more comfortable with the BCO guidelines just through seeing why it is structured the way it is. Thanks!

---------- Post added at 10:15 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:14 AM ----------

Has anyone stated that Assistant Pastors have no vote on the Session? If not, they don't have a vote on the Session for they are not called by the Congregation to be on it.

Yes, we did mention that above. Though, according to 22:3 and 12:4, he can moderate the Session if need be.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Though, according to 22:3 and 12:4, he can moderate the Session if need be.
Yes, a moderator's position is meant to be somewhat "neutral," facilitating discussion and debate, rather than obviously taking sides. A "stated supply" minister from Presbytery (for example), when leading a Session meeting, should not be voting (though there may be a procedure by which he is granted that permission, it isn't his by right).

So, a moderator's job is not contingent on his voting power. In the PCA church where I served, our pastor retired. Presbytery consented to the church's request that I be named "stated supply" in the interim, until a new pastor was called by the congregation. As stated supply, I moderated Session for several months. I still did not vote in the Session meeting.
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor

Has anyone stated that Assistant Pastors have no vote on the Session? If not, they don't have a vote on the Session for they are not called by the Congregation to be on it.

Yes, we did mention that above. Though, according to 22:3 and 12:4, he can moderate the Session if need be.

Oops, sorry I must have glanced over that comment. Thanks.

Going on Bruce's comment above. As Pastor where I am at, serving as Moderator, I have never voted. In small sessions, like mine, I don't ever plan to vote. If my 2 REs disagree about something, then we need to keep working on it (I would abstain in my vote).
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't Assistant pastors voting members of Presbytery and General Assembly in the PCA? If I am recalling that correctly (see PCA BCO 13-1), it makes even less sense to me: the assistant pastor is not called by the congregation, but by the Session. They are not allowed to vote in Session meetings, therefore exercising no authority directly over the congregation, but they are allowed to vote in the Presbytery.

It seems like this is an easy way in the PCA to "pack the bench" so to speak: all teaching elders in the PCA are voting members of Presbytery, but only two Ruling Elders per congregation (or more if you have a very large congregation) are allowed to vote at Presbytery. If a church has 3, 4, 5, or 6 "assistant pastors" they could have 7 TEs voting at Presbytery (6 "assistants" + 1 "senior" pastor), but potentially only 2 REs voting.

And in case you think I'm making all this up, see this old post at The Bayly Blog for why this issue is important in the PCA: Woman deacons in the PCA's Metro NY Presbytery: liberal deform is predictable... - BaylyBlog: Out of our minds, too...
 

Covenant Joel

Puritan Board Sophomore
Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't Assistant pastors voting members of Presbytery and General Assembly in the PCA? If I am recalling that correctly (see PCA BCO 13-1), it makes even less sense to me: the assistant pastor is not called by the congregation, but by the Session. They are not allowed to vote in Session meetings, therefore exercising no authority directly over the congregation, but they are allowed to vote in the Presbytery.

Assistant Pastors are voting members of presbytery and GA, just as someone with a call to serve as a professor or overseas worker would be.

It seems like this is an easy way in the PCA to "pack the bench" so to speak: all teaching elders in the PCA are voting members of Presbytery, but only two Ruling Elders per congregation (or more if you have a very large congregation) are allowed to vote at Presbytery. If a church has 3, 4, 5, or 6 "assistant pastors" they could have 7 TEs voting at Presbytery (6 "assistants" + 1 "senior" pastor), but potentially only 2 REs voting.

From my (limited) experience, a common practice is for a man to be called by a session as an Assistant Pastor, and then after serving for a few years, the congregation would vote on whether or not to call him as an Associate Pastor, thus making him a member of a session. So while in theory one could have many Assistant Pastors (and the link you provide suggests it does happen), it seems more common for that to be a temporary thing. Also, for a church to be able to support many Assistant Pastors, it would likely be of a size to also have more REs at presbytery.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
Book of Church Order

CHAPTER 23
The Dissolution of the Pastoral Relation and
The Procedure for Honorable Retirement
....
The associate or assistant pastors may continue to serve a
congregation when the pastoral relation of the senior pastor is dissolved, but
they may not normally succeed the senior pastor without an intervening term
of service in a different field of labor. However a congregation by a secret
ballot with four-fifths (4/5) majority vote may petition Presbytery for an
exception which by a three-fourths (3/4) majority vote Presbytery may grant.
Presbytery needs to determine if the dissolution of the pastoral relationship
with the senior pastor was brought about in Christian love and good order on
the part of the parties concerned.

An 80%(!) vote required for Associate Pastor to become Senior Pastor, then 75% of Presbytery.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
"pack the bench" so to speak: all teaching elders in the PCA are voting members of Presbytery, but only two Ruling Elders per congregation

I'm thinking through some of the implications, having seen what seems like a good system work over the years.

Keep in mind that Presbyteries and General Assembly, as policy, and sometimes by rule do seek "parity" between ruling and teaching elders which means trying to have equal numbers of both on committees, etc. There is a real effort to do this, based on that doctrine.

Anecdotal evidence only, at the Session level, assistant pastors are often called for a specific term or purpose, such as to plant a daughter church, or to give young men valuable teaching experience and discipling with a session supporting them.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Good polity discussion.

A couple of points: A congregation or a presbytery in the OPC may call a man to be a "teacher" (historically designated "doctor"). It is one of the functions of minister (along with pastor and evangelist, the latter being our term for missionary). Since I am called by my local congregation to be such (some are called by their Presbytery), I serve on the session. I am also designated as an associate pastor (though not an official OP designation) and I moderate the session, in fact, freeing the Pastor for greater involvement in the session meeting. All this is to say that one who is a professor, religious editor, etc. can be designated "teacher" and called by the local congregation to serve on the local session.

And just a point about moderating and voting: if the moderator of a body (say, a session) is a member of that body--as anyone called by the local congregation is--he has a vote on the session. Now, Robert's and common convention would call upon him not to express that vote ordinarily, to maintain equity, but he has the vote and can not only break a tie, but make it a tie, cast a ballot, etc. It's good form in a body of more than a dozen for him to leave the chair if he wishes to debate, but he has a vote. Someone asked to moderate outside the session (a guest minister, stated supply, etc.) would not have the vote (though there are other special cases--ministerial advisors--where outsiders enjoy a vote). My main point is to lay to rest the myth that members moderating a body have no vote: they do, though they, rightly, commonly refrain from expressing it. Sorry, I have no RONR with me to cite appropriate passages.

Peace,
Alan

---------- Post added at 03:11 PM ---------- Previous post was at 02:59 PM ----------

Just another quick thought:

It is interesting how the notion of "parity" has come to mean, in the PCA particularly, parity between the teaching and ruling offices, and a goal of equal representation in broader judicatories of TEs and REs.

The language of "parity" as used in the Reformation meant that there was one office of minister (even if different functions, like doctor and pastor), as opposed to a hierarchy of higher clergy (episkopoi) and lower clergy (presbuteroi). All ministers were thought to be of the same order. The application of this to ruling elders is a nineteenth-century development, both in Scotland and in the U.S. When Calvin, Knox, Rutherford, or Gillespie, for instance, used that term, they meant that all ministers enjoy the same rank. Charles Hodge meant that as well, though fellow Old Schoolers, like Brs. Thornwell, Breckinridge, and others, came to mean an equality between teaching and ruling elders. Things change.

Peace,
Alan
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
t is interesting how the notion of "parity" has come to mean, in the PCA particularly, parity between the teaching and ruling offices, and a goal of equal representation in broader judicatories of TEs and REs.

The language of "parity" as used in the Reformation meant that there was one office of minister (even if different functions, like doctor and pastor), as opposed to a hierarchy of higher clergy (episkopoi) and lower clergy (presbuteroi). All ministers were thought to be of the same order.

My understanding is in the PCA, the concept of parity means all of this for one office of elder with two equal classes, ruling and teaching. In practice, one of the ways that works out is by recognizing that spiritual authority in all the courts of the church. That's why a committee must be represented by both ruling and teaching elders, certain motions require such, etc.

And saying this, I realize this is not the only exact biblical interpretation for it, either, its one way of looking at and implementing it.

And relating to the inference that somehow teaching elders can outnumber ruling elders and "sway" things, I'm not sure that is the case generally, or even a Christian way to look at it.

Same with assistant Pastors versus Associate Pastors- it is just one way to check and balance tendency toward absolute power.

And that seems very Presbyterian,
and biblical.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Scott:

As my post indicated, the way that you use parity is the way that many, especially in the PCA, seem to understand it nowadays. This is a departure from the original Reformed usage: that does not, by any means, make it wrong, just different than originally intended.

Perhaps it will make things clearer--in the interest of full disclosure--for me to admit that I am not a two-office man but a three-office man. I believe, to be sure, that the minister and the elder have shared duties--to govern the flock. But the minister, as I see it, has a calling to minister the Word of God and the sacraments, a calling that the ruling elder does not have.

Since the 19th century, many good brothers have come to see two offices (elder and deacon) with two functions within the office of elder (TE and RE). I see the minister as having a distinct calling, and thus a distinct office, from that of the ruling elder. This is what is set forth at Westminster in the Form of Presbyterial Government and in all the church orders up until more recent times, comparatively. I find it interesting how these terms change over time (like the "priesthood of all believers" which has come in many circles to have a rather different meaning from what Luther intended by it).

Peace,
Alan
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Since the 19th century, many good brothers have come to see two offices (elder and deacon) with two functions within the office of elder (TE and RE). I see the minister as having a distinct calling, and thus a distinct office, from that of the ruling elder.

And that is one perfectly valid biblical interpretation as well. Since the thread is not really about a two or three office view, that might be a profitable discussion for another thread.

The point I was making especially was the "parity" between ruling and teaching elders, as used in the PCA, has to do with more than mere numbers, but goes to something of equality of spiritual office, but with different roles, based on doctrine.

As to the original post about the difference between Assistant and Associate Pastors, it has a practical significance of checking and balancing power.

I'm not seeing that that diminishes the biblical role for elder, this difference between who calls the Pastors, but and am still thinking that through.:)
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
It seems like this is an easy way in the PCA to "pack the bench" so to speak: all teaching elders in the PCA are voting members of Presbytery, but only two Ruling Elders per congregation (or more if you have a very large congregation) are allowed to vote at Presbytery. If a church has 3, 4, 5, or 6 "assistant pastors" they could have 7 TEs voting at Presbytery (6 "assistants" + 1 "senior" pastor), but potentially only 2 REs voting.

If these guys weren't "assistant" pastors, the vast majority would simply be put before the congregation and become "associate" pastors instead. So what's the difference at a presbytery level? Any real issues, it seems, are at the local church level.

The question of whether or not larger churches with larger pastoral staffs should have all those pastors voting at presbytery is a separate matter. Whether some of these pastors are "assistants" or they're all "associates" won't affect presbytery unless you're certain that associate status significantly affects how one behaves at presbytery. I suspect church staffs will largely vote together on matters of the sort you're concerned about regardless of "assistant" or "associate" status.
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
It seems like this is an easy way in the PCA to "pack the bench" so to speak: all teaching elders in the PCA are voting members of Presbytery, but only two Ruling Elders per congregation (or more if you have a very large congregation) are allowed to vote at Presbytery. If a church has 3, 4, 5, or 6 "assistant pastors" they could have 7 TEs voting at Presbytery (6 "assistants" + 1 "senior" pastor), but potentially only 2 REs voting.

If these guys weren't "assistant" pastors, the vast majority would simply be put before the congregation and become "associate" pastors instead. So what's the difference at a presbytery level? Any real issues, it seems, are at the local church level.

The question of whether or not larger churches with larger pastoral staffs should have all those pastors voting at presbytery is a separate matter. Whether some of these pastors are "assistants" or they're all "associates" won't affect presbytery unless you're certain that associate status significantly affects how one behaves at presbytery. I suspect church staffs will largely vote together on matters of the sort you're concerned about regardless of "assistant" or "associate" status.

The danger at the Presbytery level, as I see it, is an assistant's "call" is at the will of the Session. If the Session has a tendency to rubber-stamp whatever the highly influential senior pastor says (if the church has such a highly influential senior pastor), then if an assistant pastor votes differently than the senior pastor at the Presbytery level, he could, potentially run the risk of losing his job. The Associate pastor has a little more surety regarding his vote at Presbytery and his calling.

I should add, that more dangerous than the risk of losing his job because of voting against a senior pastor, is the potential for NOT bringing up charges against a senior pastor. An assistant pastor voting against a senior pastor on some random resolution/overture may not be a big deal. Deciding whether or not the senior pastor is teaching contrary to Scripture and the Standards is a big deal, and I can see the potential danger of the assistant's calling being at the whim of Session being used to pressure a vote one way or another.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Seth,
The problem with your line of thinking is viewing the Presbytery merely as an outgrowth (or higher court) of churches. It is not. All teaching elders are members of the Presbytery, equally so (if not numerically, then formally) with churches. Thus missionaries, professors, and even teaching elders without call are entitled to a vote and voice. A teaching elder does not get a right to vote from his relationship to a church. He should not see his involvement at Presbytery as "Advancing his church's agenda."

And the fact of the matter is, that if a TE is cowed into voting or speaking at Presbytery other than his conscience, it is FAR more likely to be at the behest of the Session than at the request of another TE.
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
Seth,
The problem with your line of thinking is viewing the Presbytery merely as an outgrowth (or higher court) of churches. It is not. All teaching elders are members of the Presbytery, equally so (if not numerically, then formally) with churches. Thus missionaries, professors, and even teaching elders without call are entitled to a vote and voice. A teaching elder does not get a right to vote from his relationship to a church. He should not see his involvement at Presbytery as "Advancing his church's agenda."

Fred, I understand and agree with this view of the Presbytery. However, I also know that a pastor's paycheck comes from the congregation not the Presbytery, and that depriving a pastor of that paycheck has been a way to influence how he votes. (The issue of pensions and leaving the PCUSA in Machen's day, comes to mind.)

And the fact of the matter is, that if a TE is cowed into voting or speaking at Presbytery other than his conscience, it is FAR more likely to be at the behest of the Session than at the request of another TE.

Whether it is at the behest of Session or at the request of another TE seems to matter little in the case of an assistant pastor. Either way, he is being pressured to vote one way or another and there is the potential loss of income should he not.

Just to be clear: I am by no means saying this is the norm for assistant pastors (or senior pastors or Sessions) in the PCA, but only discussing a potential problem I see.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
The danger at the Presbytery level, as I see it, is an assistant's "call" is at the will of the Session. If the Session has a tendency to rubber-stamp whatever the highly influential senior pastor says (if the church has such a highly influential senior pastor), then if an assistant pastor votes differently than the senior pastor at the Presbytery level, he could, potentially run the risk of losing his job. The Associate pastor has a little more surety regarding his vote at Presbytery and his calling.

Due to the Fall, the power of undue influence is always before us. No system can completely guard against it, as you acknowledge, and we all acknowledge.

Keep in mind that assistant Pastors, called by the session are often employed for specific terms or works, such as starting a church plant, as in a mother/daughter church plant or as a benefit to start new Pastors with teaching and accountability, before they have their own church.

As far as the Session "rubber stamping" what Senior Pastor says, there is more than one way to look at that. The Senior Pastor cannot make decisions, he is greatly outnumbered in vote. So, his power is checked. The alternative would be no check as there is with several individual godly men having their own vote. This is the heart of Session rule, and though the system varies slightly among Presbyterian denominations, it is still the same basic approach.

And that's all the BCO provision deals with- a variation of the same concept, in line with its principles..
 
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