Chapter 20 of the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO) titled “The Election of Pastors” outlines the proper procedures for PCA congregations wishing to engage in a very special task for which they have the responsibility – electing the Teaching Elders who will serve over them.
The BCO makes clear the procedure under which pastors (regardless of their title) are to be elected in 20-2 which states:
Every church should be under the pastoral oversight of a minister, and when a church has no pastor it should seek to secure one without delay. A church shall proceed to elect a pastor in the following manner: The Session shall call a congregational meeting to elect a pulpit committee which may be composed of members from the congregation at large or the Session, as designated by the congregation (see BCO 25). The pulpit committee shall, after consultation and deliberation, recommend to the congregation a pastoral candidate who, in its judgment, fulfills the Constitutional requirements of that office (e.g., BCO 8, 13-6 and 21) and is most suited to be profitable to the spiritual interests of the congregation (cf. BCO 20-6). The Session shall order a congregational meeting to convene at the regular place of worship. Public notice of the time, place, and purpose of this meeting shall be given at least one week prior to the time of the meeting.
STUDYING THE PASTORAL CANDIDATES
This chapter makes clear that church’s should not go long periods of time without a pastor. Then follows that point with the clear manner in which pastors are to be elected, making no distinction between Senior and Associate pastor elections. It is important to note that the election of a pastor is inseparable from the involvement of a pulpit committee. The purpose of the pulpit committee is made clear, which is to allow the congregation to study candidates and determine “who, in its judgment, fulfills the Constitutional requirements for that office and is most suited to be profitable to the spiritual interests of the congregation.” This provision of the BCO is clear that the congregation are the ones to study pastoral candidates and their suitability for the spiritual interests of the church. This right of the congregation is central to Presbyterian church government and in line with the practice demonstrated in the Book of Acts that congregations elect their leaders.
Morton Smith’s Commentary on the BCO states with regard to BCO 12-5 that “The Session is the body that calls congregational meetings…There are certain actions that are reserved to the congregation. If these actions are to be carried out it will be necessary for the Session to call of a congregational meeting. The election of a pastor, or of other officers are among these actions.”
It is clear that the congregation is the catalyst for the election of pastors and BCO 20 defines the process to be followed, namely that a pulpit committee is to be used.
The Session of Midway Presbyterian Church has notified the congregation that they are calling for a Congregational Meeting on July 19, 2020 for the purpose of transitioning three of Midway’s Assistant Pastors to the title of Associate Pastor. This proposed action is being undertaken without the presence of a pulpit committee since one was never formed and Midway’s congregation never voted to delegate such powers to its Session. This is a dangerous action as the pulpit committee is our denomination’s safeguard for the congregation and is a primary way in which they protect their pulpit.
A congregation in conjunction with a pulpit committee determines if pastoral candidates are suitable for their needs or if a pastoral candidate is desired for a particular role at all at any given time. At the time of this writing, the congregation at Midway has taken no action to determine whether or not it desires additional pastors in the Associate role, which brings along with it a vote on the Session. Pursuing this action without a pulpit committee is unconstitutional and may prove to be divisive among the members at Midway. Transitioning three Assistant Pastors to Associate Pastors will fundamentally alter the governing structure of the Session since the three additional voters were Assistants hired by the Session and not the congregation, and are unlikely to vote apart from the other Teaching Elders on the Session.
In short, the Session’s proposal for the upcoming meeting on July 19, 2020 is the governing body of the church taking a power for itself not delegated by the congregation and will add three voters to the Session who unlike their Ruling Elder counterparts, will not need to reelected in the future.