There has been a host of commentary and criticism of the proposed PCA Strategic Plan. Blogger Johannes Weslianus has a helpful recent summary and categorization of a number of comments, and the Aquila Report has been publishing various comments as well.
I’ve been wondering if/when the PCA’s Administrative Committee (AC) or Cooperative Ministry Committee (CMC) or byFaith or someone would respond. Thankfully they have. The PCA’s magazine, byFaith, published a Q&A with John Robertson, who is the AC’s business administrator. Many thanks to them for taking time to do this and making it available! The response consists of three questions or issues and John Robertson’s responses.
While I am grateful for their effort, once again I am non-plussed by the result of that effort.
First, as a general observation, I don’t think it was helpful the way the questions were phrased: “one online reader,” “one comment,” and “someone suggested.” I would rather they had taken specific comments or criticisms and responded to them, rather than give these general kinds of critiques.
I suspect this was done so to try to capture common themes found in the various reactions to the Strategic Plan. It didn’t work well if that is the case. First, the criticisms given are not the ones I have run across – though certainly I haven’t read everything out there. Second, the generalization of the commenter’s identity and question leaves the impression that these are caricatures (which is also a problem in the Strategic Plan – too many anecdotal impressions or caricatures of the way things supposedly are). Caricatures tend to become strawmen, which are then easily dismissed. I got the feeling I was reading about strawmen in this response.
But let me address each question and response in turn.
First is the issue of whether or not the Strategic Plan is biblical. Again, I don’t recall reading that specific criticism, but maybe it’s out there.
When I hear something called unbiblical, my reaction is that it means one of two things: either the thing is a sin, or it is something generally not consistent with Biblical teaching (e.g., the elders requiring the weekly public worship to begin at 2am Sunday morning). The Strategic Plan is not, in itself, unbiblical. Good stewardship, including planning for the present and future as best we can, is a principle that goes back to Eden. I don’t think anyone is questioning whether or not we should be good stewards, or have a strong vision of who we want to be or where we want to go as a denomination.
John Robertson gives four reasons why the Plan is biblical – all more or less related to the funding structure being proposed. He’s right: we should give from the heart with gratitude; the work of stewardship involves some expense; when we see a need we should respond in some way; God’s servants should receive the support they need. No argument. But one wonders why these foundational biblical principles were not laid out in the actual Strategic Plan? Why the focus in the Plan on tactics and methods? I won’t repeat the whole point here, but if these are the biblical reasons for giving, and if people are not giving, then isn’t there a spiritual issue that ought to be dealt with? Isn’t there a root cause sin that is at the heart of the problem? Are we not grateful enough? Is the administrative work being done in a cost effective manner – does it really need more money? There are still questions unanswered that ought to be answered before a solution is proposed. And then the solution ought to have some probability of working, which as I wrote earlier, I am not convinced it will make a huge difference.
Moreover, the Plan is about much, much more than the funding problem for the Administrative Committee. We do need to figure that out and get them the funds they truly need. But what are the biblical principles behind the many, many pages in the rest of the Strategic Plan?
There is also the matter of viewing the process through biblical spectacles, but that is not so much a question of the current process being “unbiblical” as it is the process being more thoroughly rooted in and informed by biblical principles than it currently shows evidence of being. It’s one thing to be “informed” by biblical principles; it is another to be fundamentally rooted and guided by them.
Side note on this first question: as a bi-vocational church planter I would not agree with the assertion that the “present funding system for PCA ministries works well for church planting.” I don’t agree that is true either at the denominational or local level. But that’s another issue…
Side note #2 (I am admittedly indulging myself here in going beyond the scope of the Strategic Plan discussion): it seems more and more that I am hearing Presbyterian and Reformed pastors talk about being “informed” by the Reformed faith. Personally I don’t want to be “informed” by it, I want to believe and practice the Reformed faith. Because I believe it is biblically sound and accurate. Maybe the term is semantics, but I wonder…
On to the second comment, which is on whether or not the Strategic Plan is “grass roots.” Not sure I really have a dog in this hunt, at least as it relates to this particular issue. Here also, though, is a criticism that I am not familiar with.
I will say this much: if people are not participating in the work and ministry of the church, then the problem is not so much mechanisms to do so, as it is people having fully grasped the doctrine of the church, of vocation and calling, of love of neighbor, of submission to one another and to Christ, etc. There are plenty of mechanisms in place already considering we are such a small denomination.
The third issue addressed is about penalizing churches who don’t participate in the funding plan. Once again this specific criticism is one I don’t recall reading. The Strategic Plan as proposed, and as I noted earlier, is remarkably silent on how it will motivate churches and pastors and presbyteries to participate. However, as it is written the Plan does give the impression that the payments are required. It uses the word “required” or some variation several times. To say something is required gives the logical expectation that failure to comply with the requirement will result in some sort of punishment or penalty. Are the folks who put this plan together unable to see that logical connection? If “required” simply means the payment is required to participate in GA then clearer language in the Plan would have been helpful. I won’t belabor this point since I covered it elsewhere, but I don’t see the proposed payment plan having any material change – at least not based on the information provided in the Plan and supporting documents. I just don’t see any reason to conclude that more money will flow out of the proposed structure.
I’d also note John Robertson’s observation that he doesn’t see a big difference in principle between the proposed system and the current one. I don’t either. That’s why I don’t think it will work!! If there’s no difference in principle, then why would there be a difference in practice? The two go together, don’t they?
I hope there is more discussion, debate and dialogue (or “conversation” if you want to be hip) on the proposed Strategic Plan. I hope the next time the PCA’s denominational representatives enter into that discussion they do so with something a little more concrete, something that addresses the specific concerns and do so in a manner more to the points being raised by some of us.