This year, I attended our denomination’s General Assembly. I don’t plan to attend every year, but I really enjoyed it this year, more than I thought I would.
It would be easy for someone not familiar (or even those familiar with) General Assembly to wonder why anyone would want to go to General Assembly. Why go to a big church business meeting? Why spend all that money? Why take off of work or spend time away from your family and local church?
For those who watch or sit in General Assembly, you can get even more frustrated. At times, it seems like a total mess. Motions and counter-motions and points of order. “No thanks,” you might be thinking.
(Note: you can watch some of the mess here.)
So, why should a local church support the broader assemblies of the church?
Here are a few reasons.
First, it reminds us that the Church is bigger than our local church. When representatives from all over the nation and world come together, it is a good and helpful reminder that God is doing much, much more than we are aware of.
Second, it brings our attention to broader issues we might ignore. In our denomination, racial reconciliation has been a big emphasis over the past couple of years. Prior to the 2015 General Assembly, this issue was relatively low on my radar.
Since 2015, this has become an important issue to me. It has challenged me to re-think a lot of my own attitudes and views and repent. I do not think that this would have happened without the work of General Assembly.
Third, it is a way for us to work together with a lot of other churches. My church is just one small part of the PCA, which is a small part of the Church of Jesus throughout the world. How can we work together with more of them to do something bigger? General Assembly is one answer.
Fourth, it teaches me that not everyone in the church is the same. If I just connect with churches where I know people or have an affinity, my own views will be reinforced. I won’t grow.
Being part of a denomination reminds me that there are a lot of different perspectives and types of people. It encourages me to connect with them and learn from them. It pushes me to consider things that I might never have considered and experience the gifts of a greater variety of the body of Christ.
The Apostle Paul said rather bluntly, “For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21). I’m just as guilty as anybody else on this. It’s easy for me to focus on my own interests and my own little world. General Assembly calls me out to something bigger.
Someone might object, doesn’t this little denomination hide the fact that Jesus’ Church is much bigger? Answer: yes, it does. It would be great if we were all united together in one organization, but the weakness of human beings makes different denominations likely. Even if it didn’t, the reality is that the church right now is divided into denominations. If we are going to connect to the broader Church, it has to be through denominations.
Someone said at this General Assembly, imitating Winston Churchill, Presbyterianism isn’t a perfect form of government, it is just better than all those other forms of government that have been tried from time to time.
I’m not ready to go that far, especially in our very imperfect configuration of it in our denomination. I will only say that it is a way to point us to the broader interests of Jesus Christ.
Let me conclude with a personal note. I think there are other benefits for the individual who attends. We get to connect with a variety of people, hear a variety of perspectives, get new ideas, be reminded of important old ideas, and participate in diverse worship services, hearing new preachers who bless us and challenge us.
Even if this were the only benefit, I think that elders who attend the broader assemblies will come back to their local churches with renewed vision to do the work that Christ calls them to do.
And, you know what? After writing this, I’ve almost convinced myself to go again next year . . .