Commissioners to the EPC’s 38th General Assembly approved 26 recommendations, declined two others, and for procedural reasons took no action on an additional five. The Assembly was held June 19-22 at Hope Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn.
Recommendations that were approved include a Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality, the re-election of Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah to a new three-year term, proposed changes to the role of Commissioned Pastor, and more. Commissioners also welcomed seven new churches to the EPC since last year’s Assembly; elected Tom Werner, Ruling Elder from Greentree Community Church in St. Louis, Mo., as Moderator; and elected Case Thorp, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean, as Moderator-Elect. Thorp serves as Senior Associate Pastor for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla.
Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality approved
The Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality is a companion document to the Position Paper on Human Sexuality that was approved by the 36th General Assembly in 2016 and ratified by the 37th Assembly in 2017. The 36th General Assembly, meeting at Ward Church in Livonia, Mich., also approved the formation of an interim committee to write the Pastoral Letter. The committee held several listening sessions at the 37th General Assembly in Sacramento. The preliminary draft was released in January 2018 to Teaching Elders and Sessions for comment.
Sandy Willson, Interim Committee Chair, reported that the draft also was sent to “select outsiders who have particular expertise, training, and personal experiences that would qualify them to provide feedback. The men and women consulted included persons with personal and professional experiences with same-sex attraction, physical and sexual abuse, terminal degrees in counseling, and experience in theological education.”
The Letter was approved by unanimous vote of the Assembly.
Commissioned Pastor expansion proposed
The recommendation to expand the role of Commissioned Pastor was presented by the EPC’s Interim Committee on Ministerial Education (ICME), with the affirmation of both the permanent Ministerial Vocation Committee (MVC) and the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC). If ratified by the EPC’s presbyteries, the recommendation will allow a Commissioned Pastor to serve on a church staff that has an ordained Teaching Elder serving as Pastor.
A Commissioned Pastor is a Ruling Elder who has been temporarily authorized by a presbytery and given the authority of a Teaching Elder. The role was previously reserved only for a congregation without a Pastor, mission churches, church plants, or chaplaincy roles in hospitals, hospices, prisons, or other institutions.
Michael Flake, MVC Chair reported approximately 40 Commissioned Pastors currently serve in the EPC.
“Almost all of these serve in their home church,” he said. “These are churches that do not have a Pastor, and one of their Ruling Elders will agree to be examined by the presbytery and become a Commissioned Pastor.”
He said one of the benefits of a Commissioned Pastor is that a church with this type of stable leadership is more likely to not only stabilize but also become healthy and grow to the extent that they can then call a Teaching Elder.
“Unfortunately,” Flake said, “in our current way of doing things when that happens the Commissioned Pastor is out of a job because we have no provision for having a Commissioned Pastor in a church with a Teaching Elder.”
Allowing a church to have both a Teaching Elder and a Commissioned Pastor “would continue to recognize the calling that God has placed in certain Ruling Elders’ lives—acknowledging what God is already doing,” Flake said, adding that it also could help with pastoral burnout by giving a Teaching Elder an opportunity to have a Ruling Elder step in and help with certain pastoral duties. He emphasized that a Commissioned Pastor would still be subject to the approval of the presbytery.
ICME Chair Fred Lian noted that the recommendation allows the presbytery—which can mandate theological continuing education for the Commissioned Pastor—to “invest in our Ruling Elders who have been called to a more fuller role of ministry to their churches and their communities.”
Because the Assembly-approved recommendation proposes changes to the EPC’s Book of Government, it is now Descending Overture 18A. Each of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries will vote on the Overture at their winter 2018 meeting, having discussed it at their fall meeting. Presbyteries may debate its substance, but the Overture may not be amended. To be presented for adoption at the 39th General Assembly, 11 of the 14 presbyteries must approve the Overture.
Stated Clerk re-elected
Jeremiah was elected to a fifth term as Stated Clerk. He has served as the EPC’s Chief Executive Officer since 2006.
“I am so very grateful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this ministry that you have just confirmed for three more years,” Jeremiah said following his unanimous re-election. “This will be my last term as the Stated Clerk. In the next three years, I will do all that I can to help prepare for the future of the EPC. I love you, and want God’s very best for you—and for us—when I lay this ministry down.”
He challenged the “Boomers” in attendance—those born between the early 1940s through the mid-1960s—to support, mentor, encourage, and champion the younger men and women in the EPC.
“We must do this if we are going to secure the future of the EPC as a mighty instrument used by God for the expansion of His Kingdom in this place and around the world,” Jeremiah said.
He said his other goal in his last term was to continue to work on behalf on Andrew Brunson. He referenced Luke 18—where Jesus addresses the issue of counting the cost—reflecting on the nearly two years since the EPC Teaching Elder was imprisoned in Turkey.
“How could we have counted the cost then, when we had no idea what was ultimately going to happen and how long this would take?” he asked. “The only answer I have is that there some tasks that our Lord calls us to, and we do them. I will admit that this task has been costly, but I bear that cost knowing that it is what God has called me to.”
Jeremiah described his relationships with numerous U.S. Government officials that he has developed over the 20 months since Brunson’s incarceration.
“I have been amazed by the doors the Lord has opened for us in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “But we know the only open door that matters is the door of the plane through which Andrew and Norine come back to the United States. Until that day comes, we will not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time will reap a harvest if we will not give up. I have spoken for all of us when I have repeatedly assured Andrew and Norine that we will never give up. Never.”
New interim committee to be appointed
Commissioners authorized Moderator Tom Werner to appoint an interim committee “to study how the EPC can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces and serves our neighbors from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9).”
The recommendation came from the National Leadership Team (NLT), which explained the rationale for the committee in its report to the Assembly:
“At its January 2018 meeting, the NLT spent considerable time discussing where God is calling the EPC in the next decade. One of the areas in which the NLT believes we can improve as a denomination is in our efforts to minister to the diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural communities that surround many of our churches and that the Lord calls us to serve.”
Scott Griffin, NLT Chair, said the goal is to “make our denomination look more like the neighborhoods where God has planted us.”
The recommendation was unanimously approved by the Standing Committee on Administration, and added to an omnibus consent motion.
Budget, special projects approved
The total approved Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19—July 2018 through June 2019) budget for EPC operating expenses is $2,669,231. This amount includes $438,199 in direct funding of the four strategic initiatives—$92,690 for Church Revitalization; $182,680 for Church Planting; $121,290 for Effective Biblical Leadership; and $41,539 for Global Movement. In addition, 20 percent of Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions to the EPC support Global Movement in the form of funding the overall ministry of World Outreach. Funding for the strategic initiatives was added to the EPC operating budget in the FY2018 budget; they previously were funded through undesignated cash reserves since their 2014 inception.
The Assembly also approved a variety of Special Projects for FY19, which are supported outside of per-member-asking (PMA) but would be fully funded if each EPC church contributed an additional $5.62 per member above the PMA target of $23 per member.
In other administration-related business, commissioners approved:
- A recommendation that shifts approval of applications to the EPC Church Loan Fund from the EPC Foundation to the NLT Finance Committee.
- The EPC Restated Articles of Incorporation and Corporate Bylaws. These documents stem from a liability study undertaken in 2014. That study led to a corporate restructure of the EPC in which World Outreach and Benefit Resources, Inc., were separated as legal entities from the EPC ecclesiastical body, but remained under the oversight of the General Assembly.
- A recommendation that ordained ministers drawing retirement income from the EPC 403(b)(9) Defined Contribution Retirement Plan be allowed to designate up to 100 percent of their retirement income for housing allowance.
New committee and board members elected
In addition to the election of Werner as Moderator and Thorp as Moderator-elect, the Assembly elected the following individuals to fill vacancies on the EPC’s permanent committees and boards as others complete their terms of service (TE denotes Teaching Elder. RE denotes Ruling Elder. * denotes second term.):
Benefit Resources, Inc., Board of Directors: RE Robert Draughon*, Presbytery of the Central South; Michael Moore, Presbytery of the Central South; TE Bill Reisenweaver, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.
Committee on Chaplains Work and Care: TE Greg Holman, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Jennifer Prechter, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; TE David Snyder*, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Richard Swedberg*, Presbytery of the West; TE Brad Yorton, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest.
Committee on Church Planting and Revitalization: RE Franklin Carter*, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic. (Carter was not seated due to Assembly approval of Recommendation GA38-14 to disband the Committee on Church Planting and Revitalization.)
EPC Foundation Board: RE Ben Borsay, Presbytery of the Midwest; Mark Eibel, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE John Graham, Presbytery of the Southeast.
Committee on Fraternal Relations: RE Carol Culbertson, Presbytery of the West; TE Don Fortson, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.
Committee on Ministerial Vocation: RE Neal McAtee*, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Caroline Tromble*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes.
National Leadership Team: RE Phil Fanara*, Presbytery of the East; RE Michael Gibson*, Presbytery of the Great Plains; RE Rob Liddon*, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Rosemary Lukens*, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest.
Next Generation Ministries Council: Greg Aydt, Presbytery of the West; Meg DeHaven, Presbytery of the East; TE Andrew Mills, Presbytery of the Gulf South; RE Becky Shultz, Presbytery of the West; Ryan Suzuki, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest.
Nominating Committee: RE Marion Bradshaw, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Larry Carlson, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE Susan Humphreys, Presbytery of Mid-America; RE Joe McCoy, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE David Ricketts, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; TE Wayne Hardy, Presbytery of the Great Plains.
Permanent Judicial Commission: RE Amanda Cowan, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; RE Don Flater*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Dana Opp*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.
Presbytery Review Committee: RE Cecil Matthews*, Presbytery of the West.
Committee on Theology: TE Ron DiNunzio, Presbytery of the East; TE Ryan Mowen, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.
Women’s Resource Council: TE Sharon Beekman*, Presbytery of the West; TE Mary Brown*, Presbytery of the Great Plains; RE Lynn Burdge, Presbytery of the Central South; Anita Campbell, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.
World Outreach Committee: TE Chris Bear, Presbytery of the East; TE Rick Dietzman, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE Patrick Tucker*, Presbytery of the Central South.
Other business items
Several other items of business were unanimously approved without discussion. Those items were:
- Ratifying Descending Overtures 17-A, 17-B, 17-C, and 17-D. Overture 17-A amended the Book of Government sections 9-6A and 10-8B.2a, bringing consistency to the wording of the two sections by specifying the term of service for an out-of-bounds call as a renewable term of up to three years. Overture 17-B amended the Book of Government sections 21-2D.2e and f, expanding areas of ongoing authority that may be given to the Ministerial Committee at the discretion of the presbytery. Overture 17-C amended the Book of Government section 10-7 by creating and defining the called position of Transitional Pastor. Overture 17-D amended the Book of Government section 9-5A.1 for consistency with section 10-7 to clarify that all calls to Teaching Elders must be approved by the presbytery. Each of these overtures were approved by the 38th General Assembly, and subsequently approved by the presbyteries at their winter 2017-18 meetings.
- Giving the permanent Fraternal Relations Committee the authority to develop a fraternal relationship with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, as well as the authority to appoint EPC representatives to engage with groups where participation of the Stated Clerk is not necessary.
- Disbanding the permanent Church Planting and Revitalization Committee (CPRC). The CPRC stated in its report to the Assembly that the successful implementation of the Church Planting Team under the leadership of Tom Ricks and the Church Revitalization Task Force (now known as the GO Center led by Ken Priddy) since 2012 and 2013, respectively, made the CPRC “superfluous and no longer necessary.”
- Re-assigning Benton, Washington, Crawford, and Sebastian counties in northwest Arkansas from the Presbytery of the Central South to the Presbytery of the Great Plains.
- Approving Operation Mobilization as an approved Cooperative Mission Agency, Timothy Two as an approved Mission Agency, and Equip International as an approved Mission Agency of EPC’s World Outreach.
- Supplementing the EPC Foundation Board with at least one volunteer representative from each presbytery. These volunteers would help expand awareness of the Foundation’s services as they speak to churches and individuals in their presbyteries.
- Approving the minutes of the National Leadership Team, Next Generation Ministries Council, Women’s Resource Council, and permanent committees on Church Planting and Revitalization, Fraternal Relations, Ministerial Vocation, and World Outreach.
- Approving the minutes of the 14 EPC presbyteries (with some minor exceptions requiring response to the permanent Presbytery Review Committee by December 31, 2018).
- Accepting the invitation from Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo., to host the 39th General Assembly in June 2019.
Bart Hess Award for church growth and revitalization
The annual Bart Hess Award for church growth and revitalization was presented to Restoration Church in Munford, Tenn. for their revitalization efforts. Mike Gibson is the Pastor, and the congregation joined the EPC in 2010.
Limited by a sanctuary built in 1911 and now landlocked with no parking or expansion room, the church was experiencing only incremental, transfer growth and not reaching the unchurched in its community.
“We weren’t expanding the Kingdom, we were just rearranging the sheep,” Gibson said, noting that he and his leadership team undertook a study of its community to address the issue. “We wanted to know what kind of needs they had and what we could do to minister to them, and what were we doing or not doing to attract them or be a total disinterest to them.”
In response to what the study revealed about the church and the community, the congregation changed its name to Restoration Church, adopted a contemporary worship style, and developed a ministry to families.
“A lot of the people around us had been through a divorce but were very family-oriented,” he said. “They were very concerned about not repeating what had happened in their homes that resulted in divorce. And they were very interested in receiving help.”
Jeff Jeremiah affirmed the church’s willingness to not only ask hard questions about its health and ministry to its community, but also its effort to make changes in response to the answers they received.
“Under Mike’s leadership, lives are being redeemed, revived, and restored through the ministry of Restoration Church and I am thrilled that their hard work has been recognized by the entire EPC,” he said.
Church Planting Team highlights growth in plants, networks
In addition to business recommendations voted on by commissioners, the EPC’s interim and permanent committees and boards presented reports to the Assembly on their work over the past year.
Tom Ricks, Chair of the Church Planting Team (CPT), reported 43 active EPC church plants in 16 states. He also reported at least three churches “went from being a church plant to being a localized congregation, which is the ultimate goal—getting them to stand on their own two feet and then multiply themselves by planting other new churches.”
Ricks reported two church planting networks currently, with two more in development. Ricks noted that one of these networks, in St. Louis, Mo., was formed by five EPC churches in the Presbytery of Mid-America. “We have bound together and have committed our resources and energies for the sole purpose of planting churches in the city of St. Louis—not in the county or in the surrounding area but in the urban part of the community.”
He also noted seven active church plants in underserved neighborhoods around the country. Ricks emphasizing that the CPT is looking at not only underserved neighborhoods, but also unreached areas—particularly in the northeast and on the West Coast.
“These are a couple of areas in our country where there is tremendous opportunity in a post-Christian era to plant churches and share the gospel.”
Additional church planting activities described in the Church Planting and Revitalization Committee’s printed report to the Assembly included:
- A new church plant in an area of Nashville, Tenn., with an 80-percent minority population.
- An Hispanic church plant in Charlotte, N.C., launched by Lake Forest Church in Hendersonville, N.C., in partnership with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM). The EPC signed a church-planting partnership with the INPM in 2016, and the Charlotte congregation will be led by a church planter from Mexico.
- Church of the Resurrection in New Orleans, La., launched in 2017 by the Gulf Coast Church Planting Network.
- The inaugural “church planting cohort” designed to encourage and equip EPC church planters, and led by Bart Garrett, Lead Pastor of Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, Calif.
Ricks, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Mid-America, is Pastor of Greentree Community Church in St. Louis, Mo.
GO Center describes revitalization tools, new funding model
Ken Priddy, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and Director of the EPC GO Center, provided the report for the GO Center, the primary EPC vehicle for church revitalization. He explained that the GO Center is an equipping ministry “that engages and empowers pastors, church leaders, and congregations to move forward into greater health and vitality—to revitalize—through training, consulting, coaching, and assessing.”
He said each of the EPC’s 600-plus churches “is at the epicenter of a domestic mission field,” noting that the people in these missions fields are not simply lost; they are missing from the family of God. “They are waiting for the gospel to get to them,” he said. “The question is, ‘How and when will our churches take the gospel out?’ That is the question that the GO Center seeks to answer.”
Priddy reported that 12 of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries now has a volunteer GO Center Coordinator, who serves as a link between the GO Center and the needs and interests of the presbyteries. Priddy also said that more than 30 volunteers have been trained to serve as GO Center Vision Team Coaches. Coaches work with a local church Vision Team to encourage and assist those teams through implementation of the GO Center training in their local context. He also said new training materials have been created and implemented.
A further area of emphasis over the past year has been the development of relevant metric tools to assess the health of participating churches and their progress through the GO Center’s revitalization process.
Finally, Priddy reported a shift in the ministry’s funding structure for the future. He said the GO Center has been incorporated as its own 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and effective July 1, 2018, will receive funding from three streams. The first is continued, though reduced, support from the EPC administrative budget. The second is a fee structure attached to the ministry services provided, Third will be donor funding solicited by the GO Center through the EPC Foundation.
World Outreach reports progress, sets goals
Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach (WO), noted four major accomplishments since the 2017 Assembly in Sacramento:
- The WO global worker assessment and approval process was completely revised.
- A thorough mid-term evaluation of Engage 2025 was completed, and Engage 2025 Team Leaders (and their families) were brought together and given new tools, resources, and training to carry out their task.
- A manual for International Business as Mission (IBAM) was developed and approved.
- Multi-year Ministry Plans were developed to deliver specific goods and services to our International Theological Education Network partners.
Linton said IBAM will be a major focus for the coming year.
“This past year has seen the maturation of a process in laying the groundwork, and this is the year we want to see that implemented,” he said. “Our goal is to have six hubs for business professionals across the country to incubate and take advantage of the business acumen, counsel, and energy of business people in the EPC.”
He shared a second goal for IBAM of having two entrepreneurial business professionals joining the World Outreach team in the next year.
Linton also reported that the goal he shared at the 2017 General Assembly in Sacramento—11 new global workers commissioned at this year’s Assembly—was nearly met. Seven families and one single candidate were appointed by World Outreach Committee in the last 12 months.
“We still need to provide reinforcements for our Engage 2025 pioneer church planting teams,” Linton told the 2018 Assembly. He said World Outreach will be praying and working to have six new global workers commissioned next year to join existing Engage 2025 teams serving in the Muslim world.