A Plea to Churches: Give Our Young Leaders Power

Live from the Presbyterian Church USA 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis:

We elected amazing new Co-Moderators on Saturday night and – as with all votes – “Advisory Delegates” cast their votes first.  And then the actual Commissioners vote after being advised.

Our General Assembly Advisory Delegates include Young Adults (YAADs), Theological Students (TSADs), Ecumenical representatives (EADs), and Missionaries (MADs) and you can read more about them here.  The largest group are the YAADs who range from ages 17-23 and they are among the most important voices at the Assembly . . . except that their voices do not count in the official votes.  They are not voting commissioners.

Please note in my photos from Saturday night that the age breakdown in terms of voting commissioners looks like this:

  • Under Age 20 – 5 (1%)
  • Ages 21-40 – 62 (10%)
  • Ages 41-65 – 277 (53%)
  • Over 65 – 144 (36%)

This looks pretty much the demographics for other denominations, but we have the power to make real changes in our denomination because we do not have bishops.  We can make our “corporate bishop” – the body of the General Assembly – younger by virtue of electing younger commissioners.

All commissioners to GA must be either Ruling Elders or Ministers of the Word and Sacraments and I’ve noticed that Ruling Elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament are elected to become official GA Commissioners after:

  • They have suggested their own names or their names have been suggested and then they are elected by their Presbyteries.
  • They have been nominated by a committee and are then elected by their Presbyteries.
  • Someone begs them to go (because nobody seems to want to go) and then they are elected by their Presbyteries.

Ministers of the Word and Sacrament – unless they graduated very early from high school and/or college are at least 24 years old after graduating also from seminary.  Ruling elders can be any age after confirmation – usually at least 13 years old.

As a former Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly and as a former pastor and as a current Mid-Council leader, I am asking/begging/imploring/faithfully encouraging/praying that:

  1. Our congregations will strive to elect faithful teenagers to serve on our Sessions/Boards of Elders
  2. Our Presbyteries will strive to elect at least one commissioner to the 224th General Assembly in Baltimore who is under age 35.

Maybe your congregation does not have “young people.” But if you have a high school within 10 miles of your church building, you have young people in your community. 

  • Why are they not part of your congregation?  (Be careful for what you pray for.  The teenagers in your community might want to change some things.)
  • What is breaking their hearts and are you interested in addressing that issue in the name of Jesus?  If you don’t know or you don’t care, then your church is on the cusp of closing no matter what else you are doing.

There are young clergy people in most of our Presbyteries.  Please – for the love of God – do not use the responsibility of General Assembly Commissioners to reward older pastors for years of devotion to the institution.  Please do not elect commissioners who have no idea how to serve the 21st Century Church.  There are young in heart but older clergy who would also make excellent GA Commissioners in 2020.  Please, please, please start seeking them out now and keep your eye on the young and newly ordained as well.

This is how a denomination thrives:  when we have diversity – including age diversity.

(Also look for diversity in terms of life experience, skin color, gender and sexuality, and theology.  We best reflect God when we reflect the diversity around us that God made.)

I look forward to different age demographics among our voting commissioners in 2020.  Who’s with me?

Images are –  from top down – of the 222nd General Assembly YAADs in 2016, the 223rd General Assembly Advisory Delegate age demographics, and the 223rd General Assembly Commissioners age demographics.





2 responses to “A Plea to Churches: Give Our Young Leaders Power


    Amen!!! When I was a commissioner for GA 220 the age distribution was even more lopsided. As I recall, the median age for commissioners (dont recall of it was just for R.E.’s or all commissioners) was 74. I support all measures to get younger, qualified adults “to the table”.


  2. I wish that we had actually taken actions which would allow younger people to serve in leadership in our denomination at this GA. Increasingly I think we should move in the direction of the UCC and abolish the “corporate office” of elder. Instead any lay person could serve in any office throughout the church. Congregations would be empowered to send delegates to Presbytery meetings and would have their total membership able to be in those roles. In my congregation I see so many people who would love to get more involved in the Presbytery but are not able to because they’re not “ordained” as an elder. It’s ridiculous and disturbing to my ecumenical partner friends when I explain how we have a “two-tiered” lay system where some get to have their voices heard but the majority have no real voice.


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