We Are a Large CRC Congregation. This Means That?

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We are a large CRC congregation. As such, we have a large 'Council' consisting of 35+ 'Council' members which makes it difficult to conduct the affairs of the Church in a timely manner (long meetings!). About 5 years ago we re-organized and separated 'Council' functions into an official "Council" consisting of Elders, Deacons and the Senior Pastor (approximately 10 members) and leadership teams consisting of 'Pastoral Elders' and 'Pastoral Deacons'. The "Council"  conducts the day to day affairs of the Church (including preparations of the annual budget etc.) while the Pastoral functions are the responsibilities of Elders and Deacons elected specifically to address the needs of the congregation. This structure has served us well.

While we have been conducting a reduced schedule of meetings of the 'Council' (2 or 3 per year... which we would like to reduce even more to avoid duplication), most of the decisions made by the "Council" are no longer voted on by all of the Elders and Deacons which brings me to my question(s).

1) Are we in compliance with Article 35 of the Church Order when we do not have all of the Elders and Deacons involved in the day to day decision-making process (including the preparation of the annual budget)? And if we are not ... does anyone have any suggestions as to how we can resolve this ambiguity? 

2) Since the separate entities of 'Council' and "Council" meet regularly but the 'Entire Council' does not meet monthly ... do we have an issue with the requirements of Article 36 of the Church Order? Again, if we do ... does anyone have any suggestions as to how we can resolve this ambiguity?

I ask these questions as a result of being 'conscripted' to review and re-draft our current Church By-Laws. While I am not currently on our Church Council, I have been a member in the past, and our current "Council" members (as well as myself) would appreciate your thoughts with respect to these concerns.

Thank You!

Henry Dekker              

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Participant

Henry,

Most large congregations that have a council as large as yours handle this matter by recognizing, first off, that all the ordained (ministers, elders, deacons) form the council of the church.  This is a creedal basis found in Article 30 of the Belgic Confession.  Next, if this council is too large and has long meetings, they often split up the elders by having administrative elders and pastoral elders, and the deacons by having administrative deacons and "pastoral" deacons who attend specifically to diaconal issues.  The administrative elders and deacons then gather to form an "Executive of Council," the pastoral elders meet as a consistory (Art. 35) and the "pastoral" deacons meet as a diaconate (Art. 35).  The Executive of Council meets monthly and takes care of routine responsibilities.  The full council meets only two or three or four times a year.  This is time for mutual censure. the broad vision of the congregation's ministry, the final adoption of the church budget that reflects that broad vision, and other matters of major concern like calling a minister, choosing new officebearers, etc.  The full council then often receives reports of the consistory and the diaconate.  This works well because the pastoral elders and "pastoral" deacons do not feel disenfranchised (they're in on full council meetings too and get to vote on major matters) and the administrative elders and deacons that form the Executive of Council have smaller meetings on a monthly basis.

I do not find this in conflict with Article 35 and Article 36 of the Church Order.  I am afraid that in the structure you mention there is an issue of disenfranchisement since pastoral elders and deacons don't vote on the annual budget etc.  I also think it is better to speak of Council and an Executive of Council rather than council with a line through it and council without a line through it. 

As for times of meeting, Article 36 says monthly but we have always interpreted that to mean that all these meetings should be held often enough to meet all the needs of the congregation and its governance.  There is some flexibility, but as long as an Executive, a consistory, and a diaconate meet monthly, it's fine if full council meets only three or four times a year.

The key, actually, to avoiding problems here is that there must be good communication all around.  And our current technological advances (group e-mails, etc) make that more possible than ever before.

I would make sure, again, that we follow the creedal impulse: all the ordained are the council.  It may then increase its efficiency through a structure such as I suggest above, and in practice your structure doesn't seem that far removed from what I propose.

Hope this is somewhat helpful.

Henry De Moor;  Thank you so much for your very quick response!  Your comments are helpful in that you describe in detail the exact structure that we had more than 5 years ago (when I last served on our Church Council)!

However, I gather from your response that you are in essence telling us that our current structure appears not to conform completely to Article 35 of the Church Order.  I think we will need to review our situation again... but we are open to additional suggestions as, (unless we are unique in this regard) this must be an issue being faced by other large churches as well.

While your point about disenfranchised Elders and Deacons is a very valid one, there is also the other side of the coin where you can have Elders and/or Deacons who feel that attending additional meetings to deal with issues that are not of a 'spiritual' nature is not something that they can get very excited about and some may have no problem expressing their views in that regard!

Having said that, I do find a little nugget in your comment about communication... and specifically the available technology such as e-mail.  There may be a way to involve the 'Pastoral' members of Council (notice that I didn't draw a line through that one!) so that having (and attending) additional meetings can be minimized to deal only with those issues raised by 'Pastoral' Elders and Deacons as requiring additional discussion, or those issues that require the subsequent approval of the congregation as a whole.

Again... thank you for your insight!

Blessings,

H. Dekker

 

  

Henry Dekker,

I am one of the pastors at a medium large congregation. I will add my two cents regarding practicalities to Henry DeMoor's comments (which are spot on).

Communication is very important. We currently use email to send the minutes of all committees, including the Pastoral Elders, Deacons, and an Executive Board, to all 'full' Council members. This is a gentle and regular reminder to all officebearers that they are accountable for all of the work of the congregation, not just their 'spiritual' work as you indicated concern about (though I would argue it's all spiritual...). Occasional reminders that any officebearer is welcome to attend an executive board meeting should a particular issue of concern be raised might be a good idea too.  

I would also add a concern about "lording it over" other officebearers. It is imperative that the Pastoral Elders, Deacons, and Executive be equal, parallel entities who are all accountable to the Full Council (the three together). If your executive "Council" has greater authority than the Pastoral Elders or Deacons (and especially the 'full' Council), that would be a significant issue of concern (and a violation of CO Art. 35 a).

This, however, doesn't need to require more, longer meetings. With good communication of all activities occurring in the congregation to all officebearers, each officebearer can digest these activities on their own time. When there are 'full' Council meetings (3 or 4 a year), it is only a matter of approving previous minutes and discussing any matters arising from those minutes. A complete re-hashing/re-decisioning process shouldn't be necessary except in only the rarest of situations. Hopefully this will help the officebearers focus on their particular duties while still being fully invested in the whole ministry of the congregation of which they govern on the Lord's behalf.

I hope this helps!

Mike,  Thank you for your comments.  They are helpful!  It is always interesting to have additional input from other interested parties, particularly when ideas are shared!  It can make for long meetings when done in a meeting format but, I just found this forum yesterday, and already I can truly say I love it! :)

Admin

Glad you've joined and found it to be so helpful, Henry. Please help spread the word about The Network in your congregation. There's a lot of ministry know-how across the CRC and the more people we can get connecting with each other the better.

It has already been said that communication is imperative especially when the Council is segmented. I would like to share a simple "reporting" form that I have found effective and saves much time. Divide a sheet into three sections and use this one form for every group/committee/ministry team that reports to the Council. Question #1 is, "What are you doing (working on)? Question #2, "where are you going (planning for)? Question #3, "What do you need from us (how can we help you be more effective)? This report can be filled out as often as the Council meets (monthly or quarterly) and insures that each Council member is informed about all work being done in the church on a regular basis. It also means that the only reports which the Council needs to spend time on are the reports asking for Council action.
Blessings!

Participant

Good stuff, Jim.  We use Dropbox.  At council meetings we project everything on the white wall.  At home, everything's just a few clicks away.