Should ministers (who are essentially "paid employees" of the church) chair council meetings or be members of the council?

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This question is from a real-life situation to which Dr. Henry DeMoor has responded to based on his extensive knowledge of the Christian Reformed Church Order. The first answer given has been taken from the Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary written by Dr. DeMoor.

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Community Builder

A minister is an elected officebearer, set aside by the congregation as Christ’s representative to exercise spiritual oversight and to equip members of the congregation to fulfill their calling in the church and in the world. As our Belgic Confession makes clear in Article 30, ministers of the Word together with the elders and deacons “make up the council of the Church.” This confessional basis must translate into organizational/administrative reality. I am not fussy about ministers having to chair council meetings. That requirement is more common in Presbyterian polity and in the RCA. For the CRCNA, there is a selection process in Article 36, recognizing that certain elders or deacons may be more gifted for that position. Broadly speaking, churches may never exclude ministers from membership in the council. I fully understand that certain tax regulations or other government regulations applying to nonprofit corporations or charitable institutions may suggest or state outright that this amounts to a clear instance of conflict of interest: a “paid employee” on the board. This, however, should not lead us to the extreme of forbidding ministers from being seated on the council in clear violation of the confessional basis and the text of our Church Order. In most cases, it is possible to exclude the minister from all decision-making that involves ministerial salary and benefits and other agenda items that such government regulations clearly envision. In fact, this has been our traditional practice at both council and congregational meetings. Local articles of incorporation could even spell out that the church has a council (all officebearers) and also a board (all officebearers minus employees, including ministers). The latter would be responsible for all matters relating to the remuneration or employment of staff, if not the entire budget.

As a former senior administrator, who has been involved with municipal governance boards, I would tend to agree with what John Kralt has to say. In terms of Board Governance and conflict of interest matters, the matter is a bit more than amusing, notwithstanding the fact that the individuals are working for the welfare of the Body of Christ.

A question that begs to be answered is whether the current practice undermines the role of elders and deacons, and by extension the local church as set out in Church Order by creating a parallel universe. Inherently, is this not one of the key issues the the Structure and Culture Report is trying to grapple with, and indirectly the Diaconia Remixed Report?

Community Builder

There is an interesting difference between Christian Reformed pastors and, say, Presbyterian pastors. CRC pastors are members of the local congregation and as members they can vote at congregational meetings. Presbyterian pastors are members of the presbytery (ie classis) and they are appointed by presbytery to chair a local congregation's session (council). They chair and they 'run' the local church. Presbyterian pastors are accountable to presbytery (classis), not the local session (council).

Is there any merit in changing our polity, Henry, so that our pastors are members of classis and accountable to classis, rather than being members of the local congregation?

If not a union, then perhaps a guild. :-)

I strongly believe in individual spiritual gifts and think that it applies to this discussion.  There are many ministers who possess the gifts of administration and leadership and when a church calls him/her to give leadership to the body, it is most appropriate that he "lead" the Council.  There are other ministers who do not possess such gifts and would prefer to devote their time and energy to other essential areas of ministry, who would be most relieved to have such leadership of the Council handled by an elder.

It must also be kept in mind that it is the minister of the church that eats, sleeps and lives for and with the church, whereas the elders and deacons have other areas of life as their higher priority.  Praise God that while the minister is no longer the most educated person in the church, he is the only one who has had the spiritual, Biblical, theological and church organizational training at Seminary qualifing him/her for such leadership.

Though I can appreciate the matter of individuals being gifted in the area of administration and leadership, and that some pastors may possess these gifts.

Nonetheless, church polity is out of step with contemporary political governance being more in line with 15th / 16th century divine right of kings political theory.

Having an employee as an elected/voting member of the governing board/Council, and possibly as Board Chair, places the church as an institution at jeopardy legally, quite apart from issues of conflict of interest.

That doesn't preclude the pastor, as an elder, being an ex-officio non-voting officer. 

Even the Canadian Council of Christian Charities requiries the following standards of charities, i.e. churches:

Standards of Acccountability: http://www.cccc.org/standards_2 "No member of the governing board shall be entitled to receive, either directly or indirectly, any salary, wages, fees, commissions or other amount for services rendered to the organization."

 

 

Lubbert, I'm on vacation in Montana and don't have my books (like CO), however is thd ruld you cited for Canadian churches? For my 22 years I was the President of the council and also the elders. I certainly did not have a kingly role.

Consider new church development, the pastor functions as the visionary leader and as the body matures, he teaches and trains the office bearers to assume more and more responsibility. I won't make a sweeping generalization however many of the GROWING and MISSIONAL CRC churches are "pastor & vision" driven, not lay leader driven.

Now just to clarify, when I say "pastor & vision" driven I don't mean that the pastor is a lone ranger doin his own thing, but rather that he is in tune with God's will regarding the church and works with his leadership team and is affirmed by them.

Blessings!

Hi James...

My comment is not specifically directed at pastors, but the underlying theory of political governance imbedded in Church Order which comes from the 15th and 16th century. Throughout the 17th to 20th century this theory of governance was gradually abandoned. Also, over time, administrative and governance functions have become more clearly demarcated. 

Though pastors are "called" to the ministry, they are nonetheless also "staff" who are employed by churches.

Over the last 20 - 25 years federal and provincial governments, and oversight agencies like the Canadian Council for Christian Charities have put legislation and guidelines in place to regulate NGO's and charities to ensure transparency and accountability to deal with matters like conflict of interest, due diligence, fiduicary obligations, etc.

You're probably right in that churches are looking to pastors to take a lead in shepherding their communities as quasi CEO/executive directors, but these are paid staff [administrative/management positions] and not governance positions.

Governance ought to rest with the elected elders and deacons who are called by the congregation to serve in their respective areas. 

You are also right, in that the administrative and governance arms need to work in concert as shepherds of the flock.

Where this becomes problematic is at the classis and synodnical level where employees [pastors] are making decisions on behalf of local congregations that should rest with elected elders and deacons, especially in areas where there are obvoius conflicts of interest. This is not to say that the employees are not motivated by the best of intentions.

 

Community Builder

I sense a bit of unintentional arrogance in James VanderSlik's comments. "(The pastor) is in tune with God's will regarding the church and works with the leadership..."

Whose task is it to develop a vision for a local congregation: the pastor or the council/elders? Pastors come and go, and probably take their 'vision' with them as they make the church rounds. The local congregation is presumably there for several generations.

It is indeed somewhat arrogant that only the pastor is 'in tune with God's will for the church'. I would hope that the elders (and some churches have specific visionary elders) are equally in prayer and equally in tune with God's will.

I fondly recall a church that was vacant for four years. During that time the congregation decided that their church building was too small so they sold it, they held a fundraising drive, they collectively build a new church, they established a vision for the church as it related to the community, and then they called a pastor.

Vision, wisdom, strategic planning ... and prayer ... are not the sole pervue of pastors.

And as to Lubbert's comments, yes it is Canadian law that a minister who receives remuneration may not serve as a voting member on a church board/council. The Canadian Council of Christian Charities, which advises Christian non-profits, including churches, is diligent in regularly pointing that out.

"OUCH" Keith...this is suppose to be a diagogue...I'm not arguing for "one size fits all" and acknowledge that different pastors have different gifts. If you look at many of the ads in the Banner seeking a Senior Pastor, they use words like energetic...dynamic...enthusiastic. Most often they are seeking someone who will motivate and lead them from where they are to where they want to go (and most of the time that is from an "inward" oriented church to an "outreach" oriented church.

I will tell you that it would be a pastors answer to prayer to go to a church which is as you described, with goals and vision statements already articulated, but in 9 out of 10 churches that is not how it is.

Thanks for the discussion.

Community Builder

I apologize for that, James. Indeed, this is a dialogue. That was a tad harsh.

By way of background, I wear a couple of hats: stated clerk of a Canadian classis and also the executive director of the Canadian Christian Business Federation. I regularly connect with about 3,000 Christian business leaders across Canada. I know their minds and I know their areas of expertise. Among them is a group of 300 Christian multimillionaires and billionaires.

I hear two interesting messages: one is that the church just doesn't know how to use the gifts of those business leaders (other than appoint them to a property committee or to head up a capital campaign). As I regularly 'preach' to those 30 groups of Christian business leaders, "if you're involved in business,you're involved in ministry."

The second message that I regularly hear ... through my contacts with various church leaders ... is that we don't have many really good preachers. I just came across this ad for a senior pastor: "We are looking for someone who has a passion to lead the congregation in ministry, someone with excellent interpersonal skills, who can work collaboratively to further refine God's vision for our church and to bring it to life practically. Top priorities would include preaching and teaching, oversight of the small group ministry, strengthening discipleship opportunities, and providing leadership, support and direction to a small staff."  This is a church council (ie elders) that has abrogated its responsibility as office-bearers. They want a CEO with an MDiv.

The church needs pastors who preach well. Throw in some pastoral care. Period.

Back to the original question, this is one of those binational structure issues. I don't know of any church within Canada where the minister serves as chair of council. He/she might serve as chair of the elders since he has a pastoral role to play there. It's simply the law.

But even though the pastor doesn't chair council, he/she is still usually involved in leadership development and plays a role in casting the vision of the church. A 'non-chair' has a voice and much more weight in carrying discussions.

Most councils of which I have been a part over the years consists of at least some business types who know how to run a meeting and how to lead a group through strategic planning and vision-casting. And this process is always, always bathed in prayer ... whether that prayer is offered by a pastor or someone else.

I agree with you, James, that congregations and councils often look to a new pastor to add a spark to their vision-casting, and to inject enthusiasm and a new perspective in a council room that may have grown stale by decades of navel-gazing.

But a minister does not need to chair a meeting to accomplish that. In fact, by not chairing the meeting, the pastor can often accomplish a lot more.

 

Keith, looks like Henry's open question has turned out to be a coffee talk between us...that's OK. I think that if we were in the same church we'd get along like two peas in a pod. Before seminary I had a BBA degree with.majors in management and marketing. I functioned as manager, regional manager and VP of field operations in the home health care. I attended CTS for five years from age 37-42. I served two established churchs and started a nee one.

I say this sincerely, if only a minister could come into a congregation which had developed a visiion and were enthusiastically pursuing it and the pastor could just concentrate on preaching, teaching and pastoral care, you'd have to beat off the candidates with a stick! The problem too often is that the members believe the church is "theirs" and they would prefer that the minister function more like a country club pro than the shepherd of the flock who leads them from one green pasture to the next.

I believe Jesus was very clear in telling us the "vision" of the church: go into a the world BAPTISING (growing) and teaching them what I have tagh you. Then go to Acts 1:8 and he lays out the expansion plan of "start where you are at and progressively move out (outreach and growth.

I appeciate your thoughts and feelings and am sure you are a blessing to your congregation...have a great day!

A discussion on coffee row between old administrators who have worked for and on boards works for me having lived in Saskatchewan in a previous life for 20 years. Like Keith, I am a stated clerk, chair of the personnel committee at church, etc. Won't bore you with the details: http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/lubbert-van-der-laan/19/53a/391

Dialogue is perferable. Thank you. Hope it's not to hot in Montana. Just got back from Saskatchewan, where for a change it was muggy because of all the rain.

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