We Are a Large CRC Congregation. This Means That?
December 23, 2013
Updated April 18, 2020
17 comments 356 views
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).
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.
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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!
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! :)
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.
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.
I've just come across this and I'm interested in the Church Order part of it. We changed our structure a number of years ago. We have 1 Administrative Council made up of 5-7 people (elected by the congregation) including the pastor. We also have Pastoral Care Visitors and Deacons who volunteer and are not elected. Are we out-of-line with Church Order(we are being told - Church Order is a guideline not a strict policy).
From the introduction of the Church Order: "The Church Order is a document that shows how the congregations of the Christian Reformed Church in North America have decided to live together and to organize themselves. It is a tool for effective leadership, in that leaders need to know the regulations and parameters of the organization in which they are working so that they can apply them in a variety of situations.
"More than a contractual set of regulations or simply guidelines, the Church Order is really a record of our covenanting together with this denominational fellowship. ..." (Italics mine.)
Church Order is clear that each church should have a 'Council' made up of all officebearers, (i.e. Ministers of the Word, Commissioned Pastors, Elders, and Deacon) and must be elected by the congregation. It is not 100% clear to me whether the Administrative Council you described fits as equal to 'Council' in the Church Order. It may if some are Elders and some are Deacons. It is also ok to promote volunteering through "Pastoral Care Visitors" and those seeking to do stewardship, justice, and works of compassion (the work Deacons oversee.) However, to call volunteers 'Deacons' is not accurate or appropriate given Church Order. It is confusing at best and may possibly cause significant issues down the road.
If you wish to get better clarification, I'd suggest asking for a Church Visit from another church in your classis (regional grouping of churches.) This request can be processed through the Stated Clerk of classis. Another CRC church will send a Minister and an Elder from another congregation for encouragement and support. They can help your congregation discern if this set-up conforms to CRC practice (i.e. Church Order) and what can work best for your congregation and its setting.
It's probably also worth wondering what your congregation's status is. Is it "organized?" Or is it "emerging" (i.e. a church plant)? "Emerging" congregations are overseen by the Council of an "organized" congregation, and therefore the leadership of the emerging congregation may for a time look different than Church Order.
Our church has been around for many years and has gone thru some tribulations when we removed a previous pastor. Our current pastor has a more modern outlook and follows more of the modern mega church pastors ie Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, and Global Leadership Summit stuff.
As mentioned the current structure is just the elected Admin Elders 5-7 +pastor. The Admin council does not have any elected deacons on it. Can a member of the church make the request of Classis for a church visit or does it need to go through council?
If I read Article 30 of the Church Order (below) correctly, then the reference to 'church members' would allow any member to do 'an end run' around the council to request Classis to make a church visit. If you have a copy of the Church Order then you will note that a member will also need to abide by the supplemental 'Procedural Rules' as they are laid out in the Church Order.
a. Assemblies and church members may appeal to the assembly next in
order if they believe that injustice has been done or that a decision conflicts
with the Word of God or the Church Order. Appellants shall observe
all ecclesiastical regulations regarding the manner and time of appeal.
b. Synod may establish rights for other appeals and adopt rules for
c. If invoked, the Judicial Code shall apply to the processing of written
charges, unless the assembly to which the charges are submitted has dealt
with and ruled definitively on substantially similar appeals in a manner
pursuant to the provisions of Article 30-a.
—Cf. Supplement, Article 30-a through -c""
Thanks Henry. I downloaded the Church Order this morning and I am reading through it.
In addition to Henry DeMoor's comments, I'd add that it is very important to keep the big picture in mind. In other words, what are your church's mission and values?
Any church would like to be run well and with the membership working together in order to work on God's calling for your congregation. This has to be kept in mind as both a goal and the way to function. To attempt an "end-around" injures working together, so it would be unwise to do it. Given your congregation's situation, I'd talk with the pastor first and probably Council via letter to mention your concerns. Don't use the Church Order as a hammer. Rather use it and your relationships in the congregation as the way to maintain and strengthen your congregations' working together, both internally and with other CRC congregations. Keep God's calling for you, your congregation, and all God's people in mind.
One other note, because your congregation has existed for some time, the congregation's bylaws as filed with the civil government will have a say in how the leadership of the congregation is structured. Most CRCs state in their bylaws that the leadership structure will follow CRC Church Order or specifically state the same things as Church Order. The implications of this are that if the leadership isn't following its bylaws, the congregation is risking legal issues, not simply keeping the CRC covenant found in the Church Order. Don't freak out about this point, but the Pastor and Council should be aware of and concerned about taking this risk.
Article 30 is about formal appeals, not about church visiting. The appropriate article is Article 42. As I indicated on page 247 of my CRC Church Order Commentary classical church visitors do not have the freedom to meet with members of the congregation without the presence of at least a delegation of the council. The entire council must give its blessing on such a meeting and needs a report from the church visitors about the content of the meeting. So such meetings are possible but an "end run" around the council is not permitted.
OK.. so let me be the devil's advocate here and put in my $0.02 cents worth. So..., if I understand Henry DeMoor's response correctly, then a 'rogue' pastor who convinces a small 'rogue' council to deviate from the requirements of the Church Order (which requires ELECTED elders AND deacons) is free to do whatever they decide with no 'legal' repercussions or remedy! That could result in divisions within the congregation with no 'legal' way of resolving issues that might arise from such decisions. (By the way.. our Church By-law does provide for elected office bearers.)
Henry DeMoor.. please tell me that there IS an avenue available to achieve an amicable solution before such a situation goes beyond being repairable!
Our system of church government is officebearer driven (sometimes called presbyterian), not strictly congregational nor hierarchical like the Roman Catholic Church. Thus if the majority of the officebearers in a congregation want to go away from CRC by not adhering to Church Order, there is little that can be done. But to be clear, to not try to follow CRC Church Order as a CRC congregation will eventually result in significant issues and possibly (probably) result in the congregation leaving the CRC. Of course, when this does happen it often results in the congregation splitting.
The legal aspect, however, is located strictly in the bylaws. As a legal entity, a society (i.e. church) must follow its bylaws. Failure to do so opens the board (i.e. council) to being successfully sued by a society member (i.e. church member) in a court of law.
Again, one must keep our Christian mission and vision in mind. Are we to be divisive? Are we supposed to sue each other in civil court? If at all possible, no! We seek to resolve concerns and issues face-to-face by speaking the truth in love. This is as important if not more so than Church Order or bylaws.
Members are free to request a special church visit. If the council says "yes," which I often advise (again, see my Commentary - it's available on the crcna.org website) for the sake of amicable solutions, the visit can happen and wisdom might well prevail. If the council says "no," members are free to appeal from that decision to the classis and then it can order a special church visit. This need not be "beyond repairable." Let's at least assume that brothers and sisters in Christ can be humble, grateful for wisdom, and not constantly pugilistic.
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