Are We ignoring Elders at Synod?

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Two things occurred that are signs summer is almost here.  I received my “Agenda for Synod” and the newspaper reported that Phoenix had its first one hundred degree day.  (I live at an elevation of 3,000 feet so my thermometer did not register the degrees that high.)

But knowing summer is here caused me to reflect on my past experiences at Synod and the interest each church I served had in that event.  It varied.  The first church I served as Pastor was located in a rural area of Illinois.  I never heard much debate about issues that Synod had to decide by the council or the congregation.  In later years they became concerned about “Women and Office” and when the decision was made broke ties with the denomination. 

The second church I served was located in New Jersey (my home state) and it was very much interested in the issues the denomination.  The issue of “Women in Office” had evolved as the “hottest” issue.  I always appreciated the church being able to discuss the issue in a civil manner during the Adult Sunday School classes with some being for women in office and others against it.  The Council had also sent a variety of differing Overtures to Synod concerning a variety of issues during my tenure serving the church. 

The third church I served was a “church plant” sponsored by Home Missions.  It grew into a church that consisted of a membership well over 85% non CRC members.  Even though I had each member read the small pamphlet, “Belonging” for the membership class, the church did not seem interested or involved in issues of either Classis or Synod.  ( I find fault with myself for that attitude.)

All of this made me reflect on how both Classis and Synod are formed.  I believe I am correct in saying that at no time at Classis Illiana, Classis Hackensack or Classis Arizona did an elder “chair” the Classis Meeting.  With the exception of one Synod that I am familiar with, no elder has ever “chaired” Synod. Even though the Church Order gives the elders in local churches a great amount of authority as to the administration and various functions of the church, the delegated bodies seem to not do the same.  I strongly suspect that we have many talented  elders who, without a doubt, are more capable than many pastors in conducting the business of Synod.  They have chaired many organizations in their communities that most pastors have never experienced.  Yet elders are seldom visible on the executive committees of our Synods.  I believe that should not be the case.

I would challenge elders to take a more active role beyond their local churches in the affairs of both Classis and Synod.  I believe that it should be mandated that fifty percent of the executive committee of Synod (annually) should consist of non-clergy.  Elders unite!  What do you think?  Am I wrong?  Are elders active enough in Classis and Synod?

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Al, I think you make a good point. When the Evangelical Presbyterian Church left the PCUSA, they decided to have a 50-50 mix of pastors and elders represented at presbytery and at the general assembly. The leadership of every other meeting was conducted by an elder. They planned their new denomination that way to avoid some of the problems in their old denomination. I think there is value in doing that. 

 

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We as Elders serve for three year periods, then we are out - have nothing to do with the administration of the church. One day you are esteemed as an Elder, the next, (after your term is up) you are totally not involved with the running of the church. While I appreciate the idea of involving elders more in the synods, and classes, (s)he would not be as well informed as one (presumably a pastor) in the long run. Perhaps an elder should be appointed for life, then any educational courses often offered by the denomination would be more desireable.

Many of the elders that served on the Councils of the churches I served kept well informed by reading such publications as "The Banner" etc.  Also, unless things have changed seminary did very little to help students prepare for administration tasks such as chairing meeting.  I have been a past chairmen (president) of organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Catholic Social Services as a member who had a term limit.  Running a meeting and knowing everything about the organization are two different things that are necessarily related.

Thank you Al for bringing up this discussion.  It carries more weight since you, a pastor, initiated it.  There perhaps was a time in the history of the church where the pastor was the most educated and most confident in leading.  That is why the president of Christian school boards in the "early" days was usually a pastor.  Of course, that is no longer the case.  Another factor is that many councils no longer have the pastor as the chair of the council.  I like the idea  of 50/50 pastors and non-pastors compose the excutive committee at both synod and classis.  After all, both are elders!

You are quite correct. The leadership of our denomination is pastor centric. There are several reasons.

In the three year term of an Elder, on average, he or she will attend a single session of Classis. During that period, the pastor will attend six. The Elder will not serve again for another 3-5 years if at all. With Classical attendance so infrequent, no Elder could possibly get up to speed rapidly enough to make a difference. Rarely will they even know the names of the churches or the pastors in their Classis. In my experience, at Classis, Elders are at best tolerated. Their contributions are limited to adding volume to the yea votes.

Now, if the odds of going to Classis are about once in six to eight years, What are the odds of an Elder being selected to go to Synod? Perhaps once in a lifetime? That is just not enough time or frequency to build the credibility needed to champion a cause.

Most Elders have a day job that puts food on the table. Unless they are retired, most simply cannot take time off for Classis or Synod. Pastors have a job where time for Classis or Synod is considered part of their responsibilities. They get paid to attend these meeting and related committee meetings.

If the odds of attending either Classis or Synod are this long, and the time available is limited, what Elder could possibly take a leadership role?

Among our Elders, we have any number of high level executives who are sharp, articulate and incisive leaders, capable of devising solutions to almost any issue or problem. But our organizational framework simply does not encourage or allow for the use of their talents.

Al, you are so right in wanting Elders more engaged in the work of the church. Do you want to double the size of our church? Do you want to build the impact of Christians on society? Do you want to increase the intensity of prayer among our members? Do you want the Lord's name lifted up in praise and celebration across the world? Just name the goal, we have the expertise to make it happen among our Elders.

But the solution is not Elders uniting to demand influence or or visibility. Rather, the solution is in challenging Elders to engage their experience and talents for the work of the Lord and then allowing an opportunity to explore the possibilities.  

 

 

Should elders be chairing classis meetings?  It should be a possibility.  I can remember at least once when a pastor, who had been a pastor for only a year, maybe two, ended up on the rotation for chairing classis, since it was the turn of his church.  He struggled, although he tried hard and did his best.  How many times had he previously attended classis, maybe three?  I know other pastors who were not too interested in the protocols and procedures of classis, and I know others who were too interested in the 'legal" details and niceties of procedure in order to achieve their results, or to reduce discussion.  

There is always assistance for the chair from others, such as the stated clerk, the previous chair, experienced people, etc.   The main issue is not just who chairs, but how involved the non-preaching elders can be.   I have found the elders more involved lately than they were thirty years ago.   But all of this starts at the local council.  It also starts with the idea that just because an elder is not on council, doesn't mean he doesn't have responsibilities for staying informed, and remaining to be a spiritual influence and leader in the church.   His term on council may be temporary, but his calling as a spiritual leader is not ended unless he is deposed or disciplined in some way. 

We should also realize that not all elders go to classis, while some go more often.   In some cases, some elders might even go once a year, since certain elders have more time, ability and desire than others.   So we should be careful about overgeneralizing.  

While elders will not know everyone's name, neither do the pastors, since they often don't know all the elders attending.  I highly recommend all classis meetings to produce a list of attenders to classis at the beginning of the meeting to be handed out with the agenda or any other meeting materials.  Name tags are good, but a list of attenders would be most helpful as well, since sometimes people are known by their names more than by their face. 

Alex,   In the Presbyterian Church, once an elder, always an elder. I think there is some value to that. In some of the small churches that I have served, we have called upon former elders to help when needed. They have a lot of experience and wisdom that the Church can draw upon. 

As a two time elder delegate to Synod, allow me to add my rules for an effective delegate.

1.  Attend classis meetings as much as possible so that you are familiar with the issues.  Some churches have a "Denominational Ministry" elder position in their church, who would be a regular at classis meetings.

2.  Be prepared.  Read the Synod Agenda, talk to as many people as possible about the issues, attend Classis.

3.  Do not be intimidated.  You have every right to be there, and your voice and thoughts are just as important as those who have a title of "Rev."

4.  Pick your battles.  You might not be a theologian, but chances are you are more informed about governance, committee structure, accountability,  ministry in your church.  Hopefully you were assigned to the right advisofry committee, and be able to contribute there in a smaller setting.

5.  Social life at Synod is important.  I have seen "networking" (old boys club) retiring for a social evening, leaving elders standing on the sidewalk wondering what to do that evening.  Work your way into that cliique.  "Hey, fellow delegates, what ar WE doing tonight?

6.  Don't worry about catching that early flight out.  God has asked you to be at Synod.  Complete the work.

7.  Have your fellow delegates assign you to report to the next classis meetingn.  Why leave it up to the clergy?  I attended one Sept Classis meeting where the chair (pastor) ruled no report was necessary, as all of you were briefed at the "Internos" (ministers retreat). What an insult ! This may have changed with recent electronic reporting, but summaries need to be reported to the entire Classis, including lay members, and it might as well be by you.

8. Soak in the experience, feel God's spirit at work.  And if your picture appears in the next Banner, cut it out and frame it.

9.  Blessings, and be proud that you can be humble at this important task.

 

Thanks, Good Stuff!!!!

I am an elder, well; I’m a “Commissioned Pastor”, but still an elder. I’ve tried to get to as many Classis meetings as I can. (At my last count over 25 in the past 20 years.) I’ve been an Elder representative at Synod. And, I can tell you first hand that yes, there is a definite prejudice in the treatment of elders at both the Classis level as well as at Synod in our church. Over and over again, I’ve witnessed Ministers of the Word stand up at these church assemblies and babble on over territory already discussed many, many times before and yet the chairs of those assemblies allow them their say. But, consistently, if an elder tried to do the same thing, the chairs of those church assemblies will try to cut them off. At Synod I was seated at a table were several ministers of the word voiced out loud that an elder who was expressing his view on a pertinent issue of the church that was being discussed on the floor of Synod should sit down and be quiet. I kid you not. It flabbergasted me. No one corrected them. On the other hand, I’ve been accused of being “disrespectful” of Ministers of the Word when I disagree with them on the floor of Classis or Synod. So yes, there is a definite intimidation factor at our church assemblies for the Elders who come and this needs to change.

 

Of course as Reformed believers we believe that “He who wants to be first should be last and he who wants to be master should be servant of all.” We believe this “De jur” but “De Facto” or in practice, it is another thing altogether. There is still a very strong “Domini” attitude in our church that prevents our Elders from airing their opinions in our church assemblies. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this “Domini” attitude is a two way street. Nevertheless, this is the first thing that needs to change if we expect our Elders to be more of a real participant in these assemblies of our church. But, more importantly, I say this is the first thing to be changed because it is not a Reformed attitude. Our church order states in Article 85; “No church shall in any way lord it over another church, and no officebearer shall lord it over another officebearer.”

 

As some have said before in this discussion, most Elders may go to Classis or Synod two, three or four times in their lifetimes. This, probably more than anything else, compounds the intimidation problem as well and this too needs to change. We need to plug our Elders into the process of our church government in a more pro-active way. We need to hear them out. We need to include them as part of the process, yes, even to chair the church assembly, if need be. The present process now only disenfranchises them from feeling as if they are real participants. I’ve actually have heard it said that most of our church assemblies are simply union meetings for the pastors.

One of the complaints I hear from eldre delegates is that there is almost no time to discuss or debate issues, What they hear loud and clear is "We must finish in time." Theyare strong on asserting that synod is a rubber stamp of prior decisions.