The Role of an Elder: Responsibilities and Limitations

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To be called as an elder is to take on a new role in your relationship to the congregation. It is important to reflect on your new role and face some of its demands and limitations.

First observe that you already have a number of roles that affect your relationships in the congregation:

  • Professing Member
  • Teacher
  • Son/daughter
  • Wife/ husband
  • Friend
  • Father / mother
  • Member of a small group
  • Part of a ministry team
  • Employer/ employee
    (add to the list on your own) 

For example, when speaking to a child we could be seen as a Cadet Counsellor who has had this child in his cadre, or as a Sunday school teacher, or as a father, or friend of the family or Elder of the congregation. We respond differently depending on the web of our relationships and our various roles. 

Each role has its particular responsibilities. My responsibility to a child as a teacher is different than by obligations as a parent. There are limitations to my responsibility as a teacher because I am not a parent. We understand this reasonably well.

As an elder you take on a new role.   The primary responsibilities are governance and spiritual guidance. With the responsibilities come limitations. For example, every council of which I have been part has rules about the conduct of officebearers in congregational meetings. The rules are in place to preserve the unity of the council and uphold the integrity of the leadership. 

I believe it is helpful to consider not only our responsibilities but the limitations. We cannot use our role as elder to bypass due process in decision making. If in a small group I hear a proposal about worship, I cannot bypass the persons and/or committees responsible for worship by bringing the proposal directly to council. In my role as elder I need to insist that due process is used in the congregation for the health of the congregation’s life together. 

In our role as elder there are three questions to consider:

  1. What are my roles and responsibilities? (The Various Roles of an Elder)
  2. Each responsibility has its inherent limitations. What are these limitations necessary for the health of the congregation? (how does pastoral support become enmeshment? When does holding someone to account become interference in the responsibilities of ministry?)
  3. Are their times when the limitations become a hindrance to the ministry of grace? (reflect on the Parable of the Samaritan)
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