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Our council is creating a council apprenticeship program for mature teenagers to serve on council as either apprentice deacons or apprentice administrative elders.

I'm looking for wisdom in structuring and developing this program: Have any other CRC congregations tried this? What guidelines were in place? How did things work out?



This is a great move Jason!  While we haven't done this here, there are a few things that I think are worth considering.  Not trying to crush, just ensuring all the angles are covered.

I'm not sure about having "junior members" or "members in training" is a good move.  One reason why I hesitate is confidentiality.  Council can at times deal with sensitive issues, and I would hate to have our apprentices be asked to step out while the "really important" stuff gets talked about.   I'm all for giving opportunity, but I think that this may send a mixed message about the competence of the individual.  And I'll bet that your apprentice can handle the sensitive info in a mature fashion, if given the opportunity.

I am also not convinced about having "youth advisors" on any committee, for the simple reason that, in my experience, they are addressed only when youth input is needed, or when they are looking to gain insight on a situation from a youth.  I think some of our youth are able to sit at the table and offer insight based on their own ideas, not just because they are a young person or have a youth perspective.

Stay with me though.

I wonder if you recognize a competent young individual, whether they should be considered and voted on as a full member.  I know, that's pretty bold.  Just as our primary qualification for someone to be on the worship team is that they are musical and have a passion to lead others in worship through music, I would hope that our primary qualification for someone to be on council (or any other committee or team) is that they are gifted (or show potential) in leadership abilities.  I cannot stand when we segregate adult and youth praise teams. Similarly it bothers me when competent young people are dismissed from leadership simply based on age.

I know, that brings in a whole other set of issues.  Can they serve for 2 or 3 years? Are they really that competent?  And what exactly are the "minimum requirements" for someone to serve on council?


I really appreciate your comments - you've spelled out very well the issues we are wrestling with.  I realize that what we are trying to do is in many ways a first.

I agree that we don't want to fall into the trap of either age segregation or tokenism.  In my opinion, "youth councils" and  "youth advisors" are not the way to go - indeed, they are symptomatic of many of the issues related to youth and young adutls that our denomination is currently facing.

I think a few clarifying remarks on my part will help move the conversation forward.

The young women being considered for this position are professing members who definitely display gifts in the areas in which we are considering them.  They are spiritually mature and of strong character.  Our council is comprised of deacons, administrative elders, and pastoral elders.  They are being considered for the role of deacon and admin elder, respectively.

It would be great if we could includ them as full members - it would be bold.  However, the process we use in selecting council members is a) approval of names by council b) congregational approval of names via ballot c) casting of lots.  While the girls have certainly passed the first step, as this is a new thing we are trying, they probably woulnd't get past step 2.  Another complication is that they will be in grade 12 this fall and they will be heading to university in fall 2013.  This means serving for 3 years is out of the question.

This is also something we are hoping to do only if/when suitable youth candidates are available.  In other words, we don't want to create a standing position that needs to be filled year after year by a youth.  This is not about getting warm bodies to fill an empty position.

I understand the confidentiality issue.  However, I think that they understand it too - I think every teenager understands what it means to be entrusted with sensitive information - isn't that an important part of any friendship?  I also think back on my experience as a co-op student in the Ontario Provincial Police when I was 17.  I had to sign a confidentiality agreeement and I took it very seriously, much to the chagirn of my friends who were always itching for a good "cop story".  I was exposed to a number of situations that many 17 year olds wouldn't face on a regular basis, but this did open my eyes to the realities of our world.  I suppose the difference in a church setting is that the girls would know the members who are being discussed.  But, again, I think that if they are given the responsibilities of a regular council member and receive appropriate mentoring and training that they will be up to the task.  In those situations where it may be deemed appropriate for them to be excused from a discussion, that would be the most prudent thing to do, but I wonder, how often would this really happen, keeping in mind that they are not serving in roles of direct pastoral care (i.e. as pastoral elders).

I would be opposed to the notion of an apprenticeship program for young elders and deacons ... where they kinda serve and kinda don't; where they have some authority; where they need to be reminded of the importance of confidentiality because, you know, you just can't trust em.

I am, however, delighted at the prospect of being able to fully install young elders and young deacons because they reflect the gifts for office. All of our newly elected elders and deacons -- especially those who haven't served before -- are paired up with a more experienced mentor. One might call it an apprenticeship program or a mentoring one, but it is being carried out among officebearers who are peers -- regardless of age.

As to the confidentiality question, I know of seasoned veteran elders and deacons who struggle with that. While wisdom tends to come with age, it is not exclusive to age. Some of our best elders and deacons are young, godly men and women who regularly serve as spiritual examples to those who are much older.

In short, 'members in good standing' shouldn't discriminate because of age or gender. To introduce an apprenticeship program for young people or young adults sends a strong message that, while they may have leadership potential, they can't quite be trusted to make the right decisions or to keep their mouths shut.

While God can use people of all ages to serve in his kingdom, and in his church, it would not be appropriate or beneficial to have teenagers or very new christians to lead and rule if older (elder) christians are available to do so.   It is quite possible for many teenagers to do deaconal work without being ordained as ruling deacons, since every church member ought to engage to some extent in deaconal activites, such as caring for the less fortunate.  But the idea that the youngers should be elders runs counter and contrary to the notion that learning and experience and wisdom in the Christian life are gained through time.  It runs contrary to the whole idea of the title of 'elders" as well.   Sometimes, if older people are younger christians, then they too would not be good candidates for eldership, even while they would still have lots of opportunity for service.   On the other hand, I agree that qualifications for eldership should be based primarily on spiritual maturity, not on chronological age. 

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