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 I was ordained as an elder and served my 3 year term. Now that I am done with that term, am I still considered to be an elder? If I happen to be at a service where there is a call for elders to participate in Communion or laying on of hands for an ordination service, may I participate as en elder?  


There are different perspectives on what it means to be an elder.   I have heard sermons for retiring elders that advised these elders that in one sense they were still elders;  they still provided spiritual leadership, they still had a responsibility to use their eldership talents to teach, to provide guidance and advice and leadership.   They have been ordained, and not deposed, (and no article 17 for elders) so their qualifications and calling still stands.  However, since the term is over, they are not officially part of the governing body.   The tasks they might carry out are subject to the requests and approval of the elders who are serving their terms.  What they can do is regulated by their council.   Ultimately council also has the ability to determine the length of the terms of office as well.   At the request of council, they could help to serve Lord's supper, or be part of the laying on of hands, or visit the sick, or be delegated to some organization or committee, or lead a service, or assist with some visits.   But they are not responsible to attend council meetings, nor to initiate certain activities as council members are.  They are not part of the board of directors aspect while they are past their term, and should not be voting on council matters. 

At least this is how I would interpret the calling and tasks of "non-serving" elders, within the general description and limitations indicated by the church order.  "Non-serving elders" is a misnomer, a poor term to use, and "retired" elders is also a poor term, an unscriptural term.  Can anyone come up with a good term to use?  Maybe we have to be satisfied with using poor terms for this? 

It would be nice if we did not regard the primary task of elders to attend meetings and vote on things.   Instead, we should regard their primary task as one of providing spiritual leadership;  this would relate better to the qualifications as outlined in scripture, and would contribute more to the spiritual health and growth of the body of Christ. 

Hi Steve,

No, you are not considered to be an elder any more after your term expires.  In the CRC we have limited tenure of officebearers--that is, they are called and ordained to office and that ordination clings to the office, not the person.  So there is no special role in the CRC for former elders or deacons, although the council may ask them to serve in some ministry as an experienced member of the congregation.  But they are not officebearers and wouldn't function as such in an ordination or communion service.    

Synod addressed this question when the suggestion was made (by an overture) that former elders be delegated to synod, but that's not possible because they are not officebearers, and synod (and classis and councils) are assemblies of officebearers.  

Thankfully, there are many ways to serve in the church when one is no longer serving a term as an officebearer!  


Kathy Smith

John Zylstra on August 23, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

See?  Steve, I told you there were different perspectives.  Kathy's perspective is related to Synod.  My perspective is related to council.   But Kathy is correct in the sense that a "non-serving elder" cannot be a delegate, or have voting privileges, unless re-appointed as an elder by council, or having the term extended by council.   So "non-serving" elders are not members of council.  

But there is much more to being an elder than simply having voting  privileges or delegation responsibilities.  And these other tasks are the tasks of greater significance.   The office of elder is much more  than a mere administrative task.   It is a calling by God to lead and teach spiritual truths and Godly living to the people of God, to demonstrate christian service, exercise admonition, promote evangelism, and supervise the preaching.   This calling is confirmed by God's people but it is ultimately God's call.  The "legal" part of it means that when the term is up, there is no more voting.  But the general service and leadership part does not end.  For that reason, elders can still lead services, even when they are not on council, provided they have the approval of council.  They can still assist council with the supervision of preaching.   They can still provide council with counsel and advice.   And because council has the authority to make decisions, council can ask them as previously ordained  "called" elders to carry out certain elder tasks or duties such as serving or supervising communion, laying on of hands, making a specific visit, or supervising preaching, or supervising a worship service when official elders are absent due to vacation or illness.   Some of these things are rare circumstances.  But there needs to be certainty about what council/consistory is asking them to do, or about approving their actions. 

So don't totally discount your eldership.  But recognize it needs to be subject to specific council decisions.      Bu

Article 25 of the church order recognizes the principle that  elders can be re-installed without requiring re-ordination, since they have been ordained previously.    Article 25 also confirms  that the council designates the term (or limited time) that elders shall serve.   Presumably council can also change or extend this term from time to time as it sees fit, as appropriate to the circumstance and profit of the church.   So councils have  a couple options available to make delegation to official bodies possible if necessary.  

Steve (and others),

I am being encouraged to contribute to this discussion.  I will do so shamelessly by asking you all to read pages 133-135 of my Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary to gain some historical perspective on this issue of limited or permanent tenure and to read pages 136-138 of that commentary to see what can be done about a "high turnover rate" that sometimes impedes our ministry.  You will be amazed, when you read the latter part, how flexible our Church Order really is on this issue of how long a term might run........  (No, I do not make royalties on the sales of this commentary, but your buying it if you haven't done it already will definitely support our Faith Alive Resources agency).

It's interesting how when you post a comment, the responses can turn the direction of the original comment in a different path. I accept the fact that I am not presently serving in a decision making capacity as a ruling elder. At the same time, I believe that since I was ordained to this office, that my calling is more than a 3 year term. I am still looked up to as a leader and I am active as a teacher to our Friendship Class for adults with intellectual disabilities. I would challenge someone to find me a passage in the Bible that says that an elder's (and deacon's) term are limited to a set number of years. So, let me restate my original question. If I, as an "inactive" (for lack of a better term) elder happen to be in a worship service where there is a call for any elders to help serve communion or to participate in the laying on of hands, may I participate as an elder?


The Christian Reformed Church Order does not know of an "inactive elder." The Presbyterian churches do and so does the RCA, but not the CRC. An elder whose term has ended has no more authority of office than any other member. In practice, we sometimes bend things a little. When I became an elder recently and the communion schedule came out, I realized I would be on vacation the first time out. So I asked the elder whom I replaced to do it for me. Nobody takes anybody to classis or synod with a protest over such. But we do see it as an exception and the elder whom I replaced would rather "rest" from his labors for a while anyhow. So I don't keep asking him to do this. Strictly speaking, you may not participate as an elder when your term has ended. You are unordained. I do not know how to say this any more clearly and hope this is back on the path you set out on.

John Zylstra on September 19, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

  Henry, with respect, the church order is not incredibly clear about the limitations of the office of elder.   It says they shall normally retire from office.  This has no scriptural sanction whatsoever, unless understood in the sense of a change of service.  The church order says they shall serve (not "be") for a limited time.  The church order says the time shall be designated by council.  They can be re-elected, and terms can be changed.  Thus the aspect of "serving" and "non-serving" elders can also be designated by council if it so chooses.     This would not be disimilar to "retired" preachers continuing to preach, at the request of various councils.  The church order uses the term installation in the case of re-election.  It also uses the qualifier "immediate eligibility", but this is artificial, again with no scriptural sanction, nor a practical exclusion for someone who is re-installed one week or two months after his term is up, or one year after his previous term, or four years after his previous term.   Thus it is reasonable to install, and not re-ordain an elder who has been previously ordained.   As far as you asking a non-serving elder to serve, of course there is no problem with that, assuming that your council approves and you are preferably not doing it arbitrarily and individually by yourself.  In the same way, there is no problem with council inviting non-serving  or "retired" elders to participate in the laying on of hands.   It is their decision.  From the perspective of the non-serving elders, they ought to make sure however, that they understand the intentions of the serving council, when they assume certain tasks, including participating in ordinations or sacraments.  If the council would rather that they did not participate, then they should honor that. 

John Zylstra on September 24, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The idea of ordination...  I am reminded of King David, who was annointed as a young man by the prophet Samuel, long before he became king.   For years he was annointed, (selected, ordained), yet not serving in the complete function of king.  Perhaps we can see this as being somewhat analogous to elders who were called, selected, and ordained, but no longer specifically serving in certain aspects. 

Come on, everybody, Article 25 of the Church Order uses the term "retire from office."  We all know what that means.  If we want to change that, fine, let's have an overture and we'll consider it.  In the meantime, these words mean exactly what they say.

John Zylstra on September 24, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Again with respect, everyone knows it is a great oversimplification to say that we know what "retirement" means.  

Many retired occupations do not result in a complete cessation of activities.   A "retired" carpenter may still occassionally build something.   A retired farmer may still often drive a combine or a tractor.  A retired mechanic may still repair his own or neighbor's vehicles.  A retired preacher may still ocassionally preach when called on.  Many "retired" persons often take on part-time contract work.   So no, we do not know what it means clearly. 

While we do indeed know that retired officebearers are no longer on the board of trustees, and should no longer exercise a vote in council, we do not have an explicit understanding of how their other "elderly" tasks should be terminated.   Should they stop making visits to the sick?  Should they stop teaching catechism?  Should they be prevented from leading a service, reading a sermon, or critiquing the preaching?   Should they stop providing pastoral advice to council?  Are they not permitted to attend council meetings, just as any member?   Should they stop providing spiritual guidance and leadership?   Should they be denied the respect of their calling?   Should we then disregard the prerogative of council to respect their general calling and ocassionally ask them to assist in certain "elder" tasks due to their previous ordination (as you yourself seem to have done in your previous example)?     

Just had this conversation recently on Twitter. It is good to know the answer to this, but I am baffled on why there is push back about it. I ran into this problem a few years back when pastoring both an RCA and CRC at the same time. In the RCA it is once an elder always an elder. I had a hard time explaining to my elders and deacons at the CRC church that it was different with the CRC. Many didn't believe me. Thanks Dr. DeMoor for your insight and assitance int his issue. My question is, how can we better educate elders and deacons about this idea of ordination and installation?

From an RCA pastor serving in a CRCNA church, learning the differences...

Joshua, maybe we could educate the CRCNA people in the form of the thank you to Elders and Deacons when they finish their term of service.

1. have clear language when we bring someone onboard (they are ordained every time because, even though they were before, that ended when their term of service ended and so they need to be ordained again.  If this is not the case, then the ordination remains and thus they are still in some way an "Elder", just not on Council, which is how the RCA handles it)

2. When we are ordaining a new batch, we also remove the ordination from those who are completing their term.  We can have in the liturgy a time when the outgoing Elders/Deacons are recognized and we both thank them for their ministry and relieve/release them from their ordination.  The mantle is taken off.  


We are installing (and ordaining) new Elders and Deacons this Sunday, which is why I am on here doing research.  I am thinking about having a symbolic passing of the torch, where the outgoing Elder/Deacons have a towel (thematically pointing to foot washing) that is passed on to the new Elder/Deacon.  The idea also comes from the Elijah/Elisha passing of the mangle/ministry and the vestments of the levitical priests that were passed down.  The new elder/deacon would keep the towel during their time of ministry and then present the same towel at the end of their service to be passed to the next office bearers.


Is there a committee that does updates/revisions to liturgies that i should suggest some form of thankyou/celebration and removing of the mantle from exiting office bearers be incorporated into the liturgy?

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