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I was reminded by a conversation in the forum that I had planned to develop material on the various positions and tasks in the community of elders. I’m glad someone took up the challenge of the job descriptions. I am not particular enough for naming it all. What interests me more is the question what makes for excellence in council leadership. It clearly means more than leading a meeting well or providing competent or interesting minutes. Here are some thoughts I have:

  1. A council leader deals well with the temptations of leadership. Leadership gives a person authority and leading voice in the decision making bodies of the council. So there is temptation. Here are a couple:

    1. to talk too much and so overwhelm diverse viewpoints: It is easy. A chairperson and others in leadership have already thought about the issues, care about the outcome and have a preferred option in mind. So it becomes easy to start the conversation, argue for an option with some passion.

    2. b. to write the minutes in a way that slants decisions toward your preferred option. I heard one clerk say his position was very powerful because as he wrote the minutes his minutes would be the permanent record. He could write things in a way that slanted decisions to his vision of the church. The approval of the minutes became the official record.

    3. In both instances we see the temptation of power. Good leaders in council are aware and deal with the temptations of power. We can talk about service but need to also develop the spirituality of service in our lives. Good leaders do.

  2. A council leader has a good grasp of the vision and mission of the local congregation and theology of the church. By theology of the church, I focus on what we understand about the church of Jesus Christ. Someone needs to be the caretaker of the congregation’s mission in the context of a meeting. Having a vision and mission is one thing. Keeping it before the congregation and the body of elders is another. So easily a group can lose focus in the busyness of the moment. The leadership of the group needs to maintain that focus.

  3. A council leader has certain questions in mind. Here are a few:

    1. Issues will come up. One question that is always worth exploring is the best process to lead to a healthy resolution. Robert’s Rules are helpful but are not the only process available. There are brainstorming processes. There are times when it is important to have listening sessions when each person is asked to contribute to the conversation. The ways we deal with issues is important. So ask the Question: what is the best way to lead the group through this conversation?

    2. Are the right people at the table for the conversation? When an issue about the nursery comes up in a council meeting there is a good chance that the main stakeholders are not at the meeting. Maybe they need to be invited. When decisions about youth ministry are raised perhaps the key people will not be in the meeting. So ask the question.

    3. Do we have sufficient information? Way too often the critical information is missing at the meeting. Speculation follows. Time is wasted. Recognizing this reality and leading a group to an adequate approach is vital to healthy meeting information.

    4. Whose toes are we stepping on? Many times we have given responsibility to someone in the congregation. It is unhealthy for the leadership to overstep this person’s responsibility. Maintaining appropriate boundaries of responsibility is vital to the healthy functioning of the church.

  4. Council leaders encourage people to take risks. Councils are by and large risk adverse cultures. We are anxious about the future of the church, the thoughts of some people, and proper procedures. While these are worth thinking about, they create an atmosphere that hinders the risk taking necessary for the mission of the church. Leaders need to be willing to take risks for the sake of our mission in Christ.  

These are my Monday morning thoughts. You probably have a few too. You can add yours in the comments. No doubt tomorrow I will think of some others. Join the conversation.


I appreciate your post, Neil.  To expand 3.c., the need for information,  I find that often an organization is unaware of what it has already done on a particular issue.  Often there is a significant historical trail of action on an issue, and often it's really good stuff!  One of the challenges for churches (and this applies at local, classical and synodical level) is institutional memory, not for nostalgia's sake or to resist change, but to actually know what the church has done on this issue and why.  

One strategy going forward might be for churches to keep their minutes online (behind passwords of course) in searchable formats.  We have all of our recent seminary minutes (the past few years) online that way.  The benefit of that will grow as time goes on.  It's great when I can't remember which committee made a decision on something.  Insert a key word in the search engine.  Boom.  There it is.  Any church has free access to such features.  With google every council member could have access to all the minutes of the church anywhere in the world.  Time to go to work . . . 

Thanks again, Neil!

Duane Kelderman 

Very thoughtful and though-provoking article, Neil. Thanks.  

I'm wondering: (understanding that there are no real black-and-white distinctions) which of these tasks/roles overlap with the teaching elder/pastor (e.g. the person who is often expected to be THE creator and guardian of vision and mission) and which are more-or-less distinctly those of the supervisory elders?


~ Doug

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