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My church has had married couples sharing an elder role. They're both full-fledged elders, but only one attends elder meetings at a time (i.e. one vote).

It's been a real blessing - both for their district who benefits from the gifts of two people, and for the couple as they work side-by-side in ministry. Win win, in my opinion.

Last month, we installed a married couple as deacons for the first time. I expect it will be as positive an experience as we've had with couple elders.

I agree with Henry. The position of elder is one the includes ordination. Anyone serving in the capacity and/or function of elder needs to ordained into the position.
What other "work" do your elders do? If any of the tasks your elders perform do not require an elder than that might be one way of lightening the load. For example, we have an elder sit on each of the four main committees to act as a council liaison. While this does mean one more meeting per month, that elder is not to serve as the chair person of that committee.

The Church Order is really remarkably silent on the question you
raise. The number of elders required in a given church is really left
to the judgment of the consistory and council. The only functioning
principle is that the needs of the congregation must be met. In other
words, there should be a sufficient number of elders so that the
pastoral care "gets done." Family visiting once a year is another
goal in the Church Order, of course, and many churches can't even
manage that -- so they find other solutions. It still seems like a
laudable goal to me as long as elders can also be creative about it --
have lunch with somebody instead of insisting on meeting at their
home, for example. If indeed you are truly feeling that more folks
are needed to do the work of the elders properly, perhaps you should
increase the number of officebearers. Another possibility is to
reduce every district by a half -- if, indeed, you still work with
districts. In that case it's not really an issue of "job sharing" but
of being more realistic about how many folks are assigned to one
pastoral elder.

The only consequence of involving more people is that they really
should all be ordained and that ordination gives them the right to be
a member of the council and of the consistory. I don't know whether
you have administrative elders and pastoral elders distinguished in
your church, so I also don't know precisely how you configure the
council and the consistory. But the principle in the Reformed
tradition is definitely that anyone functioning as an elder should be
ordained. The only thing I've seen in other churches that departs
from that principle is to have, in addition to the elders, so called
associate elders or elders' assistants. They are people who are not
ordained but "commissioned" to their task and they do much of the
routine visiting under the guidance and supervision of the elders.
This might include visiting the shut-ins and elderly, having lunch
with young people, even joining an elder at a more traditional home
visit, and looking after birthday wishes, well-wishes for the sick,
return visits for the bereaved, etc. In that case people are not
officially ordained and therefore do not have a right to be seated at
the council or consistory table.

Much of this, in other words, is left to the discretion of the local
church and not regulated by the Church Order.

What is often over looked is the Holy Spirit's leading of individuals to worship elsewhere. How painful it often is to leave a worship community and join another! There needs to be room for those who do not leave out of ilk or for a new "God experience", but because God has asked them to move, perhaps for reasons not yet explained. There must be room in this discussion for the acknowledgement of the cost of discipleship. Our denomination can be very hung up on congregants staying for life at one church and can often promote the idea that moving around is wrong - even self-indulgent. Is this truly reflective of what our role as church is?

Excellent excellent excellent! If the network continues to put out stuff like this I think it should become a very valuable resource for the CRCNA and the broader church as well. Thanks for taking the time to treat this subject with wisdom and credibility. pvk

Thank you for these reflections. I found them meaningful and reposted most of the above on my blog (providing the appropriate links and credit, of course).

Eldership is about leading the church. So, elders should be
aware of our Lord's goals for His church and lead to those goals.
One of our Lord's goals for His church is to reach people through
The body of elders is a signficant presence in the church. Thus
it should be known: Elders care about reaching people for Jesus.
As a beginning of this, Let elders ask their people: "Tell me what
I should include as I pray for you. And specifically, tell me about
any lost persons for whom you are concerned and for whom I
may pray with you ."
Elders also may ask (with discretion) for
prayer by their people regarding persons for whom the elder cares.
The elders' known caring about the lost is one factor in what
it takes to lead a congregation to care about evangelism.

Thanks Neil, this is a good reminder. I recently had a meeting with our elders and we talked about the need to leave room for failure and stretching in trying new ministries or new ideas. Ministry is messy, but that's okay.

Neil, I really like this. I personally am wired toward a lot more control than this, and surely our denominational systems are set up to give predictability and control. I pray that the spirit of creativity and adaptability may overwhelm my craving for control. And led by the Spirit I may be more willing to let myself BE controlled rather than to control. Keep on nudging us.

I have to admit that I love the 'haus besuch' (even if we meet in a coffee shop most of the time). I've been an elder for only 2 years, but this is certainly the highlight of the job for me. Having an excuse to call on fellow members of our church and check in with them and share stories from each other's lives and see where God is (or is not) revealing Himself is pretty powerful.

I would certainly recognize the limits to a one-time bi-annual visit, but I believe there is power in the act of the church reaching out to individual members and asking 'how's life?'.

This has struck me as being especially true of the under 30 crowd as they don't generallly like to make longer term commitments (hesitant to sign up for small groups) and are asking if the church really cares about them. Not 'them' as a group, but 'them' as an individual or couple.

Anyway, just a thought.

The Mission/Vision concept is a good place to start. We first formed a "Cornerstone" committee to review our structures to see how we were organized. From there we formed areas of focus such as Fellowship, Education, Evangelism and Worship, and created Vision statements for each of these. This gave of the committee's as well as the elders a way of looking at our congregational life to further enhance to areas that were lacking.
We also used the "Natural Church Development" program to help determine our strengths and weakness's.

Hi Kris, thanks for the question. There are many resources but perhaps telling me more about the purpose and context would help me be more specific. One question would be - is there an agreed vision and mission statement? or is this part of the long range planning you are doing? Second question is what is the impulse for this planning? is it a routine process or are there particular challenges you are facing at this time? Third, is this a short period exercise (2 months) or a long one (6-9 months). As you can appreciate the process changes.

meanwhile, I have found the book HOLY CONVERSATIONS to be quite helpful. Techniques like brainstorming can ferret out the central concerns and begin to establish some goals as well. (I plan to post this in an article some time but haven't finished it, but you can find these on the www).

others I am sure have some great suggestions as well (hint to others).

Our elders are working on long range (5-year) plans. Any good resources/advice would be helpful.

I would agree with that Neil,

Our elders could use some real help with initiating tough conversations as well as how to be a good listener. We have all male elders at this time and I could see the benefit of topics dealing with being sensitive and not so much giving advice.

Fantastic!!!! Well said.

I couldn't have read this at a better time. Our elders are heading into a series of discussions on "the Charge to elders". It is soooo easy for the elders to do business and administrative stuff, but our church has suffered for years with untrained elders who no longer understand their role. It has been evident since coming here and a discussion I recently had with our chair of council enlightened me to this even more.

This article is precisely what we need, a catalyst for healthy discussion which will lead to much necessary training.

Thanks again.

Thanks for the concern.

I agree that confidentiality needs to be maintained. And it is true that particular difficult situations which could potentially be identified would not be appropriate for this forum. How to handle this and still talk?

First, let me suggest that most situations have a lot in common with many others situations. We can engage in some conversation about general areas of concern. While everyone likes to think of their situation as unique, fact is that it has much more in common with others than they imagine. So lets talk about some pastoral concerns.

Second, if there is something particular you wish to talk about but are unsure, send me an email. I can change identifiers, raise the concern under my name and let the conversation flow without it being directly related to a contributer in the forum. This way some distance can be maintained.

thanks once again. Neil


posted in: Confidentiality

I have served as elder in a number of CRC's and have been involved with many Home Visits. My observation is that responses to these visits are by and large contrived, failing to glean from the visits true and heartfelt dialogue on the most important subjects that effect the respondents' relationship with Christ. (an "its' my business, not yours" attitude) Somewhere along the line Elders, and the church, for that matter have lost their authority over congregations, making many attempts to nurture ineffectual. Perhaps we need to explore a new way to reach out, preach to, and teach our congrations.
May I suggest one of the best way is to form the "Small Group" ideal - where elders, and maybe deacons are put in charge of facilitating small, house -sized groups once a month or so, with the objective of studying Christinan literature, and socializing, getting to know one another in a more intimate way, freeing us to express what we feel in a non-threatening way.

Great reminder, Noah. These are open forums and so elders (and others) need to maintain confidentiality here just as in other venues. If you ever see something that's questionable, hit the "flag as inappropriate" button and it will be immediately removed and queued for review.

posted in: Confidentiality

I am always conscious of the tensions that are present in these comments. here are some I see:
1. the number of elders we need to visit regularly vs the number of people actually available to do the work.
2. visits as spiritual care vs visits as part of church management (how are we doing in our programs? do you have questions about the church?)
3. The time we need to do the work vs the time we actually have (8 evenings a month vs 3 evenings a month)
4. the blessing of the visits vs the difficulty in making arrangements with people who do not make it a priority. (there is a disconnect)
5. the focus on visits vs the many other activities that are required.
6. the present size of the elder's list (20-25) and the size of the list we could be effective with (10). I like the number 10 - comes from Moses.
I am sure I don't have answers to these tensions, but maybe in order to get beyond these tensions (and the accompanying failures), we need to think hard about the way we do elders' work. What is the centre of our call? How do we prioritize? Maybe we need to restructure the eldership and build more flexibility in the church order.

I have been thinking about topics in the area of pastoral care. So I thought I would ask: what are some of the areas of concern you are dealing with as elders? And if you have a great resource on this concern, share it with us. Love to hear from you.

The number of families varies a bit, but each elder calls on around 25 families. This in turn may seem low, only one visit per month, but all of the elders sit on at least one of the church committees as a liaison. In addition, all are involved with choir or other church activities such as Household Bible study groups, or teaching catechism. When you add up the number of meetings and other activities the elders have good exposure to the congregation to both listen as well as encourage.

This lament seems so familiar. My students tell me they can't socialize any more because they are too busy text messaging. Real communication seems harder to achieve with the passing years, not easier. We can Instant Message - but what message is heard?

I think this is not a small question, not at all, so thanks for bringing it up. How can we, who love the Lord and love his Word, communicate that love in this world? Here we are right now, sharing our thoughts across the miles through a blog. I think that's good, and it helps our church stay relevant to the times. But I don't yet think this medium is great at really bringing the message. Anybody have another view? What am I missing?

Visits can be tough to schedule. In addition to visits, our pastor offers the use of the manse for elder district socials once a year. I haven't had mine yet - it's my first year on council here - but I look forward to it, as others who have hosted one said it went well and was appreciated. It can work on a Sunday after church, or in the evening on Sunday. Do others do this too?

So far it looks good - Thanks for now -

Hi Duane - wondering how many names you have on your list? I thought ideally it would be good to visit 2 x a year but pretty hard to do....

We have set a goal for ourselves to try to have each elder visit the families in his district once every two years. The challenge in part seems to be the schedules that families keep are rather hectic. Finding a date that works can be difficult.
The benefits of doing the visits are worth the scheduling challenge. Families really appreciate having that close contact with someone who wants to know how the family is doing, how their walk with the Lord is going, and if they have any questions for the Elders, or the Council.