29 January 2009

THE ADVENTURES OF GRAYING PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: Personal Leadership Responsibilities of Elders

Looking through his study materials, Red found that Ruling Elders have 18 enumerated responsibilities. Breaking them down, he found three Personal Leadership Responsibilities, nine duties with respect to Spiritual Supervision, and six broad Administrative Responsibilities.

The first of the Personal Leadership Responsibilities is an obligation to prepare both themselves and prospective ruling elders and deacons for service. “Those who serve well must be prepared for such service, and it is the duty of the Church Session of each particular church to offer adequate opportunity to those elected to office to prepare them for their ministry.”

"The Church Session shall confer with each person elected to office in the particular church to determine if that person feels called to office and is willing to serve faithfully.”

Well, he thought, that sure didn’t happen. The Session apparently attempted to “delegate” its authority to the nominating committee. Recalling his classes at The Basic School, he knew that while authority may, under proper circumstances, be delegated, responsibility cannot.

In this case, the delegation of authority was inadequate. Neither the Nominating Committee nor the Session met with the candidates prior to their installation. When the representative of the Nominating Committee called, he had missed some important clues:

She was rushed. "Red, we are in a real bind. We a short an elder and none of the resting elders wants to come back on session.” The office of ruling elder was being treated as a hereditary office unless previously ordained elders declined to actively serve. Did the session meet with those resting elders to determine why they no longer had a sense of call? From a conversation with Ruby Rinsett, a resting elder, Red knew that she had declined because “I’ve been there and done that. It was fun, but now that I’ve got that out of the way, it’s time for me to do something else.”

And if the Nominating Committee had been delegated the responsibility of meeting with the candidates, it was clearly unqualified to do so. Red had been told, “It's not hard, just go to the monthly meeting and watch the others." Anyone who had read the Book of Order and the Leadership Training Guide would have known that the office of ruling elder is neither easy nor passive. The result of the failure of the sitting session to perform this important duty was that there were now ordained and serving elders who might not actually feel called to office.

“The Church Session shall make provision for courses of instruction in the following matters: Church government, the Sacraments, the Faith of the Church, the Worship of the Church, the Discipline of the Church, the History of the Church, and an understanding of the office to which one is elected.”

Not at Graying! Last night’s meeting was ample evidence that the session had little grasp of Church government, the Discipline of the Church, or an understanding of the office of ruling elder. A three hour plus meeting which resembled a poorly led meeting of the board of directors of a secular business demonstrated that.

They’re delegating the wrong authority, Red thought. Much of what we did last night was not necessary. If the session had completed the Leadership Training set out in the Training Guide, I wonder if last night would still have occurred?

“The Church Session of the particular church shall examine each candidate for ordination to the office of Ruling Elder or Deacon. The Candidate shall be examined on personal experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ and progress in spiritual growth. Each Candidate for ordination shall be examined on the following matters: the Faith of the Church, the Sacraments, the Government of the Church, the Discipline of the Church, the Worship of the Church, the History of the Church, and an understanding of the office to which one is elected.”

Each officer who has been previously ordained into the office to which one has been called shall be examined by the Church Session on views of those subjects set forth for ordination. Each shall also give testimony of the personal experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ and report progress in spiritual growth.”

Hmmmm. The emphasis on pre-ordination and pre-installation examination should be obvious, but our session either does not recognize that importance, or it is unwilling to accept the consequences of the exercise of that duty.

Election to the Office of Ruling Elder or Deacon ought not be a reward for long membership or acquiescence by the session because no qualified candidates have agreed to serve. Better to have a short-handed session or board of deacons than to accept one who is not truly called to office. Because a call to office must be confirmed by an appropriate court of the Church, the particular court has the inalienable right not to confirm a particular individual for reasons the court may determine to be proper and in keeping with Scripture.

In other words, if the examination of the candidate reveals that he or she cannot demonstrate personal experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ and progress in spiritual growth, the session must necessarily act, and such action may necessitate a referral to the Nominating Committee asking for an alternate candidate. If a candidate cannot adequately explain, at a level of instructor to others, the faith of the Church, the sacraments, the government of the Church, the discipline of the Church, the worship of the Church, the history of the Church, and an understanding of the office to which elected, at a minimum, the session must undertake to provide adequate instruction.

It came to Red in a flash. It all boils down to submission to God’s authority. A fourth, unwritten, Personal Leadership Responsibility is “moral courage.”

It will be difficult for a session to tell a brother or sister in Christ that he or she needs further instruction, or that he or she has simply not exhibited a call to office. But failure to do so, when necessary, can weaken and even destroy the congregation. But, without moral courage, can we truly live up to our ordination vows?

Reviewing the vows, it became apparent that the “examination” will necessarily be lengthy and detailed.

The examination into the first six will be important with respect to the requirement that the candidate demonstrate personal experience of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ and progress in spiritual growth.

Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ as your own personal Lord and Savior?

Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, totally trustworthy, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, the supreme, final, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?

Do you promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with the system of doctrine as taught in the Scriptures and as contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church you will on your own initiative make known to your Church Session the change which has taken place in
your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

Do you affirm and adopt the “Essentials of Our Faith” without exception?

Do you subscribe to the government and discipline of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church?

The final five go directly to “call.” I’ll bet that that is where the real problems will arise, thought Red.

(Elders) Do you promise subjection to your fellow presbyters in the Lord?
(Deacons) Do you promise subjection to your fellow officers in the Lord?
Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to accept your office of from love of God and sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?

Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in promoting the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise to you on that account?

Will you seek to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties, whether personal or relative, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before this congregation of which God will make you an officer?

Are you now willing to take responsibility in the life of this congregation . . ., and will you seek to discharge your duties, relying upon the Grace of God, in such a way that the entire Church of Jesus Christ will be blessed?

Red sighed. Turf fights and drawing lines in the sand are not examples of “subjection,” nor do they necessarily bless the entire Church of Jesus Christ. Bringing personal agenda with respect to worship styles, personal priorities, or protectionism are not the same as open-heartedly acting “from love of God and sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son.”

Mary stuck her head into Red’s study. “How is it going?”

“The duty to examine, instruct, and, if necessary, to screen prospective officers is a core responsibility,” Red replied. “It will require moral courage. But there is much more.”

“OK, ‘Calvin, Jr.,’ but can that wait ‘til after lunch? A huge pot of virtual chili just arrived and if you don’t come now, the children and I may just be forced to eat it all ourselves.”

Red headed for the kitchen.

So, what other responsibilities can there be? How will Red’s observations be received? Can QG’s virtual chili be any better than Mary’s electronic clam chowder? For answers to these and other pressing questions, join us tomorrow for the continuing saga of Graying Pres.


Quotidian Grace said...

Gosh, what if we all really lived by our ordination/installation vows? At least as much as we fallible humans can do...

Church would probably look very different.

Reformed Catholic said...

The denomination certainly would !!