Church Government and Polity

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RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hello All,

Would you mind sharing how your church handles the following? Please reveal the church you attend and the denomination.

1. How does your congregation select Teaching Elders/Ruling Elders (ie. Elders). What is the actual process / procedure. Do other Elders select first then presented to the congregation for voting. Are elders nominated the congregation then confirmed by Elders. Does voting occur? Is it public or private voting? Ballot box ect... Do you have biblical references to support your claims or is it a matter of wisdom.

2a. How does the Church Submit to the authority of the Elders while keeping them accountable (Thinking in terms of Baptist Congregationalists in an Elder-Led Polity).

2b. How does the Church submit to the Authority of the Elders while keeping them accountable in a Presbyterian Setting. Do you have scriptural references to support your claims, or is this a matter of wisdom.

3. Are church officers reaffirmed annually, biannually at all? Scriptural basis or is this a matter of wisdom? Differences between Teaching Elders (Paid) vs Ruling elders (non-paid).

Thank you all for your insight!

Rob
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I moved this to Church Order instead of Politics and Government. Probably more likely to be seen here.

Politics and Government focuses on secular government issues.
 

koenig

Puritan Board Freshman
Speaking as an RPCNA member:
  • The session declares that in their view, we need <N> more deacons (or ruling or teaching elders). They call a congregational meeting.
  • We take a ballot; you can put up to <N> names on each ballot.
  • If a candidate gets 2/3 of the votes, it's done. Otherwise, we keep doing ballots until somebody gets 2/3 or the elders call it. After each ballot, we get to see the percentage each person received, so you can see who is getting consensus and think about whether you can back that man*.
  • If the candidate accepts, they are examined by session (and presbytery, depending on the role).
*or woman, if you're trying to elect a deacon. But that's a five-gallon bucket of worms best left to another thread.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
The SBC (or supposedly GCB now...), as you surely know, is known for a wide array of practices in this area. In the case of our particular church we follow the following procedure:

The sitting elders make the initial selection of candidates for elder. If they agree to potentially serve, their candidacy is made public.
After a period of further examination and proving (typically about a year), those who have demonstrated fitness are affirmed by means of official nomination before the congregation.
During the annual business meeting, the congregation must confirm nominees by at least a 2/3 vote. They are publicly installed sometime shortly thereafter.
There is no subsequent reelection, although congregants are free to petition the elder board as a whole, privately at first, if specific concerns arise about any elder.

This same process is essentially followed for deacons and missionaries that the church sends out and supports - except in the latter case persons may present themselves to the elders for consideration.

Scripture gives clear qualifications for church officers, but is not as definite regarding the details of installation or terms of service. So we approach those essentially as a matter of prudence.
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Guido's Brother

Puritan Board Junior
Reformed churches hold to Belgic Confession article 30, "We believe that ministers of God's Word, elders, and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the church, with prayer and in good order, as stipulated by the Word of God." Scripture references: Acts 1:23,24; Acts 6:2,3.

How that typically works out in practice in the churches where I've served (Canadian Reformed Churches/Free Reformed Churches of Australia):

1. There is a periodic retirement of office bearers. Typically our elders and deacons serve three year terms.
2. Each year the consistory asks the congregation to nominate brothers deemed suitable to serve in the offices of elder/deacon
3. The elders and deacons meet to review the nomination letters and draw up the slate for the election. Not all who are nominated by the congregation are placed on the slate -- sometimes there are reasons someone can't serve that not everyone may be aware of. The elders and deacons can also add names that were not mentioned in the nomination letters.
4. The nominated brothers are announced to the congregation for the two Sundays prior to the election.
5. Normally (in non-COVID times), there would be a congregational meeting for the election. This would take place after the morning worship service on a Sunday. Communicant members cast a secret ballot. These ballots are counted and the result is announced.
6. The elders and deacons meet again to appoint the elected brothers.
7. There are two Sundays of announcements asking for any lawful objections to the ordination of those elected.
8. Barring any objections, the elected brothers are then ordained to their offices.

This year, because of COVID, we're not having the congregational meeting. Members will vote with something like mail-in ballots.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Reformed churches hold to Belgic Confession article 30, "We believe that ministers of God's Word, elders, and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the church, with prayer and in good order, as stipulated by the Word of God." Scripture references: Acts 1:23,24; Acts 6:2,3.

How that typically works out in practice in the churches where I've served (Canadian Reformed Churches/Free Reformed Churches of Australia):

1. There is a periodic retirement of office bearers. Typically our elders and deacons serve three year terms.
2. Each year the consistory asks the congregation to nominate brothers deemed suitable to serve in the offices of elder/deacon
3. The elders and deacons meet to review the nomination letters and draw up the slate for the election. Not all who are nominated by the congregation are placed on the slate -- sometimes there are reasons someone can't serve that not everyone may be aware of. The elders and deacons can also add names that were not mentioned in the nomination letters.
4. The nominated brothers are announced to the congregation for the two Sundays prior to the election.
5. Normally (in non-COVID times), there would be a congregational meeting for the election. This would take place after the morning worship service on a Sunday. Communicant members cast a secret ballot. These ballots are counted and the result is announced.
6. The elders and deacons meet again to appoint the elected brothers.
7. There are two Sundays of announcements asking for any lawful objections to the ordination of those elected.
8. Barring any objections, the elected brothers are then ordained to their offices.

This year, because of COVID, we're not having the congregational meeting. Members will vote with something like mail-in ballots.
Wes, just to clarify, you didn't mention any Session examination or interview (or training) of the candidates - at least where they have not served before; obviously a man who has served a couple of three year terms already would be well known. But someone nominated by the congregation might not be so obviously qualified or disqualified? Perhaps that process is assumed in step 3? Or am I missing something?
 

Guido's Brother

Puritan Board Junior
Wes, just to clarify, you didn't mention any Session examination or interview (or training) of the candidates - at least where they have not served before; obviously a man who has served a couple of three year terms already would be well known. But someone nominated by the congregation might not be so obviously qualified or disqualified? Perhaps that process is assumed in step 3? Or am I missing something?

Hi Iain, no, we don't have such a step, at least not formally. However, in our churches, we have a regular practice of annual home visits by the elders. At these home visits, serving in office is often discussed with men in the congregation. In my current church, we have also begun the practice of providing training for suitable men ages 25-35. Through that training, we also become better acquainted with their qualifications.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
The OPC Book of Church Order gives the procedure. We generally hear from the session that someone is being considered. Locally, that person is trained for about two years, given increasing opportunities to function in the role, is tested extensively, then confirmed by a vote of the congregation.

Early in my walk with Christ I was taught to constantly scan the congregation for gifts God has placed among us. I have on occasion spoken with men to suggest they meet the requirements in Paul's letters. The Scriptures don't appear to give a number (outside a needed plurality) nor do they show that a person magically becomes ungifted after x number of years.

The training time is critical not only to equip the officers but to ensure we are not acting hastily. Several times we've seen difficulties arise during training. I've not been in a church with a bad elder or deacon, but it sounds miserable and a long training time gives opportunity to sidestep a problem.
 
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TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
I actually really like the idea of a longer training and testing time. Jean, might you have any details on what this training looks like?

Would also love to hear from others what you do for elder training (unless that is better suited for a separate thread, dont mean to hijack OP)
 

Guido's Brother

Puritan Board Junior
I actually really like the idea of a longer training and testing time. Jean, might you have any details on what this training looks like?

Would also love to hear from others what you do for elder training (unless that is better suited for a separate thread, dont mean to hijack OP)

For our existing elders, we do an annual leadership retreat. Over a Friday evening, Saturday morning/afternoon, I give them about 6 hours of instruction on doctrinal and practical topics. At our monthly elders' meetings, we also read and discuss a book together. Currently we're doing Faithful and Fruitful: Essays for Elders and Deacons, ed. by William Boekestein and Steven Swets.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
It's been a while since I've been directly involved, but this is how it was done when I had a role in the process.

1) Session calls for recommendations from the congregation, with the recommendations generally received over a one month period.
2) Recommendations are vetted by a single person who verifies membership status and commitment to the work of the church.
3) Potential candidates are notified and submit written reponses to standard questions.
4) A committee of elders, deacons, and lay members review the responses and interview the potential candidates. Background checks are performed.
5) The committee makes a recommendation to the session, which then selects candidates for training.
6) An officer of the church conducts training, and tests the candidates. Recommendations are made to the session.
7) The session then reviews the candidates and makes recommendations to the congregations. At this point, if there is a shortfall relative to the number of vacancies, men previously ordained to that office but who, while actively discharging duties of the office do not presently sit on the voting boards, are contacted as to willingness to go back on the respective board.
8) The congregation votes on the candidates presented, via written ballot, signed so that membership status of the voter can be verified. Newly chosen men are then ordained; those previously ordained to the office are re-installed. (In some cases, those re-installed will serve a shorter term). If fewer ar chosen than are recommended, or a full slate is not recommended, then the repective board will be smaller than desired until the next round the following year.
 

Chad Hutson

Puritan Board Freshman
I sense that you are interested in how Reformed Baptists approach these matters? I can but give you the basic outline of how our church selects pastor/teaching elder, elders, and accountability:
Pastor/teaching elder: upon a vacancy, the elders search, invite, seek worthy candidates. They may invite them to meet the church, preach a few sermons, interview them, allow Q & A, etc. After a series of prayer meetings and open discussions, the elders will present them for a vote before the congregation, approved by 80% affirmative votes by members in good standing.
Elders: a vacancy is filled by recommendation of the remaining elders. The elders seek input from the congregation, but are the final arbiters of the names put forward. Once the announcement is made, a period of time is provided for questioning the candidate by the congregants. These men receive training, instruction, and review from the elders prior to a public vote. The vote may be public (raised hands) or by private ballot (yes/no). 80 % approval required.
Removal of pastor: by 80% vote of membership at special business meeting or, in cases of gross immorality/sinful behavior, by unanimous consent of the elders.
Removal of elder: the same as above.
The joke is that we Baptist ministers are only one rowdy business meeting away from unemployment! But in reality, it is really smooth, many checks and balances, the balance of work is evenly distributed with elders participating in every endeavor to guide and oversee.
Most of the elders elevated to that position in our church over the past 14 years have been selected from the diaconate, which means that they are a known quantity before their selection. Nevertheless, some deacons will never be in consideration to be elders due to personality, talents, giftedness, etc., so don't think that we treat the deacons only as an elder training pool.
Hope that gives some insight. There are so precious few Reformed in our area that we promote from within, usually.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
1. How does your congregation select Teaching Elders/Ruling Elders (ie. Elders). What is the actual process / procedure. Do other Elders select first then presented to the congregation for voting. Are elders nominated the congregation then confirmed by Elders. Does voting occur? Is it public or private voting? Ballot box ect... Do you have biblical references to support your claims or is it a matter of wisdom.
I can only speak for my church, though I know of many RB churches that go about it in essentially the same way. The elders are continually evaluating the men of the congregation to see if any exhibit the gifts and graces for either pastoral or diaconal office. When it appears that any man does, and he is also desirous of serving, the elders will canvas the congregation to see what the feelings of the congregation are about this man being an elder or deacon. This is usually done in the context of pastoral visitation. If the congregation is generally supportive, the elders will nominate him for office and time will be given to bring any objections to the attention of the elders. After this, if there are no impediments to his serving in that office, he is installed into office "by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church." BCF 26.9. Voting is done by ballot to insure the freedom to dissent.

2a. How does the Church Submit to the authority of the Elders while keeping them accountable (Thinking in terms of Baptist Congregationalists in an Elder-Led Polity).
I assume by "keeping them accountable" you mean dealing with a man that is involved in some kind of dereliction of duty, serious error of doctrine, or unholiness of life and is further unwilling to deal with it in an open and honest way.

Generally, in such cases, the congregation would appeal to the elders of sister churches for council in the matter. These men would endeavor to look into the matter in a fair and impartial manner and then make their recommendation to the church. Ultimately, it is up to the congregation and the pastor in question to finally resolve the issue.

Are church officers reaffirmed annually, biannually at all? Scriptural basis or is this a matter of wisdom? Differences between Teaching Elders (Paid) vs Ruling elders (non-paid).
No. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. And we make no distinction between "teaching" and "ruling" elders. Some are fully supported to labor in that capacity full-time others have another occupation during the week. But they all enjoy a parity of office.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
The approach Pastor Sheffield described is what our church follows, too. Vote is by anonymous ballot to remove possible peer pressure. It is not a fast process.

A candidate typically is a member for a number of years. He is given opportunity to preach as allowed for in LBCF Chapter 26, paragraph 11: "yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it."
 

Chad Hutson

Puritan Board Freshman
For this item, when is there a distinction made between public/private ballots?
For the selection/removal of the pastor and/or elder under normal circumstances. I should have been more specific. Provision was made years ago for extenuating circumstances allowing public vote by hand/voice, and we are now glad we had that for rare occasions. Case in point: we were in the process of selecting an elder when COVID hit. When circumstances allowed for safely meeting, we accepted paper ballots in advance at the church office from those who would not/should not attend a public meeting. Those in attendance voted by raised hand to prevent shuffling through the assembly (this was in late April when we still didn't know much about the spread of virus). It was unanimous, but I suppose if the congregation were closely divided, we would have been forced to postpone and/or vote by closed ballot.
Personally, I have never been ashamed of my vote, so I don't care if anyone knows my opinion. I do, however, understand that not everyone is like that.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
is there a biblical precedent to vote by anonymous ballot or would you consider this to be a matter of wisdom?
It is a matter of wisdom and charity to our brethren. We do not vote by ballot for everything. Ballots are employed for very weighty questions though. This affords brethren the liberty to dissent who would not feel comfortable doing so publicly. And this is an advantage to the leadership as well. It informs them of when there is some disagreement on a matter and how substantial it is. If a voice vote were taken and those who dissented did not feel comfortable voicing it publicly, the dissent is still there, but with the mistaken impression that the church was unanimous. This usually leads to pastors being blind-sided by things later. I don't recommend it.
 
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