Elder Terms of Service: Definite or Indefinite?

Should lay Elders have definite terms of service (e.g. 3 year) or indefinite?


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Gesetveemet

Puritan Board Sophomore
This would be good for a large congregatation.

Church Order
Drawn up in the National Synod of Dordrecht (held 1618 and 1619)​

ARTICLE 27. The elders and deacons shall serve two years, and every year half their number shall retire and others shall be substituted, unless the circumstances and the profit of any church require otherwise.






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au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Does anyone know how the synagogue elders were appointed and maintained in Christ's time? I have heard that early church leadership was modeled somewhat after the Jews' familiar synagogue structure, and I can see how that might be the case. So does anyone know whether synagogue elders were rotated? Not saying that should be the deciding factor in what the Church should do, but it might be interesting to note.

I would love to find a scholarly article on first century synagogue polity. I think we would find some striking similarities between first century Jewish and Christian polity. :think:
I have seen synagogue and early church government compared before, but I don't recall any primary sources being cited in the article I was reading, so I had to take it with a grain of salt. I too would be interested in knowing if there is any parallel.
 

RickyReformed

Puritan Board Freshman
The question can be asked - if the spiritual leaders are well qualified, why would a congregation vote them out? Furthermore, what if the spiritual leaders are *not* well qualified, how then does a congregation replace them with qualified elders? Notice that the First Book of Discipline does not forbid an elder from being elected yearly, but only that the elections be "common and free" and that deacons and treasurers not be _compelled_ to serve "for the space of three years."

From what I can see from Scripture that elders and deacons are for life. The problem comes when congregations do not follow the Scriptures when it comes to choosing elders. If a man does not already display the gifts of an elder (shepherd) outlined in Scripture, then he should not be elected or even nominated. Too often, men are chosen based on their status in the church or even the community, rather than what gifts they possess.
...

In response to the question of what do you do with an elder who should not be there, provisions are made to recall someone who is not qualified, and it is the responsibility of the congregation to begin that process. When our church chose their first elders this past year (we are a brand new church), I was pleasantly surprised to hear our pastor take great care to explain to the congregation their responsibility before God of choosing elders based on Scriptural requirements and of recalling men if they failed to meet those requirements once elected.

It is true that a congregation should carefully select an elder who is qualified, but all too often we are experts at deceiving one another. Moreover, a person can be qualified and later due to sin or other circumstances lose those qualifications. I once heard of a ruling elder who voluntarily stepped down after he realized that at least one of his children was in sin and rebelling against the Lord. In my opinion, that is a man of true integrity; if all deacons, ministers, and elders were like that our discussion concerning time limits would be moot.

While Scripture does not necessarily impose *time* limits, Scripture does indeed sets limits to the terms of that service. If one does not meet the Scriptural criteria for the office of elder or deacon, that man is no longer qualified to serve as an elder or deacon, regardless of what title the man holds and whether he met those criteria in the past.

While Scripture gives us general principles concerning the office of the elder and of the deacon, it does not prescribe the *method* to select a man for the office (or to recall, for that matter) in much the same way that Scripture gives us the ordinances for a single congregation - "prayer, thanksgiving, and the singing of psalms, the word read,..." etc, etc (see the "Form of Presbyterial Church Government", Of the Ordinances in a particular Congregation) - but not how many psalms are to be sung, how many verses or chapters are to be read, and in what order we are to sing, pray, and give thanks.

For John Knox's congregation, that involved yearly election of ruling elders and deacons "lest that by long continuance of such officers, men presume upon the liberty of the church."

I, too, am pleased that your pastor took the time to admonish both the elders and the congregation concerning their respective responsibilities.
 

Amazing Grace

Puritan Board Junior
The question can be asked - if the spiritual leaders are well qualified, why would a congregation vote them out? Furthermore, what if the spiritual leaders are *not* well qualified, how then does a congregation replace them with qualified elders? Notice that the First Book of Discipline does not forbid an elder from being elected yearly, but only that the elections be "common and free" and that deacons and treasurers not be _compelled_ to serve "for the space of three years."

From what I can see from Scripture that elders and deacons are for life. The problem comes when congregations do not follow the Scriptures when it comes to choosing elders. If a man does not already display the gifts of an elder (shepherd) outlined in Scripture, then he should not be elected or even nominated. Too often, men are chosen based on their status in the church or even the community, rather than what gifts they possess.

The part in bold is sadly true. It becomes a popularity contest at times. Regarding 'term limits' how can one maintain the integrity of those who hold the office? Is there a checks and balances system in place to do something along the lines of a 'job review' (For lack of a better term) for those elected? I guess what I am asking is who keeps an eye on the 'eyes' of the congregation?
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
Is there a checks and balances system in place to do something along the lines of a 'job review' (For lack of a better term) for those elected? I guess what I am asking is who keeps an eye on the 'eyes' of the congregation?

That's a good question!

In Deverite/9 Marks churches (elder led) the congregation plays a significant role in decision making. All elders are ultimately elected by the congregation and ultimately accountable to the congregation. Though that's perhaps an over simplification.

The MacArthurite/Bible churches (elder rule) usually have a couple of mechanisms in place for this. First, when and if the Elders are making a decision regarding another elder (e.g. discipline, pay, etc.), that elder will be excused from the decision making. Secondly, they have annual "performance" reviews which are aimed at pastoral accountability.
 

jambo

Puritan Board Senior
I believe an elder should be appointed for a definite period although maybe five years rather than three. Like every other Christian (and possibly more so due to the spiritual nature of the ofice), an elder may develope a hard heard or it may grow cold and distant. He can fall into sinful practices or discover that he really does not have the aptitude for the office.

Being an elder for life could lead to complacency whilst being an elder for a fixed term means when time for re-election comes round he is compelled to assess whether he is still of a consistant, spiritual and godly frame.

-----Added 10/10/2009 at 04:58:04 EST-----

If you require term limits, what happens in smaller congregations where there are very few qualified men to serve?

A person should not stay on as an elder simply because there is no one else. That makes him an elder by default rather than the church recoginising spiritual qualifications. If there are so few men qualified to serve then don't appoint any. Better to have no elder than one who just isn't qualified
 

Scottish Lass

Puritan Board Doctor
I believe an elder should be appointed for a definite period although maybe five years rather than three. Like every other Christian (and possibly more so due to the spiritual nature of the ofice), an elder may develope a hard heard or it may grow cold and distant. He can fall into sinful practices or discover that he really does not have the aptitude for the office.

Being an elder for life could lead to complacency whilst being an elder for a fixed term means when time for re-election comes round he is compelled to assess whether he is still of a consistant, spiritual and godly frame.

-----Added 10/10/2009 at 04:58:04 EST-----

If you require term limits, what happens in smaller congregations where there are very few qualified men to serve?

A person should not stay on as an elder simply because there is no one else. That makes him an elder by default rather than the church recoginising spiritual qualifications. If there are so few men qualified to serve then don't appoint any. Better to have no elder than one who just isn't qualified

Is that scriptural, especially if the man/men are spiritually qualified, but only those currently serving? How low could the number go? This is an honest question for our tiny congregation.
 

jambo

Puritan Board Senior
Although I would say a definite term, there is nothing to say how many terms can be served. One person may serve one or two terms and decline any further terms for any one of a number of reasons. The next person may serve 5 or 6 terms or whatever. A third person may serve a term or two and the church decides they dont want him to continue on as elder for some of the reasons outlined above.

I can think of a situation where there were three elders and one pastor. One elder moved house to another part of the country. The pastor resigned and moved onto a now position elswhere. Of the two elders left one had to resign due to ill health which was exacerbated by the stress from doing the work of an elder. This left just one elder who looking round the congregation saw no one suitable for the role of elder. It would have been easy to have approached one or two for the sake of plurality of elders

It is not just a question of qualifications but also of suitability for the role. A person may be scripturally qualified but is that enough? Now don't get me wrong. I am not adding to nor applying higher standards than scripture itself but one needs to be suitable for the role. For instance, as Paul outlines the qualities in 1 Tim and Titus, he does not actually say an elder must be spiritual or prayerful but would we ever think of appointing someone to this office who was not spiritual or prayerful? I can think of instances where people may be qualified but didn't have much of a clue about church leadership.

I know it is difficult in a small church but part of the function of a church is to be watching for those who are potential elders and to teach, train and nurture them to develope as elders in the future. It has happened numerous times in the past that churches have had serious problems after being too hasty in appointing people as elders. This is specially so in small churches that feel they need to appoint someone as an elder who may be qualified but may not be suitable for the role. (But of course, if you are not suitable, then are you qualified?)

The church I am currently involved in has 44 members and has 1 pastor and 2 elders. This second elder was just appointed this week but this is the first time in 4 years there have been more than two in leadership
 

Sweaty Deacon

Puritan Board Freshman
Having just had my call to the eldership confirmed by my session, this is an interesting thread for me. Our church is a small church. When I joined 9 years ago we had 4 REs and a TE. The church was particularized in 1995. These 4 REs served until one RE went emeritous in 2003. Prior to that we had elected one new RE. In 2005 one elder went on sabbatical for one year, he was on the original session, in 2007 a different elder went on sabbatical. At my interview, the third elder on that original session was hinting at sabbatical. As i see it, our session sees the office as perpetual and for life, but it is a heavy burden to carry. I don't like the rotate on/off every 3 years term. Part of the wisdom of this office is the wisdom to know you are getting burn out and seek sabbatical. The PCA BCO (24-9) seems to allow a period of inactivity for one year without having to be re-elected. Our elders have followed this by taking 11 month sabbaticals.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
By "lay elder" do you mean one not supported financially by the church?

Yes

-----Added 10/8/2009 at 07:16:17 EST-----

You probably understand the offices are perpetual (deacon and elder) but "active" (being on session or diaconate) at a given time is a useful distinction. That recognizes the difference between ordination (done only one time) and installation (which installs them in a religious ceremony) for a term of office.

In practice, even while not active on session or diaconate, those officers are drawn on for assistance.

While I would agree with you here, not all churches see it this way. Some (Baptist) churches do not consider you an elder once you rotate out. Only active elders are elders. Now I don't agree with this but I would be interested in hearing what arguments some of you would make against it. This might provide me with some insights that I've overlooked.

The best short answer I can think of is the notion that God's gifts and calling are without repentance.

Romans 11:29

29For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

If one really understands that God calls out men for local church governance as deacons and elders, and that He equips such with the necessary gifts and faith to serve, it would not seem to be a limited call.

I Timothy 3 and Titus I give very specific qualifications for the men God calls for church office.

The process of a congregation receiving those whom God has appointed to govern them involves examination, testing and confirmation.

Keep in mind that in the PCA at least, the congregation vote is viewed more as a confirmation of God's call on the men who would serve as officers by those who would be governed by them, after they have been examined and tested.

That is why is particularly important that the doctrines of ordination and church government to be taught as doctrine of the church. This helps inspire people toward the high calling of offices like deacon and elder.

While ordination is for life (recognizing those gifts), installation is the religious ceremony for a term of service.

In my (limited) experience, officers are free to, can and do decline standing for office (installation) at various times and for various reasons. This, in addition to the mandatory 1 year off after 6 we practice locally. So, an officer might, for various reasons serve 3 years and stand down for a couple years before standing again for a second 3 year term.

I see nothing wrong with this, and it seems the system works well in practice.

Remember also, we draw heavily on "inactive" officers for service, too.
 
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