Ruling Elder terms of service - Rotating or for life?

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caoclan

Puritan Board Freshman
Wanted some thoughts on RE/Deacon elections. Currently my PCA church nominates elders/deacons for an indefinite (life, resignation, or discipline, I guess) period of time. We are considering elections on a 4-year rotational basis, with elections happening every year, rotating approximately 25% out every year, when fully implemented. My church has approximately 2,000 congregants. This change will be decided by a congregational vote.

Can I get some thoughts (particularly from those who believe an elder-led congregation is correct) on the pros/cons of making the switch? If more info is needed, please let me know.
 

Weston Stoler

Puritan Board Sophomore
From Scripture I don't see a place where elders are ever relieved of duty. I believe unless they step down or are asked to step down for doctrinal or moral reasons their should be no reason to have rotating elders. Although this is how my church practices it.
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
If an elder/deacon is called by God to be an elder/deacon, then how can God's people then say..."Well, we should rotate this, they shouldn't have to serve all the time. We need to make this look like America's government more and more." (which American Presbyterianism often reflects). No, elders/deacons are called by God to be elders/deacons. Why hinder their calling by rotating them?

Another problem here is that the leadership of the church is leaving major decisions that will affect the spiritual well-being of the church up to the congregation. That is like Shepherd saying to the sheep, "What do you want to do today? Run off, okay, go on!"
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
What Andrew said. Is there a scriptural basis for "terms" of service for elders/deacons? If not, by what authority does a church limit the service of a man called to be an elder?

As a side note, I find it hard to believe that, even in a congregation of 2000, you have enough qualified men to serve as elders to be able to fill a Session, AND have 25% of the men rotate out every year. I looked at your church's website. Currently, you have 19 men listed as Ruling Elders (Link). Assuming you plan on keeping the Session the same size if term limits are imposed, that means between 4 and 5 men rotating off the Session every year, and 4 to 5 men coming on to Session every year. You would, at a minimum, need 5 more elders than what you currently have, but I'd be suspicious that it wouldn't always be the same 4 or 5 men coming on/leaving Session, which means you would need new men to fill those empty spots. It sounds like an easy way to force unqualified men into the office of elder simply because you "don't have enough guys".

(In case anyone was wondering about the math, like I was, a congregation of 2000, with 19 ruling elders is a ratio of 1 RE to every 105 congregants. Assuming women and children make up about 75% of that number, that means one man in every 26 men is currently serving as an elder. If you add just 5 more elders, your ratio of elders to men in the congregation changes to 1 elder for every 20 men in the congregation. Now, maybe y'all in Tennessee are blessed with an overabundance of qualified men, but I'd be hard pressed to find 1 man in 20 in California that is qualified and called to serve as an elder.)

One final note: Will the Teaching Elders also be rotating out every 4 years? Why not?
 

Zenas

Snow Miser
Sean,

I've heard of some of the changes proposed there and they're really encouraging.

Practically speaking, I think terms are very favorable. Things change over time, as well as people. Terms allow the elders to take a break, as well as both elder and the congregant to re-evaluate when or if the elder comes back up for re-election. I've seen elders on sessions who long ago should have departed for a litany of reasons. If true term rotations had been imposed and executed, perhaps a lot of issues could have been avoided.

So encouraged to hear about the changes being discussed at Independent. :cheers2: I'm not a member there, so my opinion obviously doesn't matter, but it is encouraging. Just about all of my in-laws are now members or otherwise visiting though.
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
Andrew,

Sabbaticals allow men to take a break...

Why would elders need to be re-elected? They are already called by God, are they not? Perhaps, like what Seth said, elders need to be more careful concerning these examinations of elders, most probably shouldn't be there.

Also, if I was in Sean's shoes, at a congregational meeting, I would stand up and speak to the issue (when the motion is put before the congregation) and state something like the following:

"I find it a very sad state of affairs when such major decisions as to how the Church is run is put before the sheep for a vote, when Christ has given such authority to the elders of our church, and whereas Christ is head of the Church. Sheep shouldn't be telling the under-shepherd nor THE Shepherd how to run the Church. First, I encourage the elders to study this matter from the Scriptures where Christ directs the flock and come to a conclusion themselves. Second, as is the sinful and rebellious nature of the flock of God, it seems that there would be no need for a vote given that the sheep will always desire to have more power than has been given to them. We will, if left to our decision, choose for ourselves to have the ability to have more elders ordained more often because each of us here desires more power than what Christ has given to us and/or called us to."

I would probably then move that either the flock contrary to our natural inclination vote down the motion OR move a substitute motion for the Session to decide the matter. But that is only if I were a member there. :soapbox:


As an aside, I might add in to my speech what Seth stated, "Will the Teaching Elders also be rotating out every 4 years?"
 

Zenas

Snow Miser
I understand where you're coming from re: the sheep desiring more power. I've seen the opposite work though. I've seen elders who have a stranglehold on their position and the congregation use it to oppress the sheep.

There must be a solution. :detective:
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
I have seen elders removed after their gifts have been re-evaluated. Sabbaticals are also a possibility for those who need a break. If a congregation is having difficulties with elders having a "stranglehold" presbytery should be consulted. Almost nothing in scripture or presbyterian practice supports terms. It is, to the best of my knowledge, a modern innovation that allows people to "take their turn."
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
I understand where you're coming from re: the sheep desiring more power. I've seen the opposite work though. I've seen elders who have a stranglehold on their position and the congregation use it to oppress the sheep.

There must be a solution. :detective:

Andrew, that's true however, God's Word is greater. Just because something 'works' doesn't mean that's what should take place.

At least within American Presbyterianism there are ways to deal with individual elders and sessions who oppress the Sheep. The sheep can call upon the Session to see their sin or call then upon the Presbytery to deal with the matter.

But the path of pragmatism, which is often what rotating sessions come down to, is not the way to go. It seems to me at least an unbiblical practice.


Another parallel you could make, you know sometimes it has worked where people haven't been coming to worship, to get people in the door, make worship more entertaining, offer something to those who come. But that is not what God calls us to (not pragmatism) but what His Word commands and provides for us. That is the faithful ministry of the Word in the means of grace. If you do that, your congregation may shrink... Yep, but that is God's will. He saves His people through His means. He rules over the Church the way He has called it to be ruled. This is my understanding of Scripture.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
24-7. Ordination to the offices of ruling elder or deacon is perpetual; nor
can such offices be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded
from either office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a ruling elder or
deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the
active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with
him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept
his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between
him and the church.

From the PCA BCO. Sounds like another big PCA church that just doesn't give a fig about their constitution.
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
I understand where you're coming from re: the sheep desiring more power. I've seen the opposite work though. I've seen elders who have a stranglehold on their position and the congregation use it to oppress the sheep.

There must be a solution.

Andrew, I understand and have seen that, as well. The solution to such problems is an appeal to Presbytery, though, not introducing man made regulations into the church.
 

Zenas

Snow Miser
I guess I just find it incredibly easy to Monday-morning quarterback issues like this. I've been under abuses with no recourse. This system can help to stem those abuses. I also don't find it an unbiblical practice. The Bible doesn't prescribe that the church be limited and governed by a constitution, but, because it's practical to have rules and procedures, we do. This is just another rule that is being proposed.

---------- Post added at 11:23 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:20 AM ----------

In the interest of peace, I will not delve into the issue any further than this: an appeal to presbytery is difficult when the session has power to make important decisions that directly affect members of your family should you do so. I understand the role of presbytery and I understand that, largely, that is a very easy route to conflict resolution. That doesn't mean there aren't caveats to the general rule that make that road, at best, difficult to get to.
 

ericfromcowtown

Puritan Board Sophomore
I remember talking with my broadly-evangelical father-in-law and mentioning that at our church, the office of elder was for life. He was astounded as in his opinion this would be unfair and would result in a stale leadership. Whether or not my father-in-law's comment makes worldly sense or not, temporary elders do not seem to me to be biblical.

I've have heard of some larger PCA congregations (Perimeter in Atlanta for example) that retain perpetual eldership, but have a smaller subset of those elders serve on session, with those elders rotating on and off of session every couple of years to allow for sabatticals and for elders to fill other organizational / teaching capacities outside of session for a period of time.
 

Tripel

Puritan Board Senior
I've have heard of some larger PCA congregations (Perimeter in Atlanta for example) that retain perpetual eldership, but have a smaller subset of those elders serve on session, with those elders rotating on and off of session every couple of years to allow for sabatticals and for elders to fill other organizational / teaching capacities outside of session for a period of time.

Isn't that what we're talking about in the OP? All of the PCA churches that I know of (including mine) that use a rotation also retain perpetual eldership. This does not go against the BCO.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
24-7. Ordination to the offices of ruling elder or deacon is perpetual; nor
can such offices be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded
from either office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a ruling elder or
deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the
active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with
him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept
his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between
him and the church.

From the PCA BCO. Sounds like another big PCA church that just doesn't give a fig about their constitution.
Tim,

This provision does not apply to terms or rotations. An elder who has rotated off active duty is "uninstalled" not "un-eldered." There is no such thing as an "inactive" elder. Rotation does not depose a man from office either in the congregation (cf. BCO 24-7) or from the eldership in general (i.e. demitting the office, BCO 38-2) That means he is still eligible for service in Presbytery and GA (having been voted to be a commissioner to such by the Session). When the provision in 24-7 is applied, the elder is no longer an elder of that congregation, hence if he is elected again to the office, he must be re-installed per BCO 24-8:
24-8. When a ruling elder or deacon who has been released from his
official relation is again elected to his office in the same or another church,
he shall be installed after the above form with the omission of ordination
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
I understand where you're coming from re: the sheep desiring more power. I've seen the opposite work though. I've seen elders who have a stranglehold on their position and the congregation use it to oppress the sheep.

There must be a solution.

Andrew, I understand and have seen that, as well. The solution to such problems is an appeal to Presbytery, though, not introducing man made regulations into the church.
The PCA BCO makes this de jure impossible. The reality of life in the PCA, ARP and OPC makes this de facto impossible.
 

Zenas

Snow Miser
I've have heard of some larger PCA congregations (Perimeter in Atlanta for example) that retain perpetual eldership, but have a smaller subset of those elders serve on session, with those elders rotating on and off of session every couple of years to allow for sabatticals and for elders to fill other organizational / teaching capacities outside of session for a period of time.

Isn't that what we're talking about in the OP? All of the PCA churches that I know of (including mine) that use a rotation also retain perpetual eldership. This does not go against the BCO.

This is the only way I've ever heard of this functioning. No one loses their ordination. Only their position on the Session.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Thanks for the correction!!!

We started that rotation system in SA and it ended in pretty much every man having a turn as an elder. Drunks, p#rn readers etc.. got to be elders. Why? Not only limited numbers or men, but not wanting to make men feel bad if they didn't get their turn. The whole thing was a disaster.
 

ericfromcowtown

Puritan Board Sophomore
I've have heard of some larger PCA congregations (Perimeter in Atlanta for example) that retain perpetual eldership, but have a smaller subset of those elders serve on session, with those elders rotating on and off of session every couple of years to allow for sabatticals and for elders to fill other organizational / teaching capacities outside of session for a period of time.

Isn't that what we're talking about in the OP? All of the PCA churches that I know of (including mine) that use a rotation also retain perpetual eldership. This does not go against the BCO.

That's not how I read the OP. The OP talked about rotating out elders and having elections every year to replace those being "rotated out". That sounds like the office of elder being temporary, with new men being elected to replace men who would no longer serve as a ruling elder, on session or in any other capacity. Perhaps Sean can clarify.

---------- Post added at 09:59 AM ---------- Previous post was at 09:57 AM ----------

I've have heard of some larger PCA congregations (Perimeter in Atlanta for example) that retain perpetual eldership, but have a smaller subset of those elders serve on session, with those elders rotating on and off of session every couple of years to allow for sabatticals and for elders to fill other organizational / teaching capacities outside of session for a period of time.

Isn't that what we're talking about in the OP? All of the PCA churches that I know of (including mine) that use a rotation also retain perpetual eldership. This does not go against the BCO.

This is the only way I've ever heard of this functioning. No one loses their ordination. Only their position on the Session.

I'm confused. If that's the case, then why is there any need for elections every 4 years to replace those being rotated out?
 

Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
We started that rotation system in SA and it ended in pretty much every man having a turn as an elder. Drunks, p#rn readers etc.. got to be elders. Why? Not only limited numbers or men, but not wanting to make men feel bad if they didn't get their turn. The whole thing was a disaster.

:ditto:

That was my experience in the PC(USA) with rotation. You ended up in the smaller churches with a whole congregation of ordained Elders and Deacons. The Session became merely the board of governors that everyone took their turn being a member of when the time came. As you noted the only criteria for the Eldership became a beating heart.
 

Weston Stoler

Puritan Board Sophomore
I remember Being in an IFB church when I was 15 and asking one of the deacons why he wasn't at the deacons meeting that day.(because for them deacon and elder where combined) and he said that he no longer was a deacon because they have new ones every Xnumber of years. I really didn't understand it. I still don't understand it now that I go to a presbyterian church now.....
 

Zenas

Snow Miser
[/COLOR]
I've have heard of some larger PCA congregations (Perimeter in Atlanta for example) that retain perpetual eldership, but have a smaller subset of those elders serve on session, with those elders rotating on and off of session every couple of years to allow for sabatticals and for elders to fill other organizational / teaching capacities outside of session for a period of time.

Isn't that what we're talking about in the OP? All of the PCA churches that I know of (including mine) that use a rotation also retain perpetual eldership. This does not go against the BCO.

This is the only way I've ever heard of this functioning. No one loses their ordination. Only their position on the Session.

I'm confused. If that's the case, then why is there any need for elections every 4 years to replace those being rotated out?[/QUOTE]

To be elected back onto the Session to replace someone rolling off the Session.
 

ericfromcowtown

Puritan Board Sophomore
[/COLOR]
I've have heard of some larger PCA congregations (Perimeter in Atlanta for example) that retain perpetual eldership, but have a smaller subset of those elders serve on session, with those elders rotating on and off of session every couple of years to allow for sabatticals and for elders to fill other organizational / teaching capacities outside of session for a period of time.

Isn't that what we're talking about in the OP? All of the PCA churches that I know of (including mine) that use a rotation also retain perpetual eldership. This does not go against the BCO.




This is the only way I've ever heard of this functioning. No one loses their ordination. Only their position on the Session.

I'm confused. If that's the case, then why is there any need for elections every 4 years to replace those being rotated out?

To be elected back onto the Session to replace someone rolling off the Session.[/QUOTE]

Thanks Andrew. Perhaps I'm more slow than usual this morning, but I guess that's what I don't understand. If a church has say 30 elders and 15 on session and they rotate every 2 or 3 years, then why the need for another election? Wouldn't it make sense for the rotation then to be an automatic thing? The congregation has already found all 30 qualified and elected them, why have another election? It seems redundant, and it's not really a rotation if all the elders aren't rotated in and out in some fashion.
 

Zenas

Snow Miser
You're rotated off. The congregation has to elect you back onto the session though after an obligatory year (or whatever time period) off. I think a church could set it up like you outline, they just don't seem to.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
My PCA church used a sabbatical rotation. But you didn't cease to be an elder/deacon during your sabbatical. You got a year off from many regular duties, but might still be called on in any of a number of situations and were considered to still have elder/deacon authority. There was no congregational vote taken when the sabbatical was over. You simply took on more duties again.

Some officers considered the break refreshing and generally helpful in their ministry. Others found it unnecessary. The sabbatical was never strictly enforced, merely encouraged.

There were a number of cases where an officer used his sabbatical as a built-in opportunity to reconsider whether or not he truly was called to his office. A few resigned permanently. In my estimation, this was a good thing in some cases and maybe not in others.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Thanks for the correction!!!

We started that rotation system in SA and it ended in pretty much every man having a turn as an elder. Drunks, p#rn readers etc.. got to be elders. Why? Not only limited numbers or men, but not wanting to make men feel bad if they didn't get their turn. The whole thing was a disaster.
Yes. I have seen similar things happen as well. I've also seen the opposite, where elders are virtually untouchable and the worst of louts are in office. I once heard of an elder who explained away a murder by another man with the comment "that guy just needed killin'." Nothing was done about it, because unless the Session acts to remove a man, it is impossible (in accordance with the BCO) in the PCA for either the congregation or the Presbytery to do so, apart from charges. And you must remember that the court that hears charges against an elder is the Session of the church.
 
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Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Sabbaticals allow men to take a break...

Why would elders need to be re-elected? They are already called by God, are they not? Perhaps, like what Seth said, elders need to be more careful concerning these examinations of elders, most probably shouldn't be there.

Yes, the sabbath and related as a principle, the sabbatical, applies to all.

In practice some local churches use 3 year terms, up to two consecutive, then mandatory sabbatical of at least 1 year.

Office is calling by God, perpetual, it is not lightly cast aside because the call is not. This can seem heavy, but it underscores the high calling of office (deacon and elder), God's calling without repentance, and faith that God will supply and confirm.

The reason for re-election (this being different than ordination) is that circumstances might change, such as family commitments or family problems that (temporarily) hinder from service.

Part of the I Timothy 3 requirement of office is that the wife of an officer (deacon, elder) is examined for qualifications cited there. It's possible that could change to the point of hindering the officer, having as it were, an exemplary, not perfect, but exemplary life as required.

Having required breaks by using terms is a very wise idea.
 

Zenas

Snow Miser
Thanks for the correction!!!

We started that rotation system in SA and it ended in pretty much every man having a turn as an elder. Drunks, p#rn readers etc.. got to be elders. Why? Not only limited numbers or men, but not wanting to make men feel bad if they didn't get their turn. The whole thing was a disaster.
Yes. I have seen similar things happen as well. I've also seen the opposite, where elders are virtually untouchable and the worst of louts are in office. I once heard of an elder who explained away a murder by another man with the comment "that guy just needed killin'." Nothing was done about it, because unless the Session acts to remove a man, it is impossible (in accordance with the BCO) in the PCA for either the congregation or the Presbytery to do so, apart from charges. And you must remember that the court that hears charges against an elder is the Session of the church.

This.

The reality is there are sessions, whether they be many or few, that don't reflect what we all envision a session of being. When I envision a session, I think of men like Josh, Fred, Tim, Andrew, etc. The reality is that there may be only one or two elders on a session that remotely remind one of the aforementioned. Once they are ordained and installed, I can't imagine a circumstance where they will be removed. There was one elder who I recall who's family was full of premarital sex and teen pregnancy. He told everyone, in no uncertain terms, that "that's just what kids do these days and you'll just have to get over it." It certainly was not to be addressed as what it was.
 

GulfCoast Presbyterian

Puritan Board Junior
We started that rotation system in SA and it ended in pretty much every man having a turn as an elder. Drunks, p#rn readers etc.. got to be elders. Why? Not only limited numbers or men, but not wanting to make men feel bad if they didn't get their turn. The whole thing was a disaster.

:ditto:

That was my experience in the PC(USA) with rotation. You ended up in the smaller churches with a whole congregation of ordained Elders and Deacons. The Session became merely the board of governors that everyone took their turn being a member of when the time came. As you noted the only criteria for the Eldership became a beating heart.

That's a big 10-4 Houston, and a lot of why 10-A got passed
 

sastark

Puritan Board Graduate
The PCA BCO makes this de jure impossible. The reality of life in the PCA, ARP and OPC makes this de facto impossible.

Fred: Apologies if I misunderstand, but is it not possible for a member of a PCA (or OPC, ARP, etc) congregation to bring charges against an elder? That's what I meant by "appeal to Presbytery". If a charge is brought, and the Session does not rule correctly, the decision can be appealed to Presbytery.

Right?
 
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