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Lesson 6     Activating All Elders

Recall the lessons: Elder as Shepherd, Teamwork, Parish Ministry History, Diagnosing Parish Troubles, Elder Training…

We have six parishes entailing approximately 1,500 members. How can we provide adequate pastoral care for so many extended over a wide geographical area? It has seemed that the parish system has proven to be inadequate. Speak to any parish elder and he will report that he feels he is not keeping up as needed. This is especially true for those responsible for Parish 1 (380 members), Parish 2 (400 members) and Parish 6 (330 members)…

But the original intent of the parish system was to keep active all elders who were not serving on the Session. This idea somehow never got far. Before we look at the practical aspects of such a concept, consider first the teachings of our church.

The concept of rotating classes serving on the Session is a relatively modern phenomenon, invented for practical reasons. It allows elders to refresh themselves by periodically taking a sabbatical from the full duties of a Session member. It provides for “fresh blood” to come on Session without making its membership swell. Both reasons are valid for having a rotating class system, but the system is not prescribed in the BOCO nor in Scripture. BOCO 24-7 states that the office of elder is perpetual. The chapter goes on to prescribe how a relationship between the church and the elder may be officially dissolved, but the very provision for such action indicates that an elder, once elected and ordained, is expected to fulfill his duties as a shepherd in the church throughout his life.

Scripture, though it does not teach explicitly that the office of elder is perpetual, nevertheless gives no indication of it being a temporary office. With the concept being derived from the Jewish practice of choosing older men to serve in such a position, it is presumed that these men held these positions for as long as they were fit to do so.

What does this discussion have to do with the parish system? Again, the original intent was to keep active those elders not serving on the Session. Think now of the real support the elders would be to one another. Right now we regard the parish elder as the elder who is to provide pastoral care in his parish, with other Session elders helping when needed and able. But if we understand every elder as being a Shepherding Elder, regardless of his duties and status with the Session, then we have a sizable and capable team of shepherds, working together.

If such were happening now, we would have, not 18 REs shepherding the flock, but 35. I have sent you the full list of REs. According to this list, here is the breakdown for parishes…

Not all of these elders are able to serve fully in their parishes. One is assigned to serve a daughter church. Some have reached an age and condition where they cannot physically give the same effort as before. Nevertheless, consider what could be done if the church and the elders understood that Tenth has not 18, but 35 elders; that the elder off the Session was as much a shepherd of the flock as the elder on the Session. Being off the Session does not take away an elder’s ability to pray for a parishioner or to minister with the Word. Being off the Session does not mean that he takes time off from caring for the people for whom God raised him up in the first place to be a shepherd.

Indeed, now that he is off the Session, such an elder may all the more be freed to give personal attention to church members needing him. He is not encumbered with serving on commissions and committees, and attending meetings. Such an elder is also an experienced elder. He has served a minimum of three years. If he has served his position well, he is known and respected. If the congregation understands this, then worshippers will not look just for their parish elders or those on the Session after the service. They will look for the same elders they have gone to over the years when those elders served on the Session.

Consider what could be done with visitation. Let’s say that 29 elders commit to making 10 visits to parishioners in a year. That is less than one visit per month. The other 6 elders, because of other commitments and age, average 5 visits. In one year, 320 visits would be made, touching approximately 640 church members. Add the 5 full-time TEs making 10 visits. Now we are up to 370 visits. There are other elders. Counting our assistant minister, we have 5 PCA TEs plus another minister, Howard Blair. They agree to make 5 visits. Now we are up to 400 visits. We also have 6 REs, ordained from other churches. They agree to make 5 visits. Now we move to 430 visits, touching approximately 860 members. At such a conservative rate, we would visit the entire resident membership in less than two years. What looked impossible, now looks more than doable…

I’ve broken this down by the parishes, as you will see…

What would be required to make this work:

1. Teamwork with the Parish Elder becomes the central elder with whom to communicate. We will reserve another evening to discuss the role and duties of the parish elder, but suffice it to understand that instead of being the primary Shepherding Elder of the parish, he is rather the Team Leader of all the Shepherding Elders of his parish.

How does this work in practice? I call PE, who calls an elder…

Whenever a visit made it is reported to PE…

Elder tells member he will let the PE know how he is doing…

2. Intentional Coordination

PE would map out with all his elders who will visit whom…

Assignments can change…

3. Commitment

Point raised that by setting visiting goals we turn what is a pleasure into a labor. We know human nature. If we visit only when we feel like doing it, we are defeated before we begin. Peter tells elders to exercise oversight willingly, but he does not say to exercise oversight only when we are willing. If visiting our people is a burden, then we need to do something about it before the Lord, but we are not then to excuse ourselves from visiting. Without accountability, we will not fulfill our duties. The visiting goals set are actually conservative. Surely most of us can make 10 visits in a year.

Means for nonboard elders to shift their thinking of being willing to serve when asked to proactively serving…

4. All who have been ordained as elders, must own our calling to be shepherds. We may take on commission and committee assignments; we may perform special duties; but we all are shepherds responsible for the spiritual welfare of the flock in which God has placed us. As Paul said to the all the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28).” As Peter says to elders, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2). We cannot escape this responsibility by being off the Session or taking on special assignments. It is for this that we were ordained and remain ordained.

Nor can we be Lone Rangers, doing our own thing the way we want to do it and without having to answer to or work with our fellow elders. If you are an elder of Tenth Church, then this congregation is the flock for whom you are responsible to shepherd, whether or not you are on the Session. If you are a minister of Tenth Church, this is your flock. If you are an elder ordained elsewhere, but Tenth is now the church of which you are a member, you cannot shirk your ordination to be a shepherd; and if you are asked by your PE or your minister to help with shepherding, you should exercise the “gift of God” placed on you by the laying on of hands. If you are an ordained minister, and this is the church you are led to attend, then you too should be willing to come alongside your fellow shepherds.

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