Monday, August 20, 2012

On Officer Nominations

[From Pastor Ed… August 19 and 26]

Last month, we closed nominations for new officers for our congregation. At the beginning of June, we invited the congregation to submit their nominations, and we left the nomination time open until mid-July.

These nominations are nothing to take lightly: the Bible has much to say about who should be officers in the church, and what qualifications they should possess. Especially, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 contain much in the way of instructions for how we are to understand good officer-nominees. Likewise (though not with the same authority), our denomination's Book of Church Order (AKA, the BCO) has a good deal to offer in terms of what the offices (Elder and Deacon) require, and who is fit to serve in them.

Therefore, we had a nomination form that listed these Scripture references, and also included the full text from the BCO describing the offices; then we asked that nominations be offered, including a summary of how the nominee is considered to be qualified, based on these descriptions. We were grateful to receive a number of nominations, with several Deacon-nominees and a few Elder-nominees.

What Happens Next

The Session has received the nominations, and begun to consider them. Our BCO charges the Session with stewarding these nominations, and seeing them through to completion. There are a handful of potential outcomes:

  • Some nominations may not be accepted, for various reasons. In my congregation in Tennessee, there was a couple who had attended the church for years, and were quite active; he was quick to lend a hand to others, and frequently involved in service ministries. However, they had never joined the church! Therefore, though he would often receive a nomination as a Deacon, those nominations couldn't be accepted. There may be some circumstances among the nominees at Dove Mountain Church that are similar, and we will notify the nominating party (or parties) about this.
  • Some nominees will decline their nominations. Obviously, sometimes life circumstances or other factors will prevent someone from being able to serve when they are asked; this is the case also for officer nominations. We are asking the nominees that we have accepted to defer the decision to accept or decline their nomination until after they have completed officer training; this way, we hope the nature of the office to which they've been nominated will be clearer, and thus they will better discern whether God might be calling them to serve in that capacity.
  • Some (we hope, most!) nominations will move into training. Our intention is to take accepted nominees through several months of officer training (more on this in a minute), preparing them for the offices to which they have been nominated.

Officer Training & Examinations

In September, we will begin training our officer-nominees in a training program that will take three months to complete. I will be conducting the training, while relying heavily on the other Elders to help with training, provide input during the discussions, offer examples and case-studies, and so forth.

This training will consist mainly of three topics: "The Character of the Officer" will consider the texts I listed above — 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 — and other biblical texts that speak specifically to the man and his character. "The Theology of the Officer" will focus on what we believe the Bible teaches, and how our beliefs shape and inform our offices. Finally, "the Work of the Officer" will round out our discussions with discussions about what we are called to do, and how we are biblically required to do it.

Following this season of training, each nominee will be asked whether they accept their nomination, and if they do then they will be examined for the office (or, perhaps, offices — if someone has been nominated for both offices!) they have been nominated. Once again, the BCO offers specific guidelines about what the nominees shall be examined on (in chapter 24, part 1): his Christian experience, especially his personal character and family management; his knowledge of Bible content; his knowledge of the system of doctrine, government, and discipline contained in the Constitution of our denomination (which consists of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order of the PCA); the duties of the office to which he has been nominated; and his willingness to give assent to the questions required for ordination (see below for these).

Officer Candidates

Those nominees who accept their nomination and pass this examination will then be submitted to the congregation as candidates for office. If everything goes according to schedule, we will present a slate of officer-candidates in December, one month in advance of a called congregational meeting to elect officers.

During that month, the congregation should consider this slate of officer-candidates closely and prayerfully. If there is someone on the list that you do not know — or that you have little or no knowledge about, in terms of their leadership or service among our congregation — we would encourage you to seek them out and learn more about them. These men will be ordained to office in Christ's church, and will be charged with the care, shepherding, and oversight of our congregation! It is no small matter to consider.

It is conceivable, too, that someone on the slate of candidates is known to you in ways that might suggest that they are unfit for the office to which they've been nominated. While we hope that this would not happen, it is another reason why we give the notice about officer elections that we do. Should this be the case, we trust that you would talk to the candidate, seeking clarity about your perceptions and, if you believe it necessary, urging him to reconsider the acceptance of the nomination. (And, of course, if you believe him to be in sin and obstinately so, should he not listen to your urgings then we would want you to come to the Session to discuss your concerns.)

Election, Ordination, & Installation

In January (again, if all goes according to plan!), we will have a congregational meeting in which we will elect officers. This is done by vote, and usually by paper ballot. We must have a "quorum" of our congregation present (¼ of resident communing members) to vote properly, and a majority of those present is required to duly elect officers. However, if a large minority is opposed to the election of a particular individual, our BCO says, "the moderator shall endeavor to dissuade the majority from prosecuting it further."

Those who are elected will then be ordained to their office, if they have never served in that office before. We'll do this as part of a worship service in one of the following weeks. Likewise, all new officers (whether ordained then or previously) will also be installed, using the following vows:

  1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
  4. Do you accept the office of ruling elder (or deacon, as the case may be) in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
  5. Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?
  6. Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity, and edification of the Church?

The congregation will also be asked to take a vow! It is as follows:
Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother as a ruling elder (or deacon), and do you promise to yield to him all that honor, encouragement, and obedience in the Lord to which his office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him?

This is the process that is to come! It's exciting and gratifying to see new officers established in the Church, and I ask you to join me in praying over the coming months for these things to be fruitful.

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