Elders’ Meetings

I just finished reading (too long delayed, I know, I know) John Sittema’s wonderful book on the shepherd’s heart. One of the most interesting points he makes (and which convicted me no end) was his description of what elders’ meetings ought to model. He gave a description of a normal business-related model of session meetings (prayer, reading of minutes, old business, new business, reading of concept minutes, adjournment). He says that this should not be characteristic of most session meetings. Most session meetings should be about doing the ministry. His model involves training/study, pastoral consultation, and prayer (see pp. 233-234). Prayer, by the way, is not some adjunct to the ministry. Some people actually call prayer the work of ministry. Word and prayer constituted the work of the apostles (Acts 6). That’s why deacons became a reality. The elders did NOT want to do “business” of the church, if that meant administrative stuff. They wanted to devote themselves to word and prayer. Sittema argues that the session meetings should be a tool that helps equip the elders for the work of ministry. Most of the time, the meetings are seen AS the work of the ministry. Not so, according to Sittema! If some aspects of business are required to be examined, there should be a separate meeting for it. I was really excited, frankly, when I read this part. I am excited to start implementing this kind of idea.

What we need in churches today are elders that will be pastors, not business directors of the church that only define and govern the general direction of the church. There needs to be training in this area, and the session meetings are surely the place to do this.

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14 Comments

  1. Cris Dickason said,

    June 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I became aware of John Sittema by way of a set of 3 talks delivered at RTS and posted to iTunes U. (What can I say, I needed to have things to listen to while walking my aging English Setter). One of those talks presented this same idea. I also find this to be a better model of session work and the elder’s role in the church.

    Have you read Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader? We were to read and discuss that at my church, but the schedule got rearranged.

    -=Cris=-

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Witmer was my prof at WTS (his class was the substance of the book), and I have also read the book independently. Very good stuff. Sittema and Witmer complement each other nicely.

  3. June 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    I haven’t read Sittema’s book, but I wonder if he’s making (based on your description) too much of a distinction between elders and deacons. In Acts, the deacons, in that particular situation, arose in a context of waiting tables, which the elders felt should not be their responsibility. But, it sounds like Sittema is saying that elders should not be aware of monetary decisions that need to be made – that all that kind of thing should be devolved onto the deacons entirely.

    I smiled at this: “If some aspect of business requires to be examined, there should be a separate meeting for it.” Right. Two meetings instead of one. Does he really like being on committees, or what? LOL

  4. greenbaggins said,

    June 28, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Richard, I think Sittema’s point is not that elders should not be involved with monetary decisions, but rather, he is combating the idea that business meetings constitute the work of the elder. I do believe that monetary concerns are more the realm of the deacons than the elders, while it is also true that elders need to oversee everything concerning the church.

  5. mary kathryn said,

    June 28, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Excellent, excellent post, Lane. Adam was excited as I read this to him. We feel that many seminaries today are churning out “CEO” type pastors, and whole churches are damaged by this. If the TE is not pastoral, he certainly cannot train his REs to be pastoral. At a recent, particularly brutal moment in one church’s life, a member of a search committee said that it was unfortunate and painful, but after all, the church must be run like a business. So sad. Thank you for posting this.

  6. June 28, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    [...] a piece from the blog Green Baggins</strong> which describes a similar model and the rationale behind it. It commends a book which I may [...]

  7. June 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    “His” REs? They’re all supposed to be elders together, as equals. Not blaming you, Mary Kathryn, but boy, that’s annoying to me.

  8. June 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

    It was very good to meet you also! You’ve been linked on my site as well. Blessings, brother!

    SK

  9. pilgrim said,

    June 29, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Nice article.

    Our session has been going over Witmer’s book, and our session meetings begin with us praying for one another & include encouragement to minister to others and we are always looking at how we can do this better, and how we can get better at it and how we can help one another.

    Hopefully that made sense.

    It’s refreshing to read this sort of article where the work of the elder is seen as ministering to the sheep.
    Yes there is straightforward business as well, and Presbytery often gets to that as well.
    When budgets come up for discussion I tend to zone out–I have to work on that because they have an importance to how we serve–but I can’t get excited about them.
    I do get excited about service sometimes.

  10. Reed Here said,

    June 30, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Lane: I’ve learned to adapt the old business-new business-adjournment model in a manner that I think achieves Sittema’s end. We organize all topics of discussion under four heads: worship, discipleship, outreach and fellowship. We then have a fifth head under which falls the more mundane “organizational” topics (e.g., things pertaining to the Diaconate and things pertaining to the Session, that’s it).

    This forces us to determine the proper biblical relations of each topic (e.g., what head(s) it rightly falls under). We’ve established a number of ordinary sub-heads under each (e.g., under worship we use: preaching, sacraments, prayer, music, other). This provides us with a strong encouragement to consider our “business” from observable biblical foundations.

    Further, if a topic does not obviously fall under any head, then this is a signal that it might be that this topic is not something for us to take up. This happens usually with topics that are Diaconal and not Sessional. Sometimes it simply helps us determine that we, as a Session, just do not have any business taking up a particular topic.

    As to the “real” work of ministry (prayer, I agree with Sittema here), we’ve addressed that weakness in a simple manner. At the end of the discussion of the topics under each head, one elder will lead in prayer for these specific topics. As a result we formerly pray up to seven times in a given meeting. These are not short perfunctory prayers, but prayers fill with specifics and details pertaining to the actual issues in our congregation.

    We use a “running” note-taking agenda from meeting to meeting that allows us to track each topic as we seek the Spirit’s leading on them. This makes it easier for our clerk to produce minutes as well. Even more, we’ve got a record of our real work each meeting, and we can see the Lord’s hand at work as the record displays it for us. This produces greater encouragement toward focus and prayer at each subsequent meeting.

    Most of this I’ve discovered by trial and error. I’m sure we’re doing some things too much the hard way, and I’d love to hear other’s ideas. Still, for men steeped in the 20th C. model of how Sessions function, this has been a very effective means of addressing the “business” weakness and yoking this model to serve the needs of the real work of elders.

  11. greenbaggins said,

    June 30, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Reed, some really great ideas there.

  12. rfwhite said,

    June 30, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Reed,

    Your comment in #10 reads like the perfect complement/follow-up to Lane’s lead post.

  13. Robert Berman said,

    August 6, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    Reed, our Session uses those same five categories of ministry heading as we discuss the needs of our church. Have you been sneaking a peek at our minutes? :)

  14. Reed Here said,

    August 7, 2011 at 7:02 am

    Uhh, well, … ;-)


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