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Our council meets only six times a year and basically just rubber-stamps everything presented to it by the Executive Committee of four: two elders and two deacons. The consistory and diaconate meet once a month but just follow the lead of these four, thus basically never deciding much of anything together. Is this normal? Is it legal? What’s missing here?

Let’s start with “legal.” I think you’d have a hard time proving the committee is breaking the rules. Church Order Article 36 says the council “shall ordinarily meet at least once a month.” The word “ordinarily” was inserted in 2004 to “reflect current practice” and offer “greater flexibility.” What’s important is not the exact number of council meetings, but that they are “held regularly according to the needs of the congregation” (Acts of Synod, 1942, p. 111).

Is it normal? If you mean whether less-frequent meetings are fast becoming the rule rather than the exception, I think that might be the case. But I believe there’s a deeper issue that gives rise to your question. There’s a certain spirituality that adorned our council rooms in the past, and that’s what might be oozing away. Take the matter of mutual censure, also mentioned in Article 36. We’re told to do this “at least four times per year,” taking time to “assess and encourage each other in the performance of [our] official duties.” Perhaps it still happens, but I suspect it’s rarely done any more.

My sense is that a new governance model has taken hold of our council meetings. It’s patterned after corporate business practice with top-down management style. Your executive committee does what is “normal” in our culture; it’s like an investment firm’s annual ballot offering the opportunity to vote for new strategists. Most people vote by proxy instead. Church councils were never meant to be run that way. The assemblies (council, classis, synod) were designed to feature thorough deliberation: listening to one another and together seeking the will of our Lord in prayerful Spirit-led decision making.

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