Our Church Council is Too Large. How Can We Function Well?

Our church council is too large to function well. Is there a model structure that complies with church order yet allows a smaller group to be responsible for the day-to-day running of the church?

One way to address this issue is to delegate some matters to committees that report to the council and can make decisions within their mandates that don’t require council approval. Some churches structure their councils differently as well, often dividing into shepherding or pastoral elders and deacons and administrative elders and deacons. Then, the administrative elders and deacons meet as a group to oversee the administration of the church, while the shepherding elders and deacons focus on pastoral care and benevolence or other mercy-related matters. It’s fine to divide the council in this way, and even to select elders and deacons based on what roles they will play.

A concern about these divisions of labor between administrative and pastoral is theological. These divisions have sometimes led to a false division between “business” and “spiritual,” with church leadership divided between “business types” and “ministry types.” All ministry is spiritual, including budgets, buildings, pastoral care, education and outreach. Churches that distinguish between administrative and pastoral functions must make sure all ministry is driven by the gospel of Jesus Christ and the mission of the church.

Assuming the unity of the church’s mission is maintained, there are some specific functions that require the full council to meet at least occasionally, because all office bearers are responsible for “the common administration of the church, such as promoting its mission, calling a pastor, approving nominations for church office, mutual censure, meeting with church visitors, and other matters of common concern.” Further, “the council is responsible for preparing the annual budget of the congregation, including classical and denominational ministry shares, for presentation to the congregation for its approval” (Church Order Art. 35 & Supplement).  Another reason for the full council to meet is to consider any major items on the agenda for synod so that there is opportunity for overtures to be brought by the council to classis. 

The key point is that all duly called and ordained office bearers should be included in important decisions as leaders in the church.

About the Author

Kathy Smith is senior associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and an adjunct professor at Calvin Theological Seminary and Calvin University. She is a member of First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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