How Do We Know What Either Elders or Deacons Can Decide?

Our council sometimes meets all together and sometimes separately with only elders or deacons. How do we know what each group can decide?

In the Christian Reformed Church, the council is made up of all the ministers, elders, and deacons in the church. The elders (consistory) and the deacons (diaconate) should meet separately to focus on their particular work. Elders oversee the doctrine and life of the members of the congregation and fellow officebearers, provide counsel and discipline along with pastoral care in the congregation, participate in and promote evangelism, and defend the faith. Deacons administer the mercy of Christ, inspire faithful stewardship of people’s time, talents, and resources, and encourage participation in ministries of mercy, justice, and reconciliation, both locally and globally (Church Order Art. 25). The minister is required to meet with the elders, as their roles and tasks are similar, and both groups report on their work to the full council. 

The council is the governing body of the local church and is responsible for the common administration of the church, such as promoting its mission, calling its pastors, approving nominations for church office, conducting “mutual censure,” in which council members review and encourage each other in their work, meeting with church visitors from the classis, and taking up other matters of common concern (Art. 35).

Following are a few examples of how to distinguish the work of elders or deacons from that of the council: The deacons are more involved overseeing the finances and giving levels in the church, but the council approves the annual budget and requests the congregation’s approval as well. The elders provide pastoral care and discipling of individuals, including hearing professions of faith and deciding whether to admit new members directly or require profession or reaffirmation of faith, but the council formally receives or transfers memberships. The diaconate supports mercy and justice ministries locally, but the council brings such matters to the regional classis or the denominational synod. The consistory supervises worship and the administration of sacraments, but the council calls the ministers who preside in worship.

While elders and deacons have different roles and responsibilities, both groups provide leadership and care to the congregation so that the body of Christ will be built up. 

About the Author

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

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