A Picture of the Elders in Our Churches, Part One: posted 12/10/2008

By Mark A. Taylor

As CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s Year of the Elder comes to a close, we want to keep our promise to share results from the Elders Survey that appeared here September 24. Your answers yielded few surprises, but you did confirm the need for the Year of the Elder features. In fact, we’re convinced that helps for elders should continue in CHRISTIAN STANDARD, even after this 2008 emphasis comes to an end.

Most who responded to the survey are from churches with 4-6 elders (42 percent of the 562 respondents). In most of these congregations (almost 61 percent) the minister is not one of the elders.

Most churches (about 65 percent) vote on new elders. In 45 percent of these churches, the congregation nominates elders; in 36 percent a nominating committee screens elder nominations; and in about as many churches (37 percent) the current elders select new elders.

Almost half (48 percent) of these elders meet monthly. Others meet twice monthly (22 percent) or weekly (14 percent). (One answered that his elders meet daily. I haven’t talked with anyone yet who wishes he were an elder at this church!)

Probably the most varied answers came to the question about elders’ terms of service. More than a third of our respondents (36 percent) said their elders have the option to take a year off after a set term of service, but another third (34 percent) said their elders serve for life or until they decide to retire. Only 22 percent said their elders must take a year off after a set term of service.

Some of the answers mirrored responses contributing editor Arron Chambers received with a similar survey he conducted earlier in the year. We asked, “What should be your elders’ primary job?” More than three-quarters (77 percent) answered “shepherding the flock.” The only other choices to get double-digit responses were “protecting the church from false doctrine” (11 percent) and “determining the church’s direction” (11 percent).

But when we asked readers to tell us how they believe their elders actually spend their time, only 28 percent said shepherding, fewer than the 30 percent who said “determining the church’s direction.” Others chose “deciding the church’s programs/calendar/activities (17 percent) or “overseeing church finances” (14 percent).

(In June, 77 percent of the elders completing Arron’s survey said shepherding was their most important job. But 64 percent of them said they spend less than half their service as elders actually doing any shepherding. It’s clear the elders in our churches need help doing what they believe is their highest calling.)

More revealing than the statistics, however, are the comments from those who completed the survey. Most of the respondents wrote a personal answer to the question, “What would help your elders do a better job?” I’ll share a sampling of their responses in my last column of the year, December 28.

 

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