Monday, July 20, 2009

Becoming Session

I'm currently serving on my congregation's church officer nominating committee and it's given me a different perspective on what it means to be a church officer.

I mean a different perspective than the one I had from growing up as a minister's daughter, having served on an associate pastor nominating committee, being an active adult member of a congregation, and being the wife of an elder.

We've gotten lots of "no's" this year. Our committee chair believes that our process of discernment is guided by God's hand, that we'll end up with exactly the slate of nominees that we are meant to have.

It's lovely to think so, but I confess to having less confidence in the process at times, especially after hearing "no" from wonderful candidates. Why? we keep asking. Too busy. Involved with other activities. Focusing energy elsewhere. Too old, or with children too young at home. And we don't push; this isn't a decision to make lightly or grudgingly.

I've always thought of being an elder as a sort of honor, a recognition of years of hard work and faithful service with the church. I don't know exactly how I formed that impression or why.

But my current congregation is big into gift-based ministry. It's less about a recognition of past service and more about matching members' gifts to the church's needs and ministries.

This sounds like a really good idea to me. And I like the way our session is demographically representative of our congregation. But it still feels strange to me when a young or new member becomes an "elder" of the congregation.

How is it done in your churches? Do you ever have elders in their teens or twenties? Elders who have joined the church (and denomination) within the last year or two?


Brian said...

I was ordained an elder at 34, which in my congregation is a baby. Our daughter wasn't quite one year old at the time. It was an honor, to me, and I excitedly said yes. It is difficult though, going to session meetings and leaving my wife with our no toddler after she has been with her all day and wanting a break. The session meeting are usually 2 hours long and only happen once a month, but my wife always dreads it and wishes I didn't have to go. (Our daughter is extremely energetic) The session tries to have a diverse group of people in terms of age, gender, and anything else you can be diverse about.

Sarahlynn said...

Brian, our experience was similar. My husband was ordained an elder at about age 27, when we had a toddler with special needs and I was a stay-at-home mom. He was also working very long hours at the time. During his term on session, we had a second child. In addition to the monthly meetings, there were one to two evening committee meetings per month.

I did OK with it as long as I set my expectations in advance. "OK, I know this will be a very long day for me with the girls, so I'll plan x, y, z to cope with it." And he'd often bring me a treat on the way home (milkshakes and foot rubs were popular at the time).

It also helps that my husband is a homebody with few other outside evening engagements and I'm involved in things like book clubs that get me out of the house some.

I agree with you about the honor. :)

Stushie said...

We always have child care available for our session meetings...

Sarahlynn said...

That is a wonderful idea. What time are your meetings? Ours are 7:30 and last an hour and a half or so (give or take, depending on what's going on). That's a little too late for my kids, but might work for others, and even for mine as they get older. I'll have to suggest it . . .

Stushie said...

We start at 7pm Sarahlynn and do our best to end about 9pm.

Quotidian Grace said...

Our previous church made a point of having youth elders--that is, high school students elected to serve a one year term. Both of my daughters were youth elders.

The experience with that was variable--just as it is with older people. Some were reliable and willing to take responsibility and others were INO (in name only).

The Nominating Committee at our current church makes a priority out of trying to get younger members to serve as elders because of concern about leadership transfer to the next generation in the future. Its a big subject of discussion.

Child care should always be provided or you will never get folks with young children to serve.

Anonymous said...

I have no reservations about having "young people" serve as elders. I think the youngest "elder" I've ever known was in his early 20's. I believe it's possible for a person can be young at yet tall in spiritual stature. Our Associate Pastor is such a person. From his spiritual autobiography, it's clear he's been a seriously committed, thoughtful Christian from a very young age. On the other hand, you asked about having relatively "new" members being made elders. This is something I really have doubts about, for a couple of reasons. Relationships take years to develop. An Elder needs to know the members of the church, the problems and challenges and how those have been dealt with in the past. The church, before it calls an elder, needs to know something about that person, as well. How does this person relate to others? Are they responsible, sound, divisive, autocratic, etc? I don't think you can necessarily know this after just one or even two years. But there's a bigger reason not to thrust a new member onto Session. It can be a challenging job, requiring lots of spiritual and worldly maturity. Yes, it seems an honor, but dealing with the nuts and bolts, personalities and politics, can be very challenging. I think it could even cause someone to become disenchanted with the church and leave it. The possibility of losing a "lamb" is the most important reason I think the church needs to be very careful in who it asks to take on this heavy and sometimes difficult responsibility.

Sarahlynn said...

Anonymous, that's pretty much exactly how I feel about it.

The risk of disillusionment is not insignificant.