Does your church have a vote of confidence/reaffirmation of pastors/elders?

Recently I was reading through the Constitution and Bylaws of John Piper's church, Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis (can be accessed here: http://www.hopeingod.org/ConstitutionByLaws.aspx). I was interested to note that every elder must be reaffirmed by the congregation every three years. I have never been a part of a church that has a regularly scheduled vote of confidence or vote of reaffirmation in its pastor(s) or elders.

What do you think about this practice? Does your church do it?

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Angela Stewart's picture

Our church's deacon board rotates men off after 6 years. Each time deacons are added to the board, they are voted on by the membership, whether they have served before or not.

We don't have anything like that for the pastor.

dmicah's picture

we have a reaffirmation process, but no vote. it is a great three year plan to reiterate the bible's teaching on elders and deacons. so we teach through those elements again, and have the church body be aware that should any one believe there is an elder or deacon who has done something to disqualify themselves they are free to approach the elder/deacon and discuss the matter. should that not resolve the issue, they can take the next step in confrontation.
An attender/member can do this at any time, of course, but it is highlighted every third year.

Ron Bean's picture

Angela Stewart wrote:
Our church's deacon board rotates men off after 6 years. Each time deacons are added to the board, they are voted on by the membership, whether they have served before or not.

We don't have anything like that for the pastor.

By rotating off do you mean that they have to stand for re-election or that they have to be off the board for a year (i.e. term limits).

It has been my experience that most churches have definite terms of service but the somehow the same men get re-elected without a break.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Pastork's picture

Our church (Immanuel Baptist Church in Bloomington, Illinois) used to follow the "term limits" approach. Our elders and deacons served for three year terms with a mandatory year off in-between.

However, I was really glad when we went away from that approach and adopted what I believe to be a more Biblical one. Now elders and deacons serve indefinitely, with allowances made for sabbaticals or retirement from the role if need be. Of course, these decisions are made with the input and guidance of the other elders and deacons currently serving. In my opinion, our church has been stronger for having changed to this approach.

For what it's worth, here are just a few reasons why I think this approach is better:

1) We simply do not see the notion of "term limits" for elders in Scripture. As we read Scripture, we see the pastor/elder office as a calling, not something one picks up or puts down every three years. Changing to an approach which we think better affirms this concept has actually helped the people at Immanuel to have more respect for the office in the church and to be more deliberate in helping to select the men who serve (in accordance with Biblical requirements in such passages as Acts 20, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1).

2) If one sees pastors as having actual authority (as we do, albeit authority which must be exercised with great humility and love), then it seems better not to take an approach to their selection that essentially views the congregation as wielding the authority over the elders and basically views them as those put in place to do the bidding of the congregation, much as one sees members of the House of Representatives, for example.

3) We noticed a tendency in churches (including our own when I first came) who follow the "term limits" model not only to be more lax in identifying the right men to be elders in accordance with Scripture, but also to be significantly more lax in dealing with elders who need to be disciplined or to remove a man that turned out not to be fit for the task in some way. The idea seemed to be that it was easier just to wait for the guy's term to come up and hope he wouldn't be selected again. But then of course there would sometimes be all kinds of political type wrangling over the issue when the guy had served his year off and inevitably received a certain amount of nominations just because he had friends who wanted him to be in the position whether he was truly qualified or not. To make things even worse, Immanuel had a silly requirement in her Constitution and By-laws that mandated no less than three elders at any time. But in a smaller church, this became a huge problem, since to my mind we only had three qualified men to serve as elders in the first place. This meant that, when a man rotated off for a year, we were bound to select a third man, and this man was not qualified. You can imagine how strongly I tried to change that particular requirement! Thankfully, many other churches who follow the "term limits" approach have been wise enough not to adopt such an unbiblical and foolish requirement in the first place!

4) We have been blessed with greater continuity of leadership, especially since we have men who know that they are making a commitment that is intended to be permanent, Lord willing. We not only take greater care in selecting and appointing them with the Lord's guidance, but they also take greater care in agreeing to serve with the Lord's guidance. And I believe we are a much stronger church for it.

Now, as to whether or not it is good to reaffirm the elders every three years, I really have no problem either way. I suppose in a larger church (such as Bethlehem Baptist) it makes it easier identify potential problems with elders, but I see no real need for such a practice.

Hope this helps offer some good food for thought and discussion.

Keith

Ed Vasicek's picture

Åll our officers (with the exception below) serve 2 year terms with no term limits. Usually those wishing to continue are re-nominated by the nominating committee (I believe this has always happened with our elders board), although some opt out or opt out for a few years.

The pastor-elder, since he is salaried and his livelihood (and housing) are involved is affirmed or removed by congregational vote every 5 years.

I don't claim that any of this is Scriptural, but it was the best compromise we could strike with our "democracy-minded" people back in 92 when we redid our constitution. We are essentially an elders-rule church. The system has worked out well for us, although the idea of having a nominating committee every year (not everyone's term expires the same year) has gotten a bit old.

"The Midrash Detective"

Bob T.'s picture

If a church affirms elders every three years, do they also include the head Elder or Pastor? Or do they consider him a separate office that is separate from the other Elders in Scripture and is such as a Bishop? Or what?

If the pastor is the Elder such as in most a Baptist churches, and their is a board of Deacons, do they vote on Deacons only every so often and not on the Elder also? Why?

What is the biblical reasoning for all this?

Since the essence of the organized Christian gathering is rightly called assembly (not church), it would appear the assembly has the authority as the final authority such as in Matt. 18. Each believer is biblically viewed as a Priest with direct access to God. Does not the assembly gain its authority then from God through the believers of the assembly, and by their collective authority they grant it to elders who are to rule and the assembly conditionally submits to them?

Would not the assembly then choose, submit, and not reaffirm unless there was reason to do so such as at 1 Tim. 5:19-20? Would this not apply to all in leadership? However, if the leadership must rotate or be affirmed periodically, why not the person they call Pastor. What is the basis for this exclusive treatment?

Pastork's picture

Bob, here are some basic answers that I hope will be helpful.

Quote:
If a church affirms elders every three years, do they also include the head Elder or Pastor? Or do they consider him a separate office that is separate from the other Elders in Scripture and is such as a Bishop? Or what?

Although we recognize that all Baptists do not follow this approach, we hold to the concepts of the plurality and parity of elders as the best way to follow scriptural teaching concerning church leadership. So at Immanuel our view is that the three elders (among whom I serve as the primary teaching elder) serve together as equals, and thus we tend to treat all three essentially the same way. The only real distinction is that I am paid. I have done my best to promote this way of thinking, and I am glad to say that after many years I think I have seen the congregation take to it more and more.

So, to answer your first question, if we thought it was important to affirm our elders every so often through a kind of "vote of confidence," then I can't imagine why it wouldn't include me as well. But if people think it shouldn't include me, then I can't imagine why we would require it with respect to the other elders.

Quote:
If the pastor is the Elder such as in most a Baptist churches, and their is a board of Deacons, do they vote on Deacons only every so often and not on the Elder also? Why?

What is the biblical reasoning for all this?

Although their roles in the churches are different, Paul treats the matter of the qualifications for and appointment of deacons analogously to that of elders. So we do the same thing.

Quote:
Since the essence of the organized Christian gathering is rightly called assembly (not church), it would appear the assembly has the authority as the final authority such as in Matt. 18

I agree that this passage appears to assume that folks should not be excommunicated (for lack of a better term) without the involvement of the entire assembly. In fact, Jesus seems to assume that the whole assembly will speak to the unrepentant sinner with a unified voice. But beyond this, He doesn't say how, exactly, the process will work or what role the leaders of the assembly will or will not play in the matter. He just doesn't address it, so we would have to incorporate other Scriptural teaching in order to develop a fuller picture, I think.

I also agree that the context warrants speaking of the collective assembly as exercising a certain authority. It seems to me that this is indicated by Jesus' followup statements that "Assuredly, I say to you [plural ], whatever you [plural ] bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you [plural ] loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven" (Matt. 18:18-19). Indeed, the same terminology was used by Jesus when describing the authority Peter had in preaching the Gospel back in Matthew 16 (vs. 19). But how does the authority of the local assembly coincide with that of an Apostle, like Peter? Again, we would have to examine what the rest of the New Testament has to say about how these two spheres of authority interrelate. Clearly the Apostles had a kind of authority that local churches did not have, for example, and Jesus clearly seems to indicate to the men who would be His Apostles (in Matt. 18) that the local church has an authority of its own. But does this mean that either derive their authority from the other? That the local churches derive the disciplinary authority they have from the Apostles? Or that the Apostles derive their authority in some way from the local churches? I don't think so. I think that God gives authority directly to each group and that they must each exercise their respective authority in a way that cooperates with and honors the other.

I see a similar situation with respect to those the Apostles left behind as leaders of the churches, namely the pastors/elders/overseers. If they have authority -- and I believe they do (see http://reformedbaptist.blogspot.com/2007/09/response-to-house-church-mov... for a lengthy written defense over against the House-Church Movement) -- then it comes directly from God, as does any authority the congregation as a whole may have. I would only add that from here we would have to study the rest of the New Testament to see what the limits of each sphere of authority is. So, for example, does Jesus intend in Matthew 18 to give all authority to the local church for everything, such that the elders only have any authority that the local church delegates to them? I see no reason at all to think so, any more that I would think passages indicating God-given authority for pastors mean that the local church has only that authority the pastors might delegate to her.

Quote:
Each believer is biblically viewed as a Priest with direct access to God. Does not the assembly gain its authority then from God through the believers of the assembly, and by their collective authority they grant it to elders who are to rule and the assembly conditionally submits to them?

I think this would be a misapplication of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. Although I wholeheartedly adhere to the doctrine myself and agree that each believer has direct access to God, I do not see how this implies in any way that believers possess as a group all the authority in the church. Consider the above analogy again. When the Apostles taught the doctrine of the priesthood of believers, did they in any way indicate that this doctrine meant that believers in local assemblies collectively had authority that was then delegated to them as Apostles, and that these believers were to submit to the Apostles conditioned upon this delegated authority which, it would seem, the church could revoke if she saw fit? Where is any such notion to be found in the New Testament with regard to the Apostles? And where is any such notion to be found with regard to pastors either?

Now, I am not trying to suggest in any way by this analogy that pastors now have the same kind of authority that the Apostles had then. I would earnestly deny such an abominable notion as that. I simply want to draw the analogy of distinct spheres of authority given by God to two groups, neither of which depend upon the other for its authority. Another good example of what I mean would be the authority that husbands have over their wives (see, for example, Ephesians 5:22-24). Such authority is not given to husbands by the local church as the highest authority for the Christian. Christian husbands possess this authority directly from God. And who would even think to say that the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers belies this authority? All that the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer would mean in this particular case is that husbands must exercise their authority over their wives in such a way that they do not violate this principle. This is why, for example, Peter tells husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way, "giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7). Isn't this essentially an application of the concept of the priesthood of the believer to marital relationships? I think it is. But it didn't stop Peter from telling wives to be submissive to their own husbands (vs.1).

Quote:
Would not the assembly then choose, submit, and not reaffirm unless there was reason to do so such as at 1 Tim. 5:19-20? Would this not apply to all in leadership? However, if the leadership must rotate or be affirmed periodically, why not the person they call Pastor. What is the basis for this exclusive treatment?

Frankly, one reason we prefer not to have such reaffirmations is precisely because it tends to make people in this culture think that they do, in fact, delegate their own authority to the elders. And I see no clear Scriptural warrant for such an idea. To be sure, there is a process of recognition, by which the various members of the body acknowledge the gifts and qualifications for leadership in certain men and not others (as in, for example, Acts 6, 1 Tim. 3, and Tit. 1), but this does not mean that any authority elders or deacons have comes from the congregation. When three different churches recognized -- and helped me to recognize -- my pastoral calling, they did not serve as the source of my pastoral authority. That comes directly from Christ, who gave me as a gift to the Church, as hard as that is to imagine! (See Eph. 4:11.)

But, as I said earlier, if we did for some reason want to adopt such a reaffirmation of pastoral calling, I would strongly advocate we would treat all the elders the same way.

I will finish by saying that I recognize that I haven't taken the time to lay out the Biblical teaching on elder authority and how it is to be exercised. This was due to time constraints. If you would like a somewhat detailed defense from me of the idea that pastors do have authority, then I would recommend an article I once wrote in response to the House-Church Movement. It is entitled "Response to the House-Church Movement: Part Four: What kind of authority – if any – do elders have in the churches?" You can read it here:

http://reformedbaptist.blogspot.com/2007/09/response-to-house-church-mov...

Hope this helps.

Keith

jpeal's picture

What is best for the growth of the people of the church?
It is reasonable to say that no one man or elder board is perfect, although they, like the lay people are in the midst of being sanctified. It is also good to consider that all men have the tendency to fall into a rut over the course of years (been in a few myself). Having said this, I also want to point out that over time families will arrive new to the church, having greater abilities in ministry, communication skills, administration, come from churches where the experience and training is superior, or possess other talents valuable to the local body. In the scenario where the elder / deacon board never changes, where its members are selected exclusively from the board, and where it does not accept properly offered suggestions or ideas from outside their "ranks", the church will suffer because the valuable input of the new members are not recognized. I believe it is not just important that an elder/ deacon board stay qualified, but also be progressing by being stretched, growing Spiritually, mentally and increasing in discernment. If the men are good leaders they will have an honest assessment of their abilities and be able to acknowledge strengths in others. The humility that good leaders posses will allow them to step aside for a year to let someone new contribute to the work of the ministry, if having a place on the board is the best way for the newer member to serve the church. It is too easy for complacent pastors and elders to cling to a non-rotational system for "job security", "spot-light ownership", and other non-scriptural uses of the office. Just as there is not clear teaching on rotation of these offices, I don't see a scripture passage calling for permanent office holdings, except for the office of pastor.

Jim Peal - Blessed Hope

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Jpeal, you call for rotation of elders, but permanence for pastors. I don't understand?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Pastork's picture

Jpeal,

I agree that a primary concern is to consider "what is best for the growth of the people of the church," and I would argue that what is best for their growth is what the Bible teaches us is best. I don't doubt that you would agree with this view. So the real question is, "What does teach about church leadership?" For what the Bible teaches about this will be the best thing for the church in every way.

But this leads me to ask a couple of questions. For example, why do you think the pastoral office should be a permanent one? And why do you distinguish between "elders" and "pastors" on this point? This seems to me to be the primary issue between us as we assess whether or not it is best to have indefinite terms for elders.

I certainly agree that their may be elders who sinfully "cling to a non-rotational system for 'job security', 'spot-light ownership', and other non-scriptural uses of the office," but I would argue that this is precisely why we should be so diligent to follow the Scriptural teaching about the proper qualifications for, selection of, and -- if need be -- discipline of elders. In my experience, where the Bible is faithfully followed in this regard, the kinds of problems you are concerned about diminish greatly.

I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts about this issue.

jpeal's picture

Chip & Pastok, Thanks for your replies. I agree whole heartedly that when all of the Scripture is followed, these are not cronic problems. My church home growing up and in my 30's had no elders, only a Pastor and deacons. So I am really referring to deacons when I say elders above. I realize the scripture has Elder and Pastor as the same office, and you can include Bishop too, - havent seen any of them in the kind of churches I want my family in though.

When I refer to Pastor, I mean the Elder who does the lionshare of the preaching ministry. This position is not beond accountability, and I don't mean to say he is un-removable, I just don't think it is wise to change him out because it's "time to".

On Elder / Deacons I was not suggesting a rigid rotation, that is mechanical, not Spiritual. A rigid rotatation can be just as unproductive as a board that never changes. (it's men or its mind) What if a Deacon or Elder were doing something that had a proven track record of blessing in the church, and he needs to be in his office to keep performing this task? So his time comes to get off the board for a year, and his fill-in is not as gifited or "in the zone" and the ministry suffers again? -this is not best for the growth of the church either. So I can sum up by saying whatever the adopted methodology is, it will work best if all live by such scriptures as Romans 12:10-14,16 A man who has the basic qualifications in I Timothy also needs the ones in Romans.

Jim Peal - Blessed Hope

Angela Stewart's picture

Ron Bean wrote:
Angela Stewart wrote:
Our church's deacon board rotates men off after 6 years. Each time deacons are added to the board, they are voted on by the membership, whether they have served before or not.

We don't have anything like that for the pastor.

By rotating off do you mean that they have to stand for re-election or that they have to be off the board for a year (i.e. term limits).

It has been my experience that most churches have definite terms of service but the somehow the same men get re-elected without a break.


I thought I had answered this question a long time ago, but apparently I didn't!

There isn't an official policy of someone having to be "off for a year," but when someone rotates off, they rotate OFF, that is to say, their service ends for a time, and someone else is nominated to fill the position. It has occasionally happened that someone has been asked to extend his term to cover that of a man who has either died or moved away, but those circumstances are rare, as the timing doesn't usually coincide so clearly.

Frankly, though, I don't think there is any written policy one way or the other. The rotation happens as a business meeting vote, where it's announced that the gentleman's term is up and we thank him for his service, the deacon board recommends someone as his replacement (having approached him personally in advance to be sure he is willing, able, and qualified), and the church votes on the deacons' recommendation. Being a small (70 or so) church, we all know each other really well, and votes are simple. Smile

Jay's picture

Greg Long wrote:
Recently I was reading through the Constitution and Bylaws of John Piper's church, Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis (can be accessed here: http://www.hopeingod.org/ConstitutionByLaws.aspx). I was interested to note that every elder must be reaffirmed by the congregation every three years. I have never been a part of a church that has a regularly scheduled vote of confidence or vote of reaffirmation in its pastor(s) or elders.

What do you think about this practice? Does your church do it?


The church I'm attending actually does this every year. When we have the annual business meeting, then all attendees are asked to re-vote on each man in their appropriate position (pastor/deacon/elder) via secret ballot. There is a box for "I don't know this person well enough to say" as well as the standard "yes" and "no" boxes. If a leader receives less than 95% of approving votes, the pastor has the entire Board come to his home on a specific Sunday after church and the church members are asked to come over and speak with the person who they voted against. If nothing comes of it, then the no votes are discounted (since the person who voted against doesn't feel strongly enough to actually talk to the person). If the person does come over and speak with the elder/deacon/pastor that they have concerns against, then the issues can be resolved. The votes at the meeting are counted by two men who are not on the Board to avoid a conflict of interest. When the votes are tallied, they are given to the Pastor after the meeting adjourns and he informs the congregation of the results on the following Sunday - this gives him time to meet with the Board Member and talk about the votes.

I like this system and think that I'll implement it if I ever take a church. I also like the emphasis on board members being re-evaluated in light of Scripture (this Board member still meets the qualifications of a deacon/elder/pastor) and that there is a time for individual confrontation if an elder does not get the approval of the congregation. It's the best system I've seen, and I'm very happy that they put this policy together.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Rob Fall's picture

I served on HSBC's nominating committee for 2011. Our deacon and deaconess groups are set up in three classes (currently '11,'12, '13). This year the focus was on nominating folks to serve in the Class of 2013.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

christian cerna's picture

A lot was said regarding the rotation of Elders. But whenever someone would ask why a Pastor is not rotated, or exempt from having to be approved by the congregation, the people on here ignore the question. I think there is a clear bias in these discussions. It seems like many Pastors are more interested in protecting their job security/salaries and the status quo.

Pastork's picture

Christian,

I think if you go back and read my posts, you will see that I did respond to this issue. I argued that there is nothing in Scripture about terms limits for pastors/elders, so I don't think we should use them. I also stated my view that the Bible teaches the plurality and parity of pastors/elders, so I think we should view it as one office and treat all pastors/elders the same way. And, although we prefer not to practice either the rotation of elders or periodic reaffirmations, I stated my view that, if we did follow such practices, I see no Scriptural reason to treat some pastors/edlers differently than others.

So, didn't I directly address the very issues you claim were ignored? Perhaps you didn't actually read all that I wrote before offering your criticism.

Keith

christian cerna's picture

Keith, I am sorry. Perhaps I misread your posts. It just seemed like the people that posted were OK with changing elders, but not the pastor.

I guess my reading of 1 Timothy, and Titus, and other Scriptures, shows me that there should be a plurality of elders and deacons in a church. And yes, I see that the Scriptures show us that laborers are deserving of their pay. I just don't see the model that we have in modern churches, where one man(i.e. lead pastor), is the only one that has a right to receive honor or compensation for all the time that he puts in, in serving in the church.

I know of many deacons and lay members who spend several hours a week helping to organize the services, setup, clean the facilities, lead the music, take care of children, assist the pastors, etc., but who are expected to do it all for free. While the pastor himself receives a salary, board, credit, the final voice in all matters, etc.