In recent months, the eldership has been discussing what it means to be an elder, with specific reference to what this looks like practically. This has come about as we have hammered out employment policies for vocational elders. We have discussed such things as office hours, employment duties, leave, ongoing training and education, policies regulating a wider ministry to other churches, etc. In the light of these discussions the eldership has requested that I write an article focusing particularly on what the congregation should expect of its vocational (“fulltime”) elders: Christo and me.
Here are my musings on this subject.
As vocational elders (those who receive their remuneration from the church), we see ourselves as shepherds under the employ of the congregation. This gives a framework to both our privilege and our responsibility.
As “fulltime” elders, we are privileged to have been given the oversight of BBC and to invest our lives focusing on leading, feeding and giving heed to the flock. We see ourselves as being on duty 24/7 (please call Christo for night shift!). Seriously, we are available at any time. The reality is that, even on our day off (mine is Tuesday and Christo’s is Thursday), we often find ourselves fulfilling pastoral duties (study, emergencies, etc.). This simply goes with the territory and we are happy to do so.
Because we are aware of our financial dependence on the church, we appreciate both this privilege and of our responsibility to “earn our keep.” Since every employee needs structure, a framework by which to faithfully and fruitfully their duties, we also have a framework in which we function. But as we will see, there is also some flexibility with this.
With respect to our framework, we keep regular office hours during the week. The expectation is that we arrive at the church offices (Monday to Friday) no later than 8:00 AM and that the day ends (officially) at 4:30 PM. However, it is a rare day in which we leave before 5 or even 6 o’clock, and we are often at our desks well before the stipulated hour. On Saturday, we keep regular hours of 8:00 AM to noon or 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM (though afternoons are often spent in preparation for the Lord’s Day ministry). These stipulated times serve as the minimum framework. Christo and I generally meet Saturday evening from 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM to pray and to discuss various things with reference (usually) to ministry.
Our weeknight evenings are often busy and it is not unusual for us to be out most nights. The elders schedule a meeting every second Monday evening, and on the in-between Monday evenings, Christo and I both meet with groups of men for discipleship and leadership development. Personally, I try and reserve Tuesday evening to be at home since this follows on the heels of my day off. Of course, when we are not involved in Young Adults, Newly Marrieds or RAGS, Fridays are generally our own as well.
It is not always easy to quantify what we do. Of course, we spend a lot of time studying Scripture, reading for sermon preparation, meditating, praying and writing. We also spend time planning and doing administration work that often can only be done by us. We spend time counselling church members and sometimes other pastors. We make pastoral visits to those with special needs, and hospital visitations are often on our schedule. Because we live in a broken world, we often preach funerals and help the grieving through this time of sorrow. Because of the blessings that God has bestowed upon us as a healthy and growing congregation, Christo and I are sometimes invited to address other congregations, and our involvement in Sola 5 also calls for our time and attention. (Both of us are currently elected members of the Sola 5 Steering Committee.) On top of this, we have responsibilities to our missionaries. All in all, as Christo would concur, we face many challenges as vocational elders; but boredom is not one of them!
Scripture challenges us to ensure as undershepherds that our personal growth and progress as pastors, shepherds, and believers is evident to all (1 Timothy 4:15). And so all our various activities are undertaken with a motive towards constant personal development for the good of those under our care. Our nonvocational fellow elders have sought to encourage us in this ongoing process of personal growth and development for ministry.
But having indicated some of what we are responsible to do, it needs to also be noted that we are husbands, fathers (and a grandfather). This requires that, in the midst of our framework of labours, we need some flexibility. There are times (though perhaps too rare) when we leave the office early or arrive later because our families need our presence and assistance. If we have travelled away from home for a length of time on ministry then we may (again, too rarely) take a day off to reconnect with our homes. The nonvocational elders are encouraging us to be more flexible in this regard.
At the end of the day, Christo and I love what we do and so we don’t track our hours invested or begrudge a busy schedule. We are grateful for the framework which provides some discipline and we are thankful for an understanding congregation when it comes to allowing us some flexibility.