11 Elder Chairman FAQs


Editor’s note: For more on this topic, check out this conversation and this article on tweet-sized chairman lessons.

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1. How long does the chairman serve?

We have a rule where the chairman serves two years, and the chairman switches between being a lay elder or a staff elder. We have a practice of simply getting a chairman, and if he’s doing a good enough job, riding him to the ground as long as we have him!

2. Do elders have term limits?

Per our church constitution, every elder (including the chairman) serves a term of three years. They may then be renominated by the congregation to serve another three-year term. After this second three-year term, the elder must take a year sabbatical before he can serve again. The only exceptions to this rule are the associate pastors and the senior pastor, who have no term limit, as pastoring is a part of their job.

3. How often does your eldership meet?

Our board has roughly 20 meetings a year—twice a month except for the summer months (June, July, August) and the winter holiday months (November, December)—in these exceptions, we only meet once a month.

4. What kinds of meetings do you have?

Once a month, we’ll have a member-centric meeting. In these meetings, we pray for members, talk about pastoral issues, and review membership applications and resignations that we will present to the congregation. The other meeting we’ll have what we call an “issues meeting,” where we’ll take a specific topic (e.g. divorce, age of baptism, race, complementarianism) and do collective thinking together. The point of these latter meetings is to think together (usually prompted by a reading from a book or a collection of articles) so that when an issue arises, we’re not thinking through it for the first time. We also have one annual budget meeting as a whole eldership.

5. What do you do in your elders meetings?

At elders meetings we have an executive session where we primarily discuss potential elder candidates. Then, we have a general session open to pastoral interns or brothers training for ministry. In general session, we read the text that will be preached that Sunday, sing a hymn, approve of minutes from previous meetings, and pray through 25–40 names in our membership directory, and review membership applications and resignations that the congregation will vote on. Each meeting, we have a 10-minute bloc we call “Theology time” where we simply discuss a theological work (right now, we’re going through Scott Swain’s The Trinity). We also take five minutes every meeting for one brother to go around and share about his personal evangelism—this is for purposes of encouragement and accountability, as pastors are to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5).

6. Does your eldership have subcommittees?

Yes. Over time, we have organized a number of permanent, standing subcommittees (outreach, compensation, personnel, women’s ministry, child protection), and many more ad hoc, temporary subcommittees. Among both standing subcommittees and temporary subcommittees, there are a number of different types and uses:

  • Delegated authority subcommittees: these subcommittees are given authority by the elders to act on behalf of the elders, generally with a request that the subcommittee keep the elders informed as to its decisions and actions. Example: the personnel subcommittee. These are rare.
  • Pre-work subcommittees: these subcommittees spend time researching a particular issue (administrative, pastoral, theological, etc.) and come back to the elders with a recommendation and the reasoning behind that recommendation, generally in the form of a memo. There is no expectation that the elders will follow the subcommittee’s recommendation (though we often do). Instead, the purpose of this subcommittee is to “pre-digest” an issue so that the elders can have a more productive conversation all together about that issue. Example: the youth ministry subcommittee. These are common.
  • Independent subcommittees: these subcommittees are formed to work on an issue without an expectation that the elders will need to weigh in on the issue as a whole nor that the subcommittee is acting on behalf of the elders. Example: the women’s ministry subcommittee. Another example: many pastoral matters where several elders agree to work on an issue together. These are also common.

7. How formal are your meetings, and why?

In my experience, the size of an eldership will generally determine its formality, as the bigger a ship is, the harder it is to turn. An eldership of 4–6 can have much more informal conversations with a simpler agenda than an eldership of 14–16 or 25–30. For more formal elder boards, Roberts’ Rules of Order provide good guidelines for orderly discussion. We don’t follow Roberts’ Rules to a tee. We jokingly say that we follow “Bob’s Rules”—a more relaxed version.

8. Is there a Robert’s Rules cheat sheet?

Yes! See here and here for summaries of Robert’s Rules.

9. Do elders have equal say in the meeting?

Yes, no elder’s vote counts for any more than another’s.

10. How do you run an elder meeting with a big board?

One brother recently asked me this, as he found running a meeting with 20 brothers exhausting. Here’s what I said: “Two suggestions for you. One more on the philosophy of running meetings, the other more practical. Re: the philosophy—don’t assume there needs to be parity between each guy’s voice in the room, and the guys shouldn’t assume that either. Are the brothers around the table equals? Of course, but that doesn’t mean each guy needs equal say on every topic. With 30 guys, if each guy speaks for two minutes—that’s an hour just on one topic! I try to make clear to the guys when we’ve heard enough on a topic and can move to a vote. This leads me to my next suggestion.

Each discussion should be driven by a motion (ideally). That way there’s a specific decision point pushing the conversation. If not, and it’s discussion for discussion’s sake (which isn’t always bad), I tell the guys how long we will discuss (“Brothers, we’ll talk about this for 10 minutes max”) and I literally set a timer. Here’s how you can have brothers think about motions and have discussions more fruitfully in the meeting—encourage conversation outside the meeting. We do this by making a packet of memos that include motions or FYI’s or readings, and we give it to the guys eight days in advance. That way they have time to read, pray, and ask any follow-up questions, and it really cuts down on the conversation in the meeting.

11. Do you have a sample elders’ packet?

Yes! See here for a sample agenda of an elders’ packet, and see here for sample minutes from a meeting.

Isaac Adams

Isaac Adams is the lead pastor of Iron City Church in Birmingham, AL. and the founder of United? We Pray—a podcast helping Christians pray and think about racial strife. You can find him on Twitter at @isickadams.

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