(Ninth in a series; to be continued.)
One of the pastor’s most sensitive and critical tasks is moderating his session—his elders board. In Elders Reformed, we emphasize the connection between the unity of the session and the unity of the congregation. If Dad and Mom are fighting, the children fight too. The same is true in the church. It’s the pastor’s job to keep peace between the fathers of the church.
This is one reason I recommend churches with elders specify in their church constitution or bylaws that the pastor is the moderator of the session. Someone needs to be responsible and focussed on keeping the peace between the elders and deacons (or trustees), between the members of the pastoral staff, between the pastors and elders, and especially between the elders themselves. This is central to the work of a pastor and he must be diligent in this work or the church will suffer schism and division.
Who better to keep the peace of the session than its moderator and who better to serve as moderator than the shepherd who feeds the flock week in, week out, thereby gaining the greatest trust from the lambs, ewes, and rams? I could say more about this, but Elders Reformed has a fuller explanation.
There’s good reason Presbyterian polity appoints the pastor moderator of the session. It’s not because he’s more important than the other elders and pastors but because the greatest affection and trust ought naturally to accrue to him through his very public and constant work feeding the flock. And if that affection and trust aren’t there because the elders and their wives are undercutting him constantly, that’s even more reason to give him a leg up, polity wise, to discipline their schism.
If that affection and trust aren’t there because the pastor is lazy, controlling, or faithless, the solution is firing him—not trying to contain the damage he does by reducing him to a subject of the elders and their wives. It might give elders and their wives some satisfaction to know the pastor sits through criticisms and complaints which form the substance of session meetings, but the other sheep don’t know this and it would be no help to them, anyhow. What they need is a shepherd and feeding and cleaning and exhortation and admonishment and comfort; not satisfaction that their husband is whupping up on the pastor during session meetings.
The difficulty and sensitivity of peace among the church officers, and especially among the elders and pastors, is one of the main reasons from the first we have had the men in our pastors college (now New Geneva Academy) attend every session meeting.
They sit in a circle behind the elders so the order of authority is clear. They are to request permission to speak whereas the pastors and elders have no need of permission—just the moderator’s recognition. Obviously, they know their place is not to enter into arguments, which is to say the more tension there is on any particular issue, the less inclined they are to say a single word. But that’s something that’s pretty natural when they sit in a row behind the elders.
It’s very helpful for them to observe the session for several years, seeing how the peace is kept or restored, and coming to know deeply the work of the elders caring for the flock. The majority of our session meetings are always caring for particular souls and families, which is to say pastoral care, with the pastors and elders discussing each case, catching up on the history, then making assignments knowing who’s done what in the past, and with whom.
Then, of course, they watch the rare processes when this less formal care and discipline of the souls fails in one particular case and we must move to formal discipline. They have seen the (usually) years of tender and firm pastoral care discussed and reported on in session meetings which precede formal discipline, so they know the huge context for formal discipline which forms the necessary foundation for the convening of a disciplinary court and the holding of a trial.
What I’m trying to get across is the necessity of men being trained for pastoral ministry actually being trained for pastoral ministry. No PhD led seminary gives any of this instruction to their students and that’s why our legacy seminaries must be left behind and we must return to pastors colleges run by and within the Church Herself.
Pastors must be scholars. Of course.
But delegating the training of pastors to scholars is the death of the Church, and currently we are all smelling it. The Reformed church today has next to no pastoral care, and isn’t that what you’d expect of men trained by PhDs?
Yet pastoral care is the single work most necessary for the salvation of the souls in Christ’s Church. Pastoral care within the pulpit preaching personally to the conscience of the sheep and pastoral care given before and after the pulpit, during the week. In person from pastors, of course.
But also from elders. And if future pastors are going to lead elders to care for their sheep, they must see it being done somewhere, and seeing it done, coming to recognize its sensitivity and difficulty with attendant joys and sadnesses.
If we’re going to reform the dead and dying households of faith surrounding us today which are certainly not the pillar and foundation of the truth, we must train pastors to lead their elders into committing themselves and carrying out this work faithfully.
Don’t forget that Jesus explained His ministry again and again by declaring the people of God were harassed and helpless because they were sheep without shepherds.
No academic institution is interested in producing shepherds. They are interested in producing scholars and men who revere scholars. But the last thing we need today is more men who revere scholars. There were days when that was our need, but the guild has successfully sold its importance to all the budding pastors we paid them to honor with their Masters of Divinity, and now what’s needed is to pay churches and pastors to train shepherds who want to be shepherds and revere shepherds.
That’s the true Biblical model and we encourage you to become a part of New Geneva Academy so we can help you as a pastor and church train your own future shepherds.
Just get in touch with us. And if online contact forms are not your thing, feel free to email our President, Andrew Dionne (firstname.lastname@example.org); or to me, Tim Bayly (email@example.com).
(Ninth in a series; to be continued.)