Shouldn’t we have more people in the Session?

Dear BPCWAians, Today, we published the testimonies of the 4 candidates for members to consider when voting. With the growing ministries in church and the associated resources required with the restart of the Chinese Worship Service, there is more that needs to be done in church. Corresponding to these changes, new processes need to be drawn out to support 2 services, existing processes need to be refined, and streamlining of structures need to be discussed. With this increase, some may wonder – should we have more than only the 4 candidates put up for election? Shouldn’t we have more Session members to reflect the growing needs of the church? Why do we want more? After all, as a common saying goes, the more the better . . . but is more really better?

Why do we want more? (1) Sometimes it is just because other churches have more, so we should too. Does our church Session look rather “small”, in comparison to even other similar sized or smaller churches? Also, with more work that needs  to be done, shouldn’t we have more deacons to bump up the size of our Session to match the workload? If our answers to these are “yes” without considering whether a candidate meets God’s criteria in 1 Timothy 3, and have been proven through years of observation, then we might be tempted to just wish that more were nominated into the Session as deacons. God’s  instruction in 1Tim 3:10 is,   “ And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless”. Rushing to appoint more without careful testing and proving is rash and can have long term negative effects. (2) Sometimes we just want to make things “complete” in church. As a Presbyterian church, some may feel that it is odd that we don’t have another resident elder in church other than the pastor to form part of our Board of Elders. Why don’t we simply get someone from within BPCWA to be an elder instead of co-opting Rev Paul from Bethel BPC? For that matter, if the church is without a pastor, should the church simply just get anyone who is willing to serve as a pastor into that role? After all, if the candidate is willing and the church wants that, do the two mutual positives indicate God’s co-operative will in the matter? Is it better to simply have any elder than to have no elder? Let me first say that I firmly believe that the plurality of elders is the biblical form of church government. This was why, in the absence of any eligible persons in BPCWA, I recommended to co-opt Rev Paul into our Board of Elders, as permitted by our Constitution (12.2). I do wish we had at least another elder from within BPCWA. But rushing to make someone an elder or to add people to the Session isn’t something that should be taken lightly. The Apostle Paul warns, “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure” (1 Tim 5:22). We must remember that although the pastor (who is both the teaching elder and a ruling elder) is the Chairman of the Board, yet all elders share the spiritual and administrative oversight of the church. This means that each and every elder – whether it is as a teaching elder or a ruling elder – must be someone who is able to perform the Scriptural roles of the elder. By our Constitution Article 18, this includes (among others) being responsible for the spiritual welfare and ministry of the church, supervising services and meetings at church, appointing staff workers, exercising discipline, enquiring into the Christian conduct of members, and admonishment and rebuke. It goes without saying that an elder must have soundness of character and conduct. But beyond that, he must be a proven mature person and have spiritual discernment and judgement. These are things which are not merely mentally acquired only through study, though the study of God’s Word is indispensable. Members must realise fundamentally that elders must be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness”, men that will “judge the people” (Ex 18:21, 22). This is further compounded by the fact that the Board of Elders acts by consensus (Article 17.5). Someone who is unwilling to make hard decisions, or of convictions that do not align with the church’s beliefs and constitution, or who is unreliable, or who is unable to make sound decisions will definitely affect the effectiveness of the Board of Elders, and ultimately the church and its members. BPCWA shouldn’t just want men. We must want men of biblical character that meets biblical criteria at every level, especially in the Session. (3) Sometimes we feel we should reward someone who has been in church for a long time or serving for some time in church. So we feel we should appoint them into Session. They may be serving in some visible roles and seem to generally get along with the people around them too. These people may have been active in church for some time, and with the world’s idea of a seniority-based system, it seems only proper to reward them with a “title” or position in leadership. As long as you have been in the church for some time, or have been serving in a particular capacity or ministry for some time, then after a certain point, some think that they should “automatically” be proposed for a “promotion” to the next “rank” in church. By extension, one would expect every deacon to then automatically  be “promoted” to being an elder in due time. Or someone who is multi-tasking on several ministries and working hard should then be automatically considered to be next in line for deaconship or eldership. But even the world is often wiser than to appoint positions based on this. The employee with the longest tenure of service, or the one who clocks in the most overtime hours doesn’t necessarily get promoted to be the CEO, nor necessarily even a manager. This has been the failure of some churches, where one is advanced up the “title ladder” into the church Session without applying biblical criteria and careful long-term observation. With a wrong mindset, service in church becomes a recognition and reward system.

Is more really better ? The church is a spiritual organisation. Hence, even if someone is greatly accomplished in the eyes of the world, they may not necessarily be spiritually qualified to serve. A captivating speaker or a “nice guy” is not necessarily a good pastor for the church. A world-famous surgeon is not necessarily suitable to be a deacon or elder. Some pastors may buckle under this pressure because to “deny” the person that “position” would be unpopular to the person and his supporters. Not to put that person up may indeed be at the expense of votes from that individual, or from those that support that individual. But ultimately, appointing a wrong person brings more trouble than help. There will be more arguments because of conflicting convictions that do not align with the church’s stand, beliefs, and the Constitution. Energies are wasted on infightings instead  of the Lord’s work and helping His sheep. The factions and chaos that arise can eventually split the church. It is not about having more people in the Session and in the Board that matters most, but about having the right people there that makes the difference. Anyone who aspires to be in Session simply for a title and are willing to serve only when given a title ought not to be in the Session in the first place. In the weeks to come, we will look at the criteria for elders and deacons, God willing.

Yours in our Lord’s service,