How Much Time Should the Office Require?
It has undoubtedly happened in every consistory that when an additional meeting was required, the office-bearers took out their calendars and it was impossible to find a date that would work for everyone. This raises the question how much time should the special office require from the office bearers? About this topic I wish to make some comments in general. We can derive much guidance in this respect from the form for the ordination of elders and deacons. I realize that what I write may not apply to everyone. Local and personal circumstances can differ.
I take it that there are about 6 weeks during the year, when it is not possible to do our work as office bearers — the weeks of vacation and the seasons of feast days. That leaves 46 weeks for the regular ministry as office bearers. On average, they should take one evening a week for visiting — a family visit or pastoral visit or diaconal visit, in order "to comfort, instruct, and admonish the members of the congregation with the Word of God, reproving those who behave improperly" (Form for the ordination of elders and deacons). That would tally up to about 46 visits a year.
In addition to visiting, there are other obligations. There are the consistory meetings, once or twice a month, during which they also "tend the flock of God, which is their charge"
(Form for the ordination of elders and deacons). In addition, the elders are to "assist the ministers of the Word with good counsel and advice" and to oversee "the doctrine and conduct — of these fellow servants" (Form for the ordination of elders and deacons). There are additional visits to be made, to a family or a single person with special needs. All this will require minimally another evening per week.
The deacons have their own meetings and duties besides full consistory meetings. Moreover, they are to "support those who are burdened with cares and who are lonely," which involves a large number of visits. Furthermore, they are "called to encourage and comfort with the Word of God those who receive the gifts of Christ's love" and "exhort the members of Christ's body to show mercy" (Form for the ordination of elders and deacons).
All together then, there will be about two evenings per week during 46 weeks, a total of 92 evenings. Those who are not able to do so on a regular basis will have to catch up during other weeks.
In addition, "the overseers should train themselves in godliness and diligently search the Scriptures, which are profitable in every respect, that the man of God may be equipped for every good work" (Form for the ordination of elders and deacons). This work should not be forgotten. Training and learning must be continual and efforts must be expended to this end.
Admittedly, this is a lot. However, it is a task to which one knows oneself called by God Himself through His congregation, and for which one also has declared oneself ready before God and His holy church. It would be good therefore to speak about these things with the chosen and appointed brothers. It will be appropriate also at times in a consistory meeting to speak about the need for performing the work regularly and the need for self-discipline on the part of the brothers in this regard.
Of course, there are brothers who spend more evenings (or parts of the day) for the labours in the congregation. There will also be those who are (able to) spend less time.
I return to the question whether this is not too demanding for an office bearer who also has a busy career during the day and sometimes also in the evenings.
I acknowledge that it is not little. But it is necessary that the office bearers work in their districts. It is also necessary that all the office bearers do so. It is not right either that some office-bearers labour more intensively among the families or single members in their districts than other office bearers do. They all need to be ministered to intensely.
Whoever is called to the special office must consider how much time and effort per week he is to give to it. I am convinced that two evenings per week is the minimum. I also am convinced that three evenings are too much. I make an exception for those who have more time and opportunity for it.
It is desirable that not only the pastor but also the elders and the deacons report their labours to the consistory. I do not mean to suggest that the brothers receive the opportunity to show how much they do. I do mean to suggest that the office bearers together check to see if the congregation is ministered to adequately and to oversee one another's labours. Upon occasion the consistory might ask the one brother: "Are you not working too hard?" To another they may say: "Is it possible for you to do more?"
I trust that this editorial give occasion to have a brotherly conversation about the time and effort of the office bearers.