All this talk about ordination – and particularly Alan’s comment about serving on a nominating committee got me to thinking. We Presbyterians – and me maybe more than most – tend to talk about the controversial stuff about nominations and ordinations. So I’m going to use this blog to talk about some basic but very important stuff about nominations. If you find it to be first grade nominating committee stuff that’s okay.
So some basic rules:
1. Nominating committees seek to do the work of God. The members better take their task seriously.
2. If you are the pastor you are NOT A MEMBER OF THE NOMINATING COMMITTEE! That means, if you value your position in the church you serve you do not suggest names to the nominating committee. After a while people tend to see this as an attempt to manipulate the process; i.e. the pastor trying to get his or her cronies on the session. This is a very good way to become unemployed.
3. Nominating someone to serve on the session, the deacons or the trustees is not a good method to encourage someone to start attending worship again. You will find that a person chosen to serve in the hope that they will start attending worship will attend neither worship nor the meetings of the board.
4. Being a deacon is not a way to earn your way onto the session. Being a deacon is a special calling requiring particular skills and traits. These include compassion, the ability to listen, knowledge of how to serve the poor and other skills and traits listed in the Book of Order. Being an elder requires a different skill set. Some elders should never serve as deacons. Some deacons should never serve as elders. There are a few saints who can do both.
5. New members of the congregation, particularly those who have never been Presbyterian before should not be nominated to serve on the session. Session meetings can be very messy. Sessions have to talk about difficult subjects. It can be like making legislation in Congress which is like making sausage. A new member most probably is not ready to hear some of the stuff said at a session meeting or to observe the process. On the other hand a new member who has served on the session in another Presbyterian Church may be a great elder bringing experience and an outside viewpoint that the session needs.
6. Variety is a good thing on the session. People from different backgrounds, of different racial-ethnic groups and different personalities help a session to make good decisions that are informed.
7. Conflict at a session meeting is not necessarily a bad thing. How the conflict plays itself out, however, is very important. Having someone (who may or may not be the pastor) who knows how to manage conflict on the session is critical.
8. A congregation that elects the same old people who have always served on the session time after time will never look at its situation in new ways.
9. One of the primary tasks of the session is to tell the pastor when s/he is wrong. A pastor will discover that at least 90% of the time when the session tells her/him “No” that the session is right. This is because the members of session, for the most part, have been around a lot longer than the pastor and know where the bodies are buried. Nominating people who have the courage to tell the pastor s/he is wrong is very important.
10. Never nominate a gossip to serve on the session. The story spread throughout the community may be your own.
11. People who are nominated to serve are not guaranteed election. Although rarely used (we don’t want to offend people) the congregation always has the right to nominate people from the floor. The person nominated from the floor may be elected. A person who does not understand this process should not be nominated. Alas the nominating committee usually discovers the person who does not understand the process when the person is not elected gets their feelings hurt and never comes to church again.
12. Anyone who things that these are just practical statements and not theological statements doesn’t understand the Church, theology or human nature.