Daniel Sonnenberg posted some excellent guides for folks prepping for ordination in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
THe Countrey Parson doth often, both publickly, and
privately instruct his Church-Wardens, what a great
Charge lyes upon them, and that indeed the whole order and
discipline of the Parish is put into their hands. If himselfe
reforme any thing, it is out of the overflowing of his Con-
science, whereas they are to do it by Command, and by Oath.
Neither hath the place its dignity from the Ecclesiasticall
Laws only, since even by the Common Statute-Law they are
taken for a kinde of Corporation, as being persons enabled
by that Name to take moveable goods, or chattels, and to sue,
and to be sued at the Law concerning such goods for the use
and profit of their Parish: and by the same Law they are to
levy penalties for negligence in resorting to church, or for
disorderly carriage in time of divine service. Wherefore the
Parson suffers not the place to be vilified or debased, by being
cast on the lower ranke of people; but invites and urges the
best unto it, shewing that they do not loose, or go lesse, but
gaine by it; it being the greatest honor of this world, to do
God and his chosen service; or as David says, to be even a
door-keeper in the house of God. Now the Canons being the
Church-wardens rule, the Parson adviseth them to read, or
hear them read often, as also the visitation Articles, which
are grounded upon the Canons, that so they may know their
duty, and keep their oath the better; in which regard, con-
sidering the great Consequence of their place, and more of
their oath, he wisheth them by no means to spare any, though
never so great; but if after gentle, and neighbourly admoni-
tions they still persist in ill, to present them; yea though they
be tenants, or otherwise ingaged to the delinquent: for their
obligation to God, and their own soul, is above any temporall
tye. Do well, and right, and let the world sinke.
For more on the office of Churchwarden see this wikipedia entry.
A wise minister encourages and builds up the congregation’s lay officers. I believe that for most congregations the strength of the Church is in the lay leadership. Granted, the minister plays a large role in developing those leaders, but for the long term health of a congregation, the people who make decisions about finances, building and calling a pastor are crucial. It might be different in other contexts and polities, but from what I’ve seen presbyterian congregations can easily survive an incompetent pastorate, but a lack of leadership from the elders is fatal.
Herbert’s advice to instruct the wardens in public might seem counter-intuitive. But when we remind the lay officers of their duty from the pulpit we also remind the congregation of their importance and responsibilities. When we are greeted after the service every Sunday and given pastor appreciation celebrations, we need to remind everyone publicly of the crucial ministry of lay officers and express appreciation for their work.
Some questions for thought: Do you make prayers for you church officers a part of the church’s prayer concerns? Do you express the respect due to their office as you would expect for the office of minister? Do you preach or teach about the responsibilities of your officers? If your church has a special way to show appreciation for elders, deacons, wardens, lay leader etc… let us know.
(Image: Church Doors by pehedeges: click image for flickr page)