What is a Council of Elders meeting like? If you had the opportunity to attend a meeting, what would you expect? What does the Council do? Is anyone in charge of the meetings? Is there much disagreement between Council members on important issues? What exactly does the Council do?
Being a member of the Council of Elders makes heavy demands on an individual's time. All of the members have regular work to be done. At the present time, only one member is not employed by the Church in ministerial duties. Aaron Dean has an outside job and has somehow managed to juggle his time to fit things into the schedule. I would assume that in the future, other outside employed men will be placed on the Council. They will then have to somehow work their work schedule and the Council schedule together.
The Council meets four times per year with one of the meetings following on the heels of the General Conference of Elders annual meeting. That is down from the five or six meetings during the more formative years of United. Normally the meetings begin on a Wednesday and end on Wednesday noon the following week. We hope to shorten that time to five days as some of the heavy, detailed work of organizing is accomplished.
Every member is a part of two or three committees that function year round. Committee work varies in intensity, coming to a head prior to a meeting of the full Council. The committees do preliminary work on a given subject, which is then presented to the Council for deliberation or action. All things considered, the work of each Council member demands roughly two months of work during the year. Of course, this is in addition to his normal work load. With experience, streamlining and projects already finished, the work time is beginning to decrease. Each Council member has willingly taken on the extra work out of a desire to serve God and His people as fully as possible.
If you were to attend a meeting, you would find 12 men who genuinely enjoy each other's company. The meetings are relaxed with a fair amount of laughter, lots of good natured ribbing towards one person and then another. There is no discrimination. All seem to share in being the point of fun.
How Decisions Are Made
How are decisions made? Who is the final authority? To the best of our ability, we intend that God is the final authority. The Council strives to enter into any meeting in a prayerful manner asking God to guide our minds in the consideration needing to be made. Each day is begun by asking God's presence and His wisdom. In making a decision, the pros and cons are thoroughly discussed. Opinions or feelings are freely expressed with respect to all. After all discussion is finished, the opinion of the members is sought. Usually the opinions are unanimous, but occasionally there are one or two in opposition. Once the opposition is expressed, the decision is fully supported by all members. New policy is not primarily initiated or formed by the Council. The staff or administration do a study and present the ideas for a new policy to the Council, which then makes the final decision. Council policy decisions are fully accepted by those who presented the policy since they have had the opportunity to express all their thoughts in giving the presentation. The Council does not make decisions regarding the daily work of the office staff or ministry.
Once all the discussion, thoughts or arguments have been presented, the Chairman asks for a resolution to be made that covers the needed wording. Following any final discussion, the pro opinions are asked, then those against or abstaining. The final decision is then entered into the minutes by the secretary of the Council. Following Robert's Rules of Order, these minutes are then read by the chairman and approved at the next meeting. In addition, Doug Johnson, an elder serving the Canton and Mansfield, Ohio, congregations, attends each meeting and records the details discussed for his published reports. Hopefully you have been able to see these reports as they come out.
At times a resolution is put forward that seems to be assured of being passed. But in the discussions, the opposing argument is so well made that the majority of the Council find their minds have been changed and the resolution fails. In all the arguments either for or against, there is not animosity or hard feelings. Strong feelings are expressed and stand or fall on their own merit.
What Type of Disagreements?
Lest any misunderstand, the Council does not spend considerable time discussing the fundamental doctrines of the Church. When you hear that "there is sometimes disagreement and difference of opinion among the members of the Council of Elders," please be assured that there is strong agreement and sameness of opinion on core issues and values—like our fundamental doctrines. For example, be assured that we are not spending time debating matters such as the sanctity of the Sabbath or whether the Holy Spirit is a person. Those matters have been decided long ago (to be explicit, the Sabbath is holy and the Holy Spirit is not a person).
Please remember that doctrines within the United Church of God can only be changed with a 75 percent agreement of all 400-plus elders. But, for the United Church of God, which has thousands of members, scores of employees and a huge job to do of promoting the truth of God in a complex world, there are many organizational, legal and administrative matters that need to be addressed in a godly, decent, orderly manner, taking into account biblical principles and the wisdom and experience that we have gained through the years. There is often more than one way to solve a problem or address a matter. We seek to find the best way, and that can take time.
To carefully examine these many matters, taking into account as many factors as we can humanly, just takes time. And, there sometimes are different approaches or opinions on these matters. But, once all the discussion is over, and the Council has prayerfully considered the information it has available to it, there is nearly always unanimous consent as to the final decision. All in all it can be a rather laborious process. We have had members and ministers who have come to the morning meetings, and then decided they can find more interesting ways to spend their time! They leave wondering what all the fuss is about in regard to Council meetings. That being said, I know all of the Council members count it a privilege to able to serve the Church in this way. Please continue to ask God's guidance and direction for the Council, as we do for all members around the world.