- Who is eligible to be on church council?
- How do we do elections for church council?
- What do we do in meetings?
- What are the cards? What is consensus decision making?
- How do we know if there is a quorum?
- What does it mean to provide pastoral care and spiritual oversight?
- What do we do if there is conflict between people?
- Do we need to get our books audited?
- What do we do with our old church records?
- What role do the Presbytery and Synod and Assembly have?
Who is eligible to be on Church Council?
When considering nominees for elders and/or church councillor think about gifts like spiritual wisdom, the ability to listen to others and make decisions as well as skills and gifts in the different ministry areas of the congregation/s. This includes finance and property skills. As a church council approach people about their interest in being on church council. It is always nice to be asked. Also think about the following criteria about who is eligible to be elected or co-opted onto church council.
- confirmed members and members in association (Regulations 1.1.2)
- elders, if you have them, should make up at least 50 % of the council (Reg 3.3.2 9a).
- any ministry agents in placement
- ministers in association (Reg 2.11.1)
- A church council requires a chair, a secretary and a treasurer (Reg 3.6.1)
If the congregation is less than 30 members you can ask the Presbytery for your congregation to become the church council (Reg 3.9.3)
How do we do elections for church council?
- The Church Council needs to confirm the percentage of votes required for someone to be elected as an elder or as a church councillor. The default position is that the nominee needs to receive at least half of the participating votes. ( Reg 3.3.2(c))
- Nominees for elders and/or church councillor are to be sought/invited. Gifts to look for in the church council include spiritual wisdom, the ability to listen to others and make decisions as well as skills and gifts in the different ministry areas of the congregation/s. This includes finance and property skills. As a church council approach people about their interest in being on church council. It is always nice to be asked.
- As a church committed to being a safe place for all people church councillors/elders need to have a Working with Vulnerable People Registration and to ask those nominating the church councillor/elder to provide a letter of support or similar to the current church council indicating why they think the nominee has the gifts and skills to be a church councillor/elder.
- Nominees need to be members or members in association of the congregation (see Regs 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4). The nominee needs to say how long they are willing to serve (1-5 years) (See Reg 3.3.2(f)).
- At least two weeks prior to the election date the names of the nominees and date of election need to be publicly announced.
- The election is to be by written ballot. Number of votes needed for election was determined by the Church Council prior to the call for nominations.
- New elders and church councillors should be set apart by prayer in a service of worship led by the minister of the congregation or a presbytery representative.
What do we do in meetings?
The first meeting:
The first meeting of a newly elected Church Council is an important opportunity to build community among the members. The Manual for Meetings reminds us that we are first and foremost a community of reconciliation. In order to discern what God is saying to us we need to be able to listen to, care for, and understand the other person. Take time in your first meeting together to:
- Get to know one another –
- What brought you to this congregation?
- What happened that encouraged you to become part of this faith community?
- What gifts do you feel you bring to this Church Council?
- What are your hopes and dreams for this congregation and this Church Council?
- Understand the Consensus Decision Making processes –
- What does it mean to discern together?
- How do we make sure that all voices are heard?
- How will we proceed when we can’t agree?
- Understand the responsibilities of the Church Council (Roles and Responsibilities of the Church Council PDF 58 KB)
Regular meetings (Between quarterly to monthly):
A well thought out agenda and use of consensus decision making will help your Church Council fulfil its responsibilities under the regulations of the Uniting Church.
- The Agenda –
- Structure the agenda so that spiritual and pastoral oversight take priority at all times.
- Indicate with an asterisk those items which will be taken as read and not discussed.
- Give people the opportunity to remove the asterisk from any item they believe does need to be discussed.
- A meeting of the Executive between meetings allows for checking on progress of decisions from the previous meeting and the setting of priorities for the next meeting.
- The Meeting –
- Begin and end with prayer or a reflection. All members can take turns to provide this leadership.
- A well-structured agenda will ensure the meeting focuses on the “Big Picture” – vision and mission, pastoral care, worship.
- Wherever possible work “above the line” – that is work in the areas of vision and planning, using the foresight (what is needed in the future?), insight (what is happening here and how do we respond?),and oversight (are our policies in place and being implemented, are we following through on what we said we would?).
- Wherever possible avoid working “below the line” – that is avoid being caught up in details, problems and drama.
- Discuss and make policy decisions and delegate the detail with appropriate reporting responsibilities.
- Set a finish time and honour that time.
- Make sure minutes are taken and that the minutes of previous meetings are confirmed.
- Always use the consensus process and consensus cards. This will be particularly important when you have to deal with difficult or contentious issues.
The Centre for Theology and Ministry has great resources for growing as leaders here
NSW/ACT synod has produced this booklet
Church Council Ministry Roles and Regulations (1.2MB PDF)
What are the cards for? What is consensus decision making?
The orange, blue and yellow cards are used in the UCA to help us hear all voices in our decision making.
Blue: is the cold card. It is the card you hold up when you are unhappy with what is being said, or wish to oppose part, or all, of a proposal.
Orange: is the warm card. It is the card you hold up when you are supportive of what is being said or you are in consensus with the proposal.
Yellow: is the question card. It is the card you hold up when you want to clarify something or ask a question before voting. The yellow cards are used by the Vic/Tas Synod. Assembly use only the blue and orange cards.
These cards enable us to express our thoughts and feelings as we move through the different phases of our consensus process.
Phases of Consensus
- The topic for discussion is presented.
- Questions of clarification are invited via the use of the yellow or blue card.
- The issue is discussed. The cards will let the chairperson know how members are feeling. At the conclusion of a speech, cards can be held at chest level indicating support or opposition to what was said. They are not a vote and can be changed according to your choice.
Decision Making Session
- The cards are used to vote.
- All people are worthy of respect as they indicate their position, and no-one should feel pressured into agreeing with a position against their better judgment.
For more useful guidance
Terence Corkin, ex General Secretary of the National Assembly, has this useful blog and book on Making Church Decisions.
Check out this video from the Queensland Synod to hear more about orange and blue cards.
How do we know if there is a quorum?
Half the membership of Church Council is needed for a quorum. If no quorum is present, then the meetings shall be reconvened on another occasion. Should no quorum be present at the reconvened meeting, business may be conducted by those present.
What does it mean to provide pastoral care and spiritual oversight?
This doesn’t mean to pastorally visit each member of the congregation, but to ensure pastoral care is available and effective. How this happens is up to Church Council to decide. Spiritual oversight means the Church Council is responsible for what the congregation is hearing in worship; what is taught in Sunday school, Bible Studies and other small groups.
Again it doesn’t mean they have to control everything, but they are responsible to appoint people of trust to these key positions and to deal with any questions or concerns that might arise.
Church Council decides who is able to preach, e.g., is accreditation as Lay Preachers necessary, or can anyone preach? (see guidelines for visiting preachers or speakers). Church Council ensures that the messages shared build up people in faith, love and hope, and is consistent with the commitments of the Uniting Church. Church Council ensures that appropriate personal boundaries are maintained to ensure everyone feels safe (see guidelines on personal boundaries in worship). Who might be trained to conduct funerals etc. This also involves having oversight over the various groups and committees that may exist within the congregation, and all the activities auspiced by the Uniting Church.
What do we do if there is conflict between people?
People should matter more than regulations. The way church councillors (and congregation members) treat one another is even more important that the decisions they make. A church council meeting should be a place of hospitality and generosity where all people are valued and affirmed. Confidence must be maintained – what happens at Church Council stays at Church Council.
Each person is expected to contribute – not dominate the conversation, nor shrink away from speaking at all. The consensus cards are especially helpful in indicating to the Chair that you would like to speak. The tone and manner in which you speak matters enormously. Sadly, there may be occasions when someone behaves in difficult and wilful ways.
Should the group keep silent for the sake of immediate peace, the situation will not improve. Consider whether risking 20 seconds of courage to name poor and ungracious behaviour in a caring way might help the meeting, the people and the congregation. We are part of God’s realm – thus we build each other up, encourage and affirm one another as well as hold each other accountable.
The Uniting Church’s Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders describes the behavioural expectations of all voluntary leaders within the Uniting Church.
All Ministers of the Word, Deacons and lay people serving in an approved Ministry of Pastor role are bound by the national Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice for Ministers of the Uniting Church in Australia.
All Lay Preachers of the Uniting Church have a separate Lay Preacher Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice (PDF 34KB).
If you need assistance in navigating conflict please contact one of the Presbytery Ministers.
Do we need to get our books audited?
The Church Council has responsibility for getting the accounts of their congregation audited. (3.1.2 (b) (viii). Regulation 3.8.7 gives guidance on financial management and audit expectations.
What do we do with our old church records?
This depends on the type of church records you have. Have a look at the Synod Policy. Synod Core Archival Material Policy (PDF).
Relevant Tasmanian records are managed by the State Archives. Contact them here
What role do the Presbytery and Synod and Assembly have?
The Uniting Church is governed by inter-related (‘interconciliar’) councils, each with its own area of responsibility and oversight.
The role of the Presbytery is to provide oversight of the mission and ministry within its bounds and to “encourage[s] them (congregations) to strengthen one another’s faith, to bear one another’s burdens and exhorting them to fulfil their high calling in Christ” (Basis of Union Para 15(c), also Regulation 3.1.3 for more details).
The Presbytery of Tasmania holds three gatherings a year. All people are encouraged to come to these events which include opportunities to worship together, to learn from each other as well as guest speakers and to share in the stories of God’s activity in Tasmania.
Every 18 months the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania meets to share in, worship, bible study and to discuss a variety of mission and ministry matters including: promoting and encouraging the mission of the church, theological and ministerial education, and property matters.
Membership of Synod (PDF 107KB)
The Assembly meets every three years for worship, bible study and to discuss a variety of ministry and mission matters. It has “determining responsibility in matters of doctrine, worship, government and discipline, including the promotion of the Church’s mission, the establishment of standards of theological training and reception of ministers form other communions and the taking of further measures towards the wider union of the Church” (Basis of Union Para 15(e)).