To be church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a great gift of grace. At the same time it comes with great responsibilities, certainly for the office-bearers. One only has to read the Form for the Ordination of Office-bearers to see the importance of these responsibilities. The Lord Jesus uses their labours to work toward the coming of His Kingdom and to confirm His people in the redemption obtained by His death. He wants His people to be confirmed in the faith, in love, obedience, trust and knowledge. It is therefore important to make sure that the office-bearers are serving the congregation correctly. This requires ongoing vigilance, reflection and evaluation.
The term evaluation needs some further explanation. Art. 73 of the Church Order does not speak of evaluation, but of exercising censure, exhorting and kindly admonishing each other. These terms point to a situation in which an office-bearer is negligent. If the situation would not change it could even lead to suspension or deposition. The term evaluation does not imply that there is something which requires censure. It is important to keep these two matters distinguished. The term evaluation is not to be used to replace what Art. 73 stipulates. Nor should the significance of Art. 73 C.O. be reduced in thinking that in evaluating their work as overseers, the council is keeping this article. There should always be the opportunity to exercise this Christian censure. At the same time it will be helpful to evaluate the way in which the offices function in the congregation, in order to help and stimulate each other, with the upbuilding of the congregation as one’s goal.
Some notes of caution are in place. The process of evaluating has its weaknesses and strengths. We must keep in mind that the building of the church is the work of the Lord. Human plans and methods cannot give faith. If that were the case then the better the plans and the methods the more successful the church. The Spirit gives faith and uses the gospel for that purpose. Evaluating is only a tool. At the same time we should not ignore these plans and methods either. After all the Lord involves office-bearers and gives them responsibilities. It would be wrong to say, “The Lord has to do it therefore it does not matter how I do it.” We have to make sure that we do our work in agreement with the style of the Master Builder. Sloppiness or, carelessness are not proper on this building site, for this is God’s building.
In the second place we must keep in mind that the goal of this evaluation is the upbuilding of the congregation. It is not meant to glorify ourselves, or to hurt other office-bearers. If an office-bearer needs to be admonished we should use Art. 73 C.O. Evaluating is a tool to help us use all the talents we have been entrusted with. There is no perfect office-bearer, there is no perfect congregation. The point in question is not whether we can find faults with ourselves or with other office-bearers. The question is: Are we doing our utmost in taking care of the sheep the Lord had entrusted into our care and what can we do as brothers to help each other in this?
In the third place, we must be aware of the fact that we live in a society where people who have responsibilities are closely watched. Behind this lies the idea that power rests with the people. In the church this ought not to be the case. This evaluation is not meant to give in to a rule by popular demand. Effectiveness is not the norm for faithful service. The end would be that are more concerned about pleasing men than the Lord. At the same time we can say that we face more criticism than previous generations. People dare to say more to office-bearers than was the case in the past. That can be wrong, but can also be healthy. It would be wrong if it is done from a human point of view in the sense that one wants to push his way through. It can be healthy in that as office-bearers and congregation together we sharpen each other as we seek to fulfil the will of the Lord. This shows that in the evaluation the congregation should not be excluded.
There are several benefits to a regular evaluation of what we are doing as office-bearers. It can be beneficial for the congregation. It may help her to grow in love, dedication and knowledge. There is also the benefit for the office-bearers. It may give them a better insight into what is happening in the congregation. It can prevent them from doing things in a haphazardly way. It forces them to make efficient use of time and resources. It gives motivation and helps to identify or even prevent possible mistakes.
In addition to these more immediate benefits there is also the benefit that in this way “new” elders and deacons learn to see what is their task in the congregation. We are faced with a situation in which the older generation is falling away, and the torch has to be handed over to the next generation. That process can never be taken for granted. The older elders may think that the younger ones should know what to do, but that is not always the case. They need to be taught. The younger elders may think that the older ones are out of touch and backwards, whereas in fact they have gained a lot of wisdom and insight over the years. In discussing these things together we can learn form each other and help each other.
In conclusion, this evaluating must be done with thanksgiving and prayer. The Form says: “To do their work well as shepherds of God’s flock, the overseers should train themselves in godliness and diligently search the Scriptures … .”