Each vacant Church shall request classis to appoint as counsellor the minister it desires as such, to the end that he may assist the consistory in maintaining good order and especially may lend his aid in the matter of the calling of a minister; he shall also sign the letter of call.
Art. 4 contained the provision that when a vacant church extends a call, the advice of the counsellor shall be asked. From this provision it is evident that a vacant church should have a counsellor. Such a counsellor is to be appointed by a classis. It is customary that a church which knows that it will be vacant before the next classis, or which has become vacant since the previous one, asks classis to appoint a certain minister as its counsellor. Usually this is the minister of the neighbouring church, although there may be reasons to request appointment of a minister farther away. It is classis which appoints, but it appoints the one for whom the vacant church asks.
It would be wise if a vacant church got into contact with the minister beforehand to see whether there are any reasons why it would be difficult for him to accept the appointment. Counsellorship involves more than just assisting the church in the matter of the calling of a minister and co-signing the letter of call. A counsellor is someone who gives counsel, advice; he is one to whom the vacant church may go in case the consistory has special difficulties or wants to have his advice in a specific case. Thus it may be that a minister would rather not receive the appointment in view of his present work load or family circumstances.
What is the task of a counsellor? It is generally not more than giving counsel, advice, and then only when he is asked to give it. In practice it often was so that a counsellor was expected to conduct catechism classes, to visit the sick and to be available for help in specific difficulties. This was facilitated by the fact that most of the time it was, and is, the neighbouring minister who was appointed.
In fact, a counsellor is not duty-bound to make himself available for these tasks. He may be asked to teach catechism classes, but he may also be asked: “Do you know someone who could teach our youth at catechism classes?” He can then give advice in this matter, although in by far the most cases he will be willing and able to conduct them himself, having received permission from “his” consistory to do so.
In general, a counsellor is there to help and assist the consistory in maintaining good order. This reminds us of Art. 1 of our Church Order, where this expression is found. Thus a counsellor, provided by the church federation, is there to help the vacant church in living up to what has been agreed upon by the churches. Assistance in the work of calling another minister and helping
the church to conduct this in accordance with the Church Order, together with signing the letter of call is only one aspect of a counsellor’s task.
A vacant church should not put too heavy demands on its counsellor. A counsellor, on the other hand, should bear in mind that he is “only” the counsellor, not the minister of the vacant church. In case he attends a consistory meeting, he should not take the chair unless he is expressly asked to do so in a specific case. He should not undertake anything in the vacant church on his own initiative but only upon a request by the consistory. He should refrain from mingling in the affairs of the vacant church of his own accord or even upon the request of some members. Every activity on his part should be the result of a specific request or invitation by the consistory, for the government of the church rests with the consistory and not with any classically appointed counsellor.
The only time he would be permitted to approach the consistory on his own initiative is when he has discovered that this consistory does not “maintain the good order” in the church of Christ, for it is his task to assist the consistory in maintaining it. As for the rest, it is much better that he hears the consistory say to him: “We would like to hear your opinion, too,” than that the brothers are hampered and annoyed by his frequent comments and interference.
The best counsellor is the one who does not do anything except when he is asked to do it.