Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Religious Education, PhD

First Advisor

Werner K. Vyhmeister

Second Advisor

George R. Knight

Third Advisor

Robert D. Moon, Jr.


Problem. Many Seventh-day Adventist churches in Chile, South America, do not have the assistance of a resident pastor, and most of the work in the church is done by volunteer lay leaders. The highest officer of the church is the elder, who usually has no training in leadership nor in theology. What is the work of the elder of the local church? How well is he performing his tasks? No specific study of this problem was found in the literature, and because the elders in Chile appeared to be eager and willing to be trained, this study was designed to investigate these questions and to offer recommendations to aid in the development of a curriculum for the training of elders based on their perceived needs.

Method. Information about the duties of the elders was obtained by a study of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual. Twelve basic duties were identified, and for each one of them indicators were selected and standards established to measure the performance of the elders. Information about the elders was gathered by a questionnaire developed on the basis of the above-mentioned indicators and mailed to a representative randomly selected sample of 147 elders of the two conferences and one mission which comprise the Chile Union Mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In spite of the distance from the re­ search population, the response rate was 88 percent. Data obtained included the frequency of task performance, level of agreement on a number of statements related to their duties, and self-evaluation of their perceived preparation to perform selected tasks.

Findings. The answers the elders gave to the questions indicated that in a number of areas they felt reasonably well prepared to fulfill their duties. This may account for the measure of success they appear to have in their churches. In areas such as teaching adult Sabbath School classes, giving Bible studies, participating in different lay activities, helping members with counseling and advice, and in their concern for the spiritual welfare of the members, they felt they were performing well.

There were other areas in which the elders felt they were not perform ing as well as they would like, thus disclosing specific needs.

Some of these areas were: (1) understanding of and ability to explain the purpose and organization of an elementary church school; (2) the organization and functioning of a stewardship plan; (3) the planning of various activities; (4) writing objectives; (5) evaluating plans, pro­ grams, and activities; (6) adapting general plans to local situations; (7) advising the treasurer and the clerk; (8) leading out in a communion service; and (9) explaining youth work.

From the data it was concluded that the elders felt best pre­ pared to care for the duties they have been familiar with through the years. Some technical administrative skills, such as writing objectives and preparing plans, are conspicuous among their needs. Most of the needs discovered were instructional, but a few related to their personal habits and example, and some pertained to the congregation in general.

Recommendations. It was recommended, based on the needs discovered in this study, that (1) an instructional program for the elders be encouraged; (2) special emphasis be given to the concept that elders should not only know how to perform their duties, but should also be prepared to teach others; (3) the instructional program take into consideration the individual characteristics of the elders and local circumstances, using andragogical techniques such as problem-centered instruction and mutual assistance for problem solving in a group setting; and (4) pastors and elders engage in a serious continuing study on an ideal spiritual growth and nurture program for new believers in their churches.

Subject Area

Elders (Church officers), Laity--Seventh-day Adventists--Chile


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