Yesterday over coffee and a team meeting the conversation turned to church government and structure. Specifically, we launched into a discussion about the turning point in the North American church that has resulted in constitutions being the foundational document for church decision-making and the election of leaders. In many cases church leaders and pastors choose to follow a constitution, written by founding leaders of the local church, rather than follow scriptures given to us by God to guide decision-making.
We know the results and the impact this has on churches and church leadership. Members are coerced into running for offices or chairing committees because the church needs to fill slots on a ballot. Many times these members are really not interested but are convinced they are qualified and called because they are a warm body and their church needs them. Afterall, who would want to let down their church? God? Right? So wrong.
Church leaders become elected not through prayer and observation of gifts and modeling Christ like living but because they are successful at “running” something else – business, law firm, doctors office. You get the idea. You’ve probably been there a time or two yourself.
This certainly is not what Jesus modeled for us in his ministry. He carefully watched and selected people to be his disciples not because they were experts in what they did, but for who they were and how they lived. He also looked for those who were teachable. Sure, many of the original twelve didn’t quite know what they were in for, but over a short period of time and discipling Jesus sent them out to multiply and expand the Kingdom. So if we see this in the New Testament, what changed in the culture and the DNA of the North American church that has put so much emphasis on following a constitution using elections and ballots over discipling?
We know a lot about the history of the founders fathers of this country, why they came to America, and what they were trying to achieve. But have we really achieved freedom in our churches following a constitutional form of church decision government and structure? Don’t our churches and church members deserve more than being led by the warm bodies who filled a slot on a ballot? Don’t people who have a heart for mission and ministry deserve more than their God inspired vision to be held up in committee meetings and congregational votes? These were all the questions swirling around our table.
Our spirited conversation really just gave way to more questions we are still exploring answers for. Our own experiences in ministry, both personal and professional, tell us that this way of church government often pushes people away from the local church and becomes a barrier to spiritual growth, discipleship, and leader development. This certainly can’t be what our founding fathers wanted, and it certainly can’t be what Jesus died for.
So, with so many questions still unanswered, we’ll leave it to this for today…
What is the role of a constitution in a church? Going forward, are these documents a hinderance or help to the overall health and vitality of a church?
How do you effectively balance the running of the church in an orderly manner while also freeing people who are called to do ministry work? I have some ideas to share in future posts and invite you to share your own experiences related to effective church governance and structure.