By the time I entered the ministry as a pastor, I had been through a significant amount of education: four years of college, three years of seminary, one year of internship at a church, and a three-year doctoral journey that concluded with a PhD in theology.
When I was placed in my first church, it became clear to me that I really didn’t know much about how churches operate and make decisions. It’s called church governance. It takes various forms in congregations of different denominations. Yet, in almost every church—and denomination—the mechanism is political in nature. In spite of all my education, I hadn’t given it a thought!
At that first church I pastored, they called their decision-makers a “church council.” Every year, the congregation elected those who agreed to “run” for the council positions. There were also votes for leaders of the council, designated as “president,” “vice president,” “secretary,” and a few other positions. It never occurred to me at the time: Words like “president” don’t appear in the Bible.
Another issue that didn’t cross my mind in those days was a practice that, well, just didn’t feel very spiritual. When members were approached for these “offices,” it was clear: They had to include two candidates for each position. That meant, when the church members voted, one person who was willing to serve God and the church would lose in front of their church family. As a young pastor—honestly—I never thought about how unspiritual that is! Yet, most people agreed: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Of course, that doesn’t make it spiritual, appropriate, or even beneficial for God’s Kingdom work. As a young pastor, I just went along with it, no questions asked.
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