In every church, no matter what size, Christians have to make hundreds of decisions every year. Some of those decisions are large; others are smaller. All of them are important. They shape the direction of the church. They impact the effectiveness of your congregation. They energize enthusiasm in people. Or, if they are bad decisions, they disrupt members, divide the church, and ignite decline. There is a reason most church members choose not to attend congregational meetings. Most healthy Christ-followers avoid the politics, stress, and tensions.
Churches make many decisions. There are mundane issues about the maintenance of the facilities. There are discussions and decisions about finances. Staff and leaders make important decisions about priorities of ministry. No church can do everything. Leaders must make many choices. Members come together and need some system to deal with how to operate—according to God’s will.
Congregations must choose leaders. They must have some way to identify those who will make decisions. They need a system for choosing leaders.
When it comes to church governance, what references do you use? Do you have a constitution? Do you have bylaws? Do leaders look to Scripture? Do they pray for God’s direction? What system is used for choosing those who make decisions? How are they vetted? Do they seek God’s will? Do they discuss? Do they also pray? Do they search Scriptures for guidance regarding their decisions?
In truth, after a number of decades, any church that has been around for a while can easily fall into “the way we’ve always done it.” Frequently, huge decisions follow the same pattern for decades. Generations of Christ-followers in the church are led by patterns molded by sources beyond Scripture.
As a leader, Jesus was not accepted by many of the religious leaders. He did say, “My Kingdom is not of—not like—this world.” Oddly, those who should have known best—that Jesus was the Messiah—rejected Him and the church that He came to launch.
Saul persecuted those who followed Jesus. He was a religious guy, but he was blinded—and couldn’t see the new covenant embodied in Jesus. At one point, he was literally blinded on the road to Damascus. God had to get his attention. Today, God is getting the attention of many church leaders. They are asking: Is there a better way to do church politics?
With the decline of many churches, Christians are increasingly wondering about decisions made at many levels: the local church, regional groups of churches, and denominations. The area of politics in churches has become a significant challenge. Pastors and church leaders work hard to find someone—anyone—who is willing to become a leader and serve in the process of making significant decisions. Some refuse to be a part of it, with a feeling that the system itself is corrupt.
Some church members are not clear about what Jesus taught. They are disciples of Jesus, but are not equipped to make decisions that guide the path of their church. Some may not be grounded in the faith enough to discern the will of God in a process covered by prayer and directed by Scripture. Those who are chosen to be leaders in some churches are not always clear about what Jesus taught. There are many who do not understand the primary mission of the church. Leadership meetings become business as usual. These Christians are “willing to serve” and mean well. Usually, the system of choosing leaders is a serious issue. Many who serve as church leaders are not spiritually trained for the task.
After the crucifixion, the disciples themselves were not hanging out at the tomb waiting for Jesus to appear. Even those close followers of Christ did not get the nuances of the movement. At least, not until later. Christian leadership is a challenge.
Since we have the benefit of the New Testament, it is clear that Jesus was on a mission. The four Gospels and the letters of Paul—and others—provide a great foundation for those Christians who are called to lead the church that Jesus launched. There are actually many clues throughout the New Testament that provide the context for operating a New Testament church.
There is no chapter, verse, or set of verses that provides a manual on how to effectively lead—govern—a church. Nevertheless, everything church leaders need to know is in the New Testament if we approach it through the lens of effective mission, according to God’s will.
Jesus doesn’t organize the church by enrolling members into an organization. His model is different. He asks people to “follow” Him. His approach with followers is primarily “on-the-job” training. There are no elections. Jesus modeled discipleship. Those who were part of His inner circle were willing to follow Him in every aspect of their lives.
Jesus didn’t have a “new member class.” Those impacted by His teaching were more like followers of a new lifestyle. There were no bylaws. There were no rules of order. In fact, much of the fast growth of the New Testament church was quite chaotic. The biblical principles taught by Jesus were the backbone that formed the young churches. Jesus never said His followers were “members” of an institution. They were called disciples, which means “learners” or “followers.” Some leaders were called apostles. They were not elected by votes. There was no constitution. Jesus’ approach was more like a movement than an institution. The church is the “body of Christ”—a living organism.
Most of His followers were believers identified by their willingness to follow Him. They were dramatically changed. These leaders were uniquely qualified to serve according to their spiritual gifts. This movement was not political, but spiritual; not organizational, yet it became the most profound movement in history.
According to Scripture, leaders had no “term limits.” Their ministries reflected their lifestyle. They never stopped learning because they never ceased to grow spiritually. Most believers never had the opportunity to become focused on “the way we’ve always done it.” The movement was called “The Way” because it reflected a whole different lifestyle. This approach was not patterned after a political engine or organization. The movement was divine—and very different!
The book about how biblical churches make decisions is an opportunity for your church to recapture the brilliance of Jesus’ movement. By looking at what Jesus did—and how His movement has been productive for centuries throughout the world—it becomes clear that borrowing political notions from the world is a serious roadblock for what God wants to do. Churches that reclaim a biblical approach to decision-making are liberated to a new level of effective mission and ministry.
In my next blog post, we’ll look at the issue of leadership: “When Jesus was physically gone, how did the leaders lead?”
Kent R. Hunter is the author of Church Politics: Pain-Free Decision-Making. Kent is the founder of Church Doctor Ministries, now led by Tracee J. Swank. Church Doctor Ministries is a dynamic ministry that helps Christians and churches become more effective to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Church Politics is available from Amazon.com and ChurchDoctor.org.