Recently I met the Pastor of a new church in our community, which is renting meeting space from an older, established congregation. There are so many of these popping up around town, and the mortality rate is so high, that I was curious about how this one would be different. I checked out the website the Pastor gave me, and I found this statement about how decisions would be made in the church: “The local church is to be governed wholly by its Senior Pastor, whom God has chosen for its leadership and governance in all matters.” That settles it; no board, elders or committees; the Pastor has the first and last word. This is how this church will avoid conflict.
I know this really simplifies things, because listening to other opinions and coming to a group decision can be really messy. An old Quaker saying puts it this way: “The world be strange except for me and thee, and sometimes I think thee art a bit odd.” If I as a Pastor close myself off from the “strange” ideas other members of the church have, I may be in charge, but I also may be alone.
I’ve been puzzled by the increasing number of “new church starts” that seem to emerge every week. A small group, usually with a leader who seems to have some new ideas, puts out the word that their version of the church is the one that is on to something all the other churches in town seem to have missed. There are people around, often casualties of sad experiences in other churches, who are quickly attracted to this new, visionary fellowship, where they can restart their faith journey. The group multiplies and rents space from another church, or from a public school, and their optimism grows. But the people who have been added to the original core group bring their problems and eccentric ideas with them, and conflict inevitably increases with numerical growth. Soon the original idealists feel they must defend their uniqueness. It feels as if it’s only me and thee holding on to the vision. And then it’s only me, because thee seems a bit odd. The Pastor I encountered, who says up front on his website that God has chosen him for “leadership and governance in all matters,” is trying to avoid this conflict phase, and though he’s wrong about Biblical leadership, his honesty is refreshing.
I’ve spent my whole ministry in the Baptist tradition, where the final decision in all matters, under God, must be made by the entire congregation. I remember an older pastor telling me “In Baptist church congregational meetings, I’ve seen some of the worst examples of Christianity, and also some of the best.” I would have to confess that I’ve seen a few of those “worst examples,” but I’ve seen far more of the “best examples.” On balance, I’d say that including thee with me, though it may take more time and usually involves some compromise, just about always leads to a better decision, usually one more in keeping with God’s will. And if we add a lot more thees, all of whom may seem a little odd to me, we’re even more likely to discover the direction God is leading us.
We’re going to try to prove this on Sunday at our Quarterly Business Meeting. The entire ABC congregation of thees is invited to review the work the Deacons and the various Departments have been doing, We’ll analyze the church’s financial health, and we’ll vote on some decisions that can have a important effect on the future of ABC’s ministries. Hopefully, we’ll come to harmonious, positive decisions. But even if there are some mes and thees that bump into each other a bit, I still believe that our decisions will be God’s will for the church. I don’t think I’d have that confidence if the Pastor was looked to for “leadership and governance in all matters.”
— Pastor George Van Alstine