Monday, November 09, 2009

Decision-making in the Local Church

As many of you know, I'm a baptist minister. I use the lowercase intentionally at this point. As a baptist we're governed by the church meeting, the gathered people charged with the shared responsibility of discerning the mind of Christ together. Over the years, even centuries, this has created much debate about what it means to lead in such a setting, and we're still wrestling with that one. Perhaps the church's (not just baptist churches, but churches of all flavours) current confusion over leadership is because we are appointing people who are CEO's first and pastorally motivated second. Perhaps that is too convenient a generalisation.

Anyway, I wanted to think about how we make decisions rather than leadership. I'm still reading Reimagining the church. I take longer to read a book these days. Something to do with being busy and something to do with getting older and weakening eyesight! I've just finished the chapter on decision-making and was struck by a really helpful term Viola uses at the end of the discussion. He describes churches as guided democracies.

His argument is that the most biblical and God-honouring way to make decisions in the local church is by consensus. Hard as it is to achieve, it has to be our goal, even if it takes longer than we would like it to take to reach a decision. Now I know how frustrating consensus can be to achieve, and I know how frustrating it is as a leader to have to wait for consensus to surface. It would be far easier simply to delegate all responsibility for making decisions to a few people who could be relied upon always to get it right!

But that dis-empowers the church and robs the members of their full responsibility to share in the process. It's far less convenient to make decisions this way, but it might just be far more effective in the long run in terms of re-motivating the church for involvement in God's mission.

I was intrigued to listen the Bill Hybels talk at last year's GLS about how Willow Creek had been learning new ways of developing vision. He talked about how they took early ideas and thoughts to different groups within the church and asked questions like, "What excites you about this?" and "What scares you about this?"

With all the recent talk over the last ten years or so about how raising the bar when it comes to membership is the way to get people involved and committed, in other words make it more difficult to become a member, I wonder if the answer actually lies in calling people into deeper personal relationships. Relationships that are willing to work through the tough things and search out the mind of Christ through consensus rather than call for a vote and settle the matter by majority.

So perhaps we should have a simply mantra for church meetings and the processes by which we come to any and all decisions: Pray more, vote less!

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