governing church

I have been a closet-anglican and a small-b-baptist pretty much all my Christian life. But it is my love of being interdenominational, international ... and interserve (the mission family in which I grew up, known back then as bmmf) that has pretty much trumped everything else.

But God has a sense of humour. He called me to be the principal of a baptist seminary (Carey Baptist College) where I needed to put the capital into the 'b' and become Baptist for a season (although the student community was never much more than 50% baptist). And now he has called me to work in a mission organisation that is so deeply Anglican (although it is working to diversify and broaden), it is hard to remain in the closet.

But there is one area where I am clearly one and not the other: church governance. The New Testament does not appear to be explicit enough about the way a church should be governed. This is partly why so many different ways have emerged through history - and so I don't think the issue is a critical deal-breaker theologically. However, as I travel, I do hear far too many stories of below-average bishops with above-average power. I'd struggle in that world. My doctrine of human depravity is too strong to allow so much influence to be wrapped up in one person...

So, on church governance, I remain baptistic. While it is not without its frustrations, my own experience in my own local church in recent months has provided a surge of optimism. We've been having a tough ol' time - just the kind of time when it is important to hang in there and quietly be part of the solution and not the problem! In recent months we have had two meetings for the members. Given the state of the church I thought both meetings could be tricky, even divisive. The first meeting was about calling a pastor and the second was about houses and property and buying and selling. By instinct I did not think this latter issue needed a member's meeting - but I was proved to be wrong.

Anyhow I thought it was copybook, case study material. Incredibly full briefing papers canvassing all the issues were distributed well in advance of the meetings. I've never seen it done better. Information is power and passing it on, in writing, in good time and in fulness minimises the possibility of the abuse of power. The documents fueled lots of questions and filled me with confidence that the homework had been done. Then when the meetings came around I was impressed by the way they were convened. Loads of patience in evidence, with defensiveness of spirit held in check. In both meetings I was ready to vote after 10 minutes - but the questions flowed, and then flowed even some more (along with my fidgety-ness). The respect shown to the voices of the older ones in the church impacted me - as did the wisdom shared from among the members (rather than just the leaders up the front). On both occasions a common mind gradually took over the meeting as the questions ran out of steam. It came as no surprise that after what seemed forever, a vote was taken on these potentially polarising issues with the result being decisive, and probably close to unanimous. My sense was that the Spirit was present in the meeting largely because of the way individuals were honoured...

OK - it doesn't always work like this. I know that. But for a local church navigating some tough stuff, there was so much to like about this approach. But it did remind me of a conversation I had with a man many years ago. He came to our little baptist church as a refugee from an imploding pentecostal church. I cautioned him against any expectation that he was entering the 'promised land' of church governance. Afterall when things are going well in a local church, what could be better than a pentecostal, or anglican church, where the big decisions can be made by fewer people and the momentum allowed to race ahead? At such a time what could be more frustrating than a laboured and picky members' meeting? But when things go sour, a church hits the wall, the pastor disappoints with moral failure (as was the case with this friend) - the last place I'd want to be is in a pentecostal church. Because at such a time a church governance that honours and starts within the family of God in the search for wisdom and guidance is to be preferred. Well - for me anyway!

nice chatting



Anonymous said…
that made for a good read on the day we held a church meeting that turned out pretty well. I like baptistic too!

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