Tuesday, September 19, 2006

To Vote ... or Not to Vote ... That is the Question

I had a great conversation this afternoon with a new friend that I met on a mission trip this summer. His name is Paul. Paul feels called to Church Planting. He is currently furthuring his education. He "interviewed" me today as part of his research for a school project. He wanted to find out more about the system of government in my church. It seems that he is comparing and contrasting elder-led and congregational structures. I commend Paul for so thoroughly investigating this issue. It's going to help him a lot someday when he dives into the adventure of Church Planting.

Of course, the issue of church governance has dramatic implications in the practice of Church Planting. There has been much discussion, especially in the Baptist media, about the growing trend toward elder leadership among Southern Baptist Churches. Hannah Elliott wrote a very thorough article on the subject for the Associated Baptist Press entitled, "Elder Rule is Increasing in Baptist Life, and So is Controversy Over Role." I recommend this article. It presents proponentsfor and thorough defenses of most views.

We chose, during the early days of the life of our church, to go with an "elder-led congregational" form of church governance. Our elders and staff (who are, by definition, elders) lead the direction of the church. We gather regularly to pray, share our burdens and joys, and seek God's direction. Our ministry teams manage their ministries. Our financial team manages our finances. We do not have business meetings, because we do not want to introduce disunity into the body by forcing people to "choose sides" over every issue. Instead, the leaders lead, and the people minister. It works really well for us. We will actually vote on only four things in our church life: (1) the yearly budget and corporate trustees, (2) real estate purchases or sales, (3) changes to our constitution, and (4) calling or dismissing the senior pastor. There have been other times when we have gathered the church family to discuss other issues, namely specific church discipline situations.

We have deacons, though we do not call them such, because the role of deacon is so grossly misunderstood in Baptist culture where I live. Instead, we call the men in the deacon role our "Life Group Shepherds." They serve to minister regularly to a small group of people.

So, what about your church? Elders or deacons? "Presbyterian" or congregational. Vote or no vote? What is the best system for effective ministry in the 21st century? Does it matter? What are the implications for church planting? Should it affect the fellowship among our churches? I have another to story to tell about that in another post. :)


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