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Church Polity – From Experience

Posted by on Oct 21, 2010 in community, elders, office | 1 comment

Church Polity – From Experience

This is the final post my series on church polity. (See my posts “Introduction,” “Episcopal,” “Presbyterian,” “Congregational,” “Scriptural Evidence,” “The Problem,” and “Moving Forward.”) In this final post, I’m going to explain how we moved from congregational polity, to a desire to seek unity before making a decision as a church.

When we first started meeting together as a church (about six years ago), we were congregational. Whenever we needed to make a decision, we voted. Now, you must understand, even in those early days we made very few decisions as a church. We did not have staff or programs, and we did not own much property. But, occasionally, something came along that required us to make a decision as a group, so we voted on it, and whatever the majority wanted became the decision of the church.

We were already acquainted with one another for the most part. But, as we continued to meet together, and as many of us began to focus on community and fellowship, we truly began to get to know one another, to care about one another, to give to and to serve and to help one another.

Soon, we found that we were not happy when our vote meant that others were “losing.” The majority won… that means that some of our brothers and sisters in Christ “lost.” These are people that we would often sacrifice ourselves for. But, when it came to making decisions, we were still focused on our own interests.

I remember one time in particular when we were trying to decide where to meet. Our landlords had doubled our rent, and we did not want to spend that much money on a meeting place. God was using our money for much more important things than a place to meet. So, we found two possible locations. (You should know that everyone in the church said that they would be happy with either location.) Some people preferred one location, and some people preferred the other location. We voted. Of course, one “side” won and the other “side” lost. A brother from the “winning” side approached me almost in tears. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that he realized that he had voted in a way that showed he was looking out for his own interests instead of the interests of others – even his brothers and sisters.

One of my fellow elders at the time was Maël from “The Adventures of Maël & Cindy.” He recently posted a quote that captures what we were learning (this is from his post “Majority rule in the church? – A. H. Strong“):

Should not the majority rule in a Baptist church? No, not a bare majority, when there are opposing convictions on the part of a large minority. What should rule is the mind of the Spirit. What indicates his mind is the gradual unification of conviction and opinion on the part of the whole body in support of some definite plan, so that the whole church moves together.

I think Strong has it right here. Disagreement within the church does not call for “majority rule,” it calls for waiting on God to bring unity.

Guess what? That’s hard to do. Our society and culture is all about making decisions and then acting on those decisions. God does not always work on our time table. (In fact, I’ve found that he often doesn’t.)

While I can’t go into specifics, there have been times when the church was faced with two options. Some people favored Option A, and some people favored Option B. So we prayed and waited. We talked about it more, and there was still disunity.

Sometimes, through our prayer and waiting, God has moved in a way that made either Option A or Option B obviously the right choice to everyone.

Other times, God has removed either Option A or Option B.

Still other times, God has presented Option C at a later date.

But, if we had not waited… if we had followed either Option A or Option B (based on majority rule or the decision of leaders), many times we would have missed what God had planned.

It’s hard to wait for unity. It’s against our human nature – especially as Americans. But I can’t think of another way for the church to walk together in unity.


Church Polity Series

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  1. 5-3-2012

    Yes, waiting for unity would have spared me heartbreak, Instead I was accused of disunity and forced out