Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Leadership in the Church of God

I ran across the following blog from my friend, now my new pastor, which I believe deserves a modest response in a different context. Jeff Eckman wrote his Midland congregation in the context of where they were at that time. He wrote, “While Studying for my sermon I was reminded why Democracy is not necessarily the leadership style of choice for God’s People.”

Jeff makes his point, in the context of their relationship, but I want to respond in a different context. Jeff continued, “Before you shoot me as a communist, remember that we live in a Republic, and though we often throw around the term “Democracy” and seem to be trying to create Democracy in other countries, this country is not one. Democracy means mass rule. Whatever the majority wants, the majority gets.  It doesn’t matter if the Majority is right or wrong, or whether what they want is the best thing for everyone (or anyone for that matter), they get what they want because they have a majority.

“When the children of Israel sent the 12 spies into the promised land to spy out the land and bring back a report, there we two spies who had faith that God would allow them to succeed if they followed him.  God had promised the land to the descendants of Abraham for hundreds of years.  God’s will was clear.  They were to move forward and conquer the land.  Unfortunately, what started as a fact-finding mission for strategy sake, turned into an opportunity for disobedience when the other 10 spies, talked about the giants in the land and all of the difficulties they would have if they moved forward.  Suddenly, moving forward to take the land, which was obviously the will of God, became negotiable, and the people chose not to go.  Democracy wins, but the people of God didn’t.

 “The vast majority of people in this world are not going to lead forward with vision and faith.  I believe God appoints leaders for that purpose, but if the system being used in the church functions as a democracy, those visionary leaders will almost always be overruled by those who are busy looking at the road blocks and not the opportunities.  These are good people mind you, and many of them will offer the excuse that they are simply counting the cost.  While it is important to plan and look forward, it is sometimes impossible to predict everything that the future holds, especially when you serve a God who can part the Red Sea.  Where God leads, He will provide a way, but the majority will very seldom vote to do what is challenging or difficult, and as a result they often reject the leading of their leaders in favor of the comfort of the status quo. For Israel, that meant wandering in the wilderness until an entire generation died off.

 “Only when we learn to trust and follow godly leaders, will we begin to move forward on God’s timetable. Mass rule WILL leave us disappointed in the desert” (emphasis added). I agree with Jeff’s conclusion, but I also see another perspective having grown up with what the church called “charismatic government” (our church polity). F. G. Smith was the great proponent of this, but, as it turns out, there came a day when Smith found his leadership challenged by a democratic surge that was the new Ministerial Assembly.

This “Assembly” challenged the old rule of the select few of the inner circle. It eventually replaced Smith as Editor of the Gospel Trumpet (with all the perks of being the ruling Bishop) and the new Editor, C. E. Brown, introduced a new era of democratic protocol in which the General Assembly assumed more responsibility and diversified the leadership roles. In the process of this happening, Smith introduced a measure to have his “writings” accepted as the official doctrine of the Church of God, a measure entirely contrary to all that Smith (and everyone else) taught through the years, a measure that would have been a great abuse of power.

It had been this same narrow sharing of leadership that had allowed Smith and Riggle to dominate the new Missionary Board which resulted in the unfortunate “firing” of one of our finest of missionaries, G. P. Tasker.

It was this same limiting of leadership that resulted in the autocratic release of a large group of local Church members in one of our church communities, which resulted in a schism (a worship war) in which the pastor created the changes he wanted for the congregation, but it resulted in a divided congregation with a new group hiving off, their community witness effectively damaged for years to come, and other unfortunate results.

Jeff is right; democracy is not the panacea, the cure-all of church polity, but the autocratic leadership with the corporate CEO as the model is not the answer either. I, for one, believe the role of pastor is a God-given gift to the church. On the other hand, I suggest that “God’s direction” is most often found within the collective wisdom of the people—the church body. The Spirit of God resides within that body known as the people of God, and while God always finds a Moses around somewhere in the process, God is by no means chained to the pulpit or confined to the clergy.

To say it another way, my most meaningful experiences as a pastor came not when I proclaimed my “thus saith the Lord” or when I prayed for a serious need or healing; rather, it came when we (pastor and congregation) mutually prayed, petitioned, sought guidance, and listened for the still small voice of God, and all obeyed.
We Americans tend to overrate Christian individualism and underrate the collective wisdom of the Church Body. From Warner’s World, this is 

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