by Rev. Joda Collins.
Have you ever been in a church that was divided? It is a sour place. More than likely, that church had a democratic form of operation and governance. Have you ever been in a church where sweet fellowship endures for years? That church may have a written policy denoting the church as democratic, but the actual functioning of the church is probably not democratic. When the church does vote on specific matters, the only issues brought to the floor of the church are things already thought through by the Pastor and his selected advisers, and perhaps only after having been submitted through a designated (church recognized) process (under pastoral oversight) for consideration by an established ministry committee or, in some cases, by the church membership at large. Methods vary. The overriding rule is, "Let all things be done decently and in order." (1 Corinthians 14:40, KJV.)
The pastor in the "sweet fellowship" builds a leadership (1) (advisory) team within the church of sincere godly people (church council, elders, deacons, etc.) and avails himself to that leadership/advisory team to help him think through things in much the same way a godly husband bounces ideas off of his wife seeking her input/wisdom before he makes the final decision for the home and family.
The wife is the helper (trusted confident and adviser).
The husband is the leader (final decision maker). The wife and children follow.
The biblical husband, as the leader, assumes the responsibility for his decisions. He does not blame any negative ramifications of his decision on his wife. Adam was wrong to blame Eve for his bad decision in the Garden! (Genesis 3:12.)
In the same way, a pastor's selected team of counselors are the helpers in the decision-making process. The members of the congregation are the followers, however, their input is encouraged. A pastor is wise not to dismissed congregational inclinations, history, thoughts, feelings, desires or opinions. Ultimately, however, he must make the decisions of leadership and assume full responsibility for those decisions. The biblical pastor is the human leader and shepherd of the church (final decision maker). He is accountable for the direction he leads the church. Hebrews 13:17b states, "...they (pastors)...must give account (to God for the church)." In addition, the pastor is accountable to the church. (Genesis 4:9, Romans 12:5, 14:7. Parenthesis mine.)
The pastor and the congregation should operate within the boundaries of an agreed upon procedure for church life and decision making, often outlined in a document of operating procedures or a church constitution. To put it in political terms, a solidly sweet and biblically functioning pastor-led church operates akin to some of the major components of a "constitutional republic" rather than a dictatorship or a pure democracy (where everyone gets a vote on practically every decision). Few things in life are always, never or 100%. The Bible affords room for exceptions but room for exceptions should never become an excuse for making the exception the norm.
Just as a good husband makes decisions that takes the welfare of the wife and children into account, so a good pastor takes the welfare of his selected leaders (counselors) and the congregation into account. If church members do not like what their Pastor attempts to lead the church to accomplish or the way he leads, they are free to leave the church or fire him in accord with church procedure for doing so. Many a godly pastor has been removed from office without good cause and this is a possibility every pastor cannot afforded to dismiss. Wise pastors choose their battles and the timing of those battles; but I digress!
If the pastor refuses to take godly counsel from others and if he declines to listen to the wisdom of the body in general through the proper procedural structures, then certainly that church should have a Bible-based judicious mechanism in place to try to assist the pastor to avail himself to godly helpers and, if unsuccessful in doing so, a clarified method to seek a new pastor.
Wise pastors do not operate in a dictatorial or overtly authoritarian fashion, nor do they seek a "democratic vote" on every decision in the church. Rather, they function as loving, prayerful, wisdom-seeking leaders who are also strong, and at times – bold, in leadership style. The spiritual maturity and biblical comprehension of the general membership is a key factor. Also, success is highly dependent upon the wisdom, overall integrity and the clearly displayed ministry-heart of the pastor. It often takes some time for a pastor to prove these character traits to the church he pastors.
It usually takes a Pastor about ten years in the same church to overcome the typical democratic process and replace it with biblical pastoral leadership. Most successful (sweet fellowship and long-term effective ministries) use this process. It is the biblical way. That is why many denominational church leaders, where unfettered democratic process is honored within that denomination, tell pastors not to make any significant and unnecessary policy or ministry changes in that church for five to ten years. That is why a pastor-led church (using the decision-making processes outlined above) with the same pastor for ten or more years tends to be a sweet fellowship, and a pure "democracy operated" church with a newer pastor is often in a constant state of turmoil.
Look at the political environment of our country today where everyone gets a vote! Democracy always leads to winners and losers which is the very definition of a divided house. According to Jesus, "A house divided cannot stand." Matthew 12:22-28.
There is not one Bible verse that supports a real democratic process in the house of God. To come to that conclusion, one has to read democracy into the text. Jesus never had a vote among his disciples. You never read of a synagogue voting. Nor can you find one church in the Bible that had a business meeting vote to determine the direction of the church. Rather, in the early church, you always see strong pastoral leadership with the pastor surrounded by wise counselors. That is the New Testament model of church leadership.
You do have verses where it is reasonable to assume the Pastor approved of the meeting and knew what the church would think and say and may have allowed church members to say what the Pastor was confident they would say. (Matthew 18:15-17). There is an example of pastoral leadership getting together and making decisions that are passed on to the church body as directives. (Acts 15:25-29). There is a place where the Apostle Paul told the church to have a meeting, and he then told them what decision they would make at that meeting! (1 Corinthians 5:4-5). There is an example where 100% of the church made a decision (Acts 15:22); this is nothing more than wise pastoral leadership bringing to the church a no-brainier for a unified Amen! If I say to my wife and kids, "Let's go out and have dinner at your favorite restaurant and then you kids can have the desert of your choice. All in favor, say Amen!" -- that is not an example of real democracy. It is an example of wise and loving headship-leadership.
God's plan for the church is that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10). When God begins taking democratic votes in heaven that sways His will in accord with majority vote of the angelic beings and the present saved of the ages, then democracy can and should reign in the church. Until then, God's dictate for the direction of the church is "submit yourselves to those who have authority over you (pastors)." (Hebrews 13:17). Circumstance, wisdom and experience tempers that command for church members in more ways than can be placed in print. Circumstance, wisdom and experience tempers pastoral authority in more ways than can be put in print. It isn't easy, but it isn't democracy, and that is my major point.
Are you interested in reading more about Bible-based (Kingdom-based) church government? I wrote a 493-page book on the subject. You can find it at http://www.lulu.com/shop/joda-l-collins/a-kingdom-based-church/paperback/product-4503909.html
or at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/
jodacollins on page five.
or at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/
Rev. Joda Collins
I make no claim that anyone else agrees with me.
(1) I always hesitate to use the word "leader" and/or "leadership" when talking of a church group, a committee or an individual who is not the pastor for fear of giving the impression that I think that person, group or committee ranks as a co-leader (equal leader) with the pastor. That makes the human leadership of the church two-headed and anything with two heads is a freak. However, those trusted by the pastor as wise advisers do rise to the place in the church where others will follow their lead with confidence. And, the pastor and the church can benefit from such leadership. That does not make others or any combination of others (committees, groups named or unnamed) in the church 50/50 co-leaders with the pastor. That is a house divided! I once had a music leader who loved hymn #111 of our song book. He selected that hymn two or three times per month for years. Finally, I asked him to sing it less often. His response was, "Hey buddy, I am the leader of this church from 11 to 11:30 every Sunday and you are the leader from 11:30 to noon! I won't tell you what to preach and you don't tell me what to sing." I immediately changed his title to "Music Minister" because of his abuse of leadership.