Part 4 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blogs. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago.
Up until now the church has been governed constitutionally by a Council of Deacons and a single pastor who may serve ex officio on all boards and committees.
It may help to know some history of our church, Green Pines Baptist Church. Our church has been in existence for 43 years, beginning in 1970. We have a constitution that is much the same today as it was when it was first voted by the church, with some exceptions. Basically, it sets up a government of the church which is managed primarily by committees. In the very beginning of our church’s history, decisions were made with the committees and a lot of it was done by church business meetings. As time went on, deacons developed a board mentality or council of deacons. From the very outset, they would handle many decisions by church business in the business meeting. Around 15 to 20 years ago, the church decision process seemed to go through some changes. These changes were not official or constitutional, but was influenced by the teaching of a mixture of 2-3 pastors. The deacon group moved away from a “board of deacons” or a council of deacons mentality to a body or fellowship of deacons. As well, decisions brought to the church business meeting were reduced for the sake of unity. These evolutions brought more authority for the decisions to the committees and the pastor.
As we read in the Scriptures, there are two offices in the church: elders and deacons. From the teaching of the Bible, the deacons understood they should be a ministering and serving group. So when I came in 2005, this was a topic of conversation among the pastoral search committee. In the search committee, we talked about who are the elders of the church. We cannot deny that in the Bible there are such things as elders as included in Titus chapter 1, verse three. In the discussion about the identity of the elders of the church, the question was asked of me, “who do you believe the elders are?” at that day and time I said, “those who are pastors in the church are elders.” So what does that looks like in a church like Green Pines? They could very well be the pastor and any pastoral staff the church might add into the fellowship. This group of pastoral staff were to be the group of elders and that was my thinking at the time.
So here’s what I’ve come to discern after eight years. There is a portion of our church that agrees that the pastors (including the pastoral staff) are the elders. However, there is another group that is not in agreement with that model. This leaves our church in a state of confusion regarding authority. One group rest the authority on committees with the pastors as an ex officio member of the committees. Then there’s some so who believe authority rest with the deacons. Another segment places the authority with the pastors. While others in our assembly believe people who are of influence should have the say, though they are not deacons or on committees. There is not one predominant model, but a mixture of authority models.
The valuable quality of this varied approach will be a good supply of input and contribution. When churches are in their “honeymoon” periods with staff members and people join the church then we feel good and do not need to deal with our views of authority. However, when things get difficult and there is confusion in the ministry of the church then we will have problems. The years 2011 and 2012 were marked with tension and difficulty in our church body and the authority question was pronounced. I have had many sleepless nights and times of broken heartedness during these years. I confess that there were actions and decisions I could have and should have done differently. I have asked forgiveness and am depending on God’s Spirit in repentance. My desire as a pastor is to make Green Pines better and faithful to Christ. We must be able to deal with problems outside of having leaders and members leave the church. When asked about the benefit of the plurality of elder leadership, one benefit is that there is a clear understanding of authority in our church. It is an understanding that conforms to the biblical teaching, appreciates congregationalism, and gives support and counsel to imperfect humans acting as God’s stewards in church. Understand, there will always be problems within a church, it does not deter problems. However, it provides for a wise and God-honoring leadership to address church problems.
Why this concept was not brought up earlier in Green Pines history?
I cannot fully answer that question, but I could make some observations that might explain this timing. The church’s formative years was influenced by the church climate of our region and denomination. In those years, there was not much attention given by SBC leaders about elders, the “Inerrancy controversy” was gaining much attention and there just were not as many resources available to those involve in our church formation.
The second observation would be that there were not many pastors who stayed long enough to observe the church’s dealing and make suggestions. I acknowledge that my pastoring here for almost nine years is for no other reasons but God’s grace and the gracefulness and patience of Green Pines. For that, I am grateful to the Lord and to you. Prior to our time together there had never been a pastor who exceeded five years at Green Pines. This is hardly enough time to know a church and contribute to the leadership questions.
This would lead me to my third observation and that is God working within my own heart and mind. I have stated that my perspective at coming to Green Pines have changed concerning elders. Plurality of elders is a concept I acknowledged while at seminary, but have seen the wisdom of the involvement of lay elders while pastoring in the last three to four years. In the last two years, I have had read dissertations of dear friends in Christ as they have also researched this subject. Jerry White’s presence among us last October was an immense encouragement to me as he was able to share first-hand experience in leading in an elder led Baptist Church.