Updated: Nov 26, 2020
“Church committees are God’s way of slowing up change” – Garrison Keillor
I’ve been an elder on and off for almost 30 years and I’ve assisted the elders at a number of other churches. I’ve made this observation. Very few of the most successful businessmen in our community serve on church boards or on committees. When I’ve polled them as to why, invariably their reason was something like, “Churches and their committees are so inefficient, I just couldn’t take it!”
That’s a true observation but a very unspiritual answer.
I have to confess, when I was first elected to be an elder, there were times I almost wanted a glass of wine, or a Valium. We’d sometimes spend hours talking about stuff that I thought was just a waste of time, or discussing a problem that would have been solved in a business meeting in a few minutes. “Who cares?” I’d silently think to myself. I quickly found out that somebody cares about everything in a church. But why should that concern me? The church is not a business. It’s not run for efficiency. It’s goal is unity and harmony. And I learned that lesson almost 30 years ago from some of the most godly men I’d ever meet–my fellow elders.
We were having a discussion about hiring a new staff member at church for a position we needed filled badly. Everyone knew the potential employee. He was a well-known member of our church, well respected and this seemed to me to be a “nobrainer.” But two of the elders had an objection. “Has this person been vetted and approved by the Personnel Committee? That ‘s church policy,” they reminded us. In my head, I rolled my eyes at these two old guys trying to put a stick in the spokes of progress, over some technicality.
After some debate, the elders voted 12 to 2 to approve the position. But following that vote I noticed some subtle communications going on between the three elders who wanted this position approved. They had won, so what could possibly be the problem?
After a few minutes of this back and forth, these three elders asked the chairman if they could withdraw the proposal we just approved. The chairman asked them to explain. “The two elders are right. We should have gone through the Personnel Committee. We have these policies in place for a reason and they’ve served us well. Hopefully we’ll be back in a month with this persons nomination.” And here were the words I’ll never forget, “It’s more important that we have unity than efficiency.”
That was a powerful lesson for me.
Bringing democratic ideas of governance in the church may appear to be just plain common sense. But the church is not a democracy. It is a theocracy. Therefore, God’s sets the rules for governing his Church. And love and unity, trump all other “rules”
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3
“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:23
Our church has decided we will not settle decisions by a simple majority. At our congregational meetings we want at least 2/3 approval of everyone present for major questions. In elders meetings, even votes of 11 to 3 are not approved. That’s not unity. When those kinds of votes occur we are asked to continue to pray until we either get total unity, or at least 90% approval. I’m not making my church the poster child for unity. We’ve had plenty of dissension in the church body, but very little among the leadership.
So, Garrison Keillor is partially right. “Church committees are God’s way of slowing up change.” I don’t know if God is behind it, but deliberating and praying for wisdom and making changes slowly have kept our church from too many major mistakes. It also allows time for people to adjust to new ideas who do not like change at all. I don’t think it was ever in the mind of God that a few entrepreneurial people run His Church. Yes, Israel had its kings, who ran the show, but as God predicted, more times than not, that ended badly for the nation.
So, the next time your church “takes forever” to make a decision, pray and wait, and be glad they take their task to govern wisely, seriously.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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