Thursday, May 29, 2014
Theology Thursday: The Church and Changing Leadership Structures
Those days are gone.
Our network includes 62 churches spread throughout the Baltimore-Washington, D.C.corridor, and each of them have their own approaches to everything from church governance to how leaders are chosen. Though they generally share the same congregational base (procedures for choosing leaders, and leader authority is approved by the body at large), the "day to day" operations take on a different form, depending on which church you are looking at.
In recent years, many new churches have established an elder-led model of church governance, and even many of our established churches have transitioned to an elder-led approach to leading their congregations forward. At the national level of our denomination, there is sometimes the mistaken notion that having elders means the church has "gone Presbyterian." While those suspicions are thankfully not present in our network, I have, over the years, received several questions regarding how Baptists can reinstate a plurality of pastoral leadership in a way that honors our own history and theology.
Each time I have this conversation, I recommend four books. The first two are written by an old seminary classmate. Dr. Ben Merkle, after teaching for many years in southeast Asia, joined the faculty of Southeastern Seminary a few years back, and soon after published two books: Why Elders? and 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons. Both of these are not only Biblically sound, but practical, and written on a level easily understood by leaders in your church who haven't been to seminary
The third is an acquisition work edited by Paul Engle and Steven Cowan entitled Who Runs the Church? Controbutions from Peter Toon, L. Roy Taylor, Paige Patterson and Samuel Waldron allow readers to see the context in which these questions sometimes arise in churches. Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist perspectives are laid side by side in a way that allows church leaders to move forward in the most informed way.
The fourth is a book that, in all likelihood, saved the first church I ever planted from my own stupidity. Many years ago, Larry Osborne wrote the first edition of The Unity Factor, which speaks about the necessity of healthy leadership teams. Even if your structure is Biblically sound and contextually appropriate for your church, that doesn't guarantee a smooth working relationship among the leadership that will serve the people well.
Church leadership is a subject of paramount importance, and its not only crucial to get the structure right, but to create an environment with that structure that prevents needless division, disunity, and disloyalty. If you are a church leader who is rethinking your approach, or if you simply want to be better informed of how to lead, and do it together with others, you should pick up these resources.