Canadian Baptist of Western Canada

News & Notes Vol 13 No. 24

Your Governance is Showing

Dear friends,

We take great pride in congregational governance but very few of us know what that means in theory or in practice.

Often, we describe ourselves as what we are not rather than what we are. We are not like those folk down the road who are always having church splits and fights. We are not like those folk across town who treat the stranger like a stranger rather than with the radical welcome of the grace and love of God. We are not like those who have an episcopal form of government, in particular Roman Catholics and Anglicans, because “no one is going to tell us what to do.” We are also not like Presbyterians and those who have presbyteries because that can potentially take away from the independence of the local church (a Presbyterian friend of mine says that they had a Presbyterian form of government because rather illogically they did not so much trust individual people but groups of them, for which we both laughed). Congregational government can truly be those who wait on God for wisdom, discernment and judgement. They take the root of obedience (which is obed: to listen) very seriously. The former Principle of Regents Park Oxford, Paul Fiddes, indeed claims that waiting on God is discerning the will of God in a congregational meeting. He believed it was the 3rd Baptist ordinance. Towards the end of his life I asked my father if he believed this to be true. He said no. I asked him why. He said he had not seen any evidence. Even at an exaggerated level his response had some resonance for me. However, I happen to believe that much can be discerned at a meeting of God’s people. It is invariably and profoundly powerful to wait on the Spirit for an answer… a consensus… a collegial collaboration before God.

I want to leave the challenge that congregational government has a profound array of governance structures which includes but is not limited to ministry-led decision making, board-led decision making, and congregational meetings on such a regular basis that no one in the congregation feels unsupported, unheard, or not honoured.  The “who’s in charge” question is one of the more challenging ones before us and the one that is often less honestly answered. What are the checks and balances on leadership? How does profound and meaningful attentiveness to the Spirit and collective action occur?

Finally, 2 other important aspects of governance. First, how do you qualify and quantify your church membership? Is there diligence, pastoral care, and discernment used in that exercise? Second, how much do you relate and engage with other churches? How much genuine relationship, encouragement and buy-in is there in that collegiality both with CBWC churches and those of a like or differentiated mind who will contribute to a healthy challenge and vigorous reflection on the patterns you use to govern yourselves?

Max Dupries, President of Herman Miller, Chair of the Fuller Seminary board, and the one who has a leadership of the same name, once said that it is

“the leader’s responsibility to define reality.”

That is all well and good in our governance providing the leader is the Holy Spirit and the map is the scripture and collective discernment. Peace of the Lord be with you.

In Christ,
Jeremy Bell