By Sam Breakey, CBWC Church Health Strategist
The term ‘congregational governance,’ for many, draws the same reaction as a cordial invitation to watch paint dry! While that may be so, figuratively speaking, governance is as important to the health and vitality of a congregation as a skeleton is to your body. Without an anchoring framework, the heart of a body or the mission of a congregation cannot intentionally pursue its purpose.
Church leaders of various denominational backgrounds agree that three partners cooperate in congregational leadership: God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Pastor (local and/or regional), and church members (elected church leaders and regular church members). They differ—sometimes significantly—in the level of influence each partner should have. If one is comfortable, theoretically, with the structure of their own church, there shouldn’t be any problem, right? After all, most of us don’t really care how other churches makes decisions and maintain accountability; we just care about our own. Yet, congregational life is not that simple. Two additional factors increase ambiguity even when we are familiar with our own fellowship’s way of exercising leadership.
First, culturally speaking, we live in a world that tells us that ‘where we are now’ is more important than ‘where we have come from.’ The rootedness that once contributed security and familiarity to our lives, now fosters a craving for something new. Working with churches across Western Canada, I often hear the phrase ‘we are not your average Baptist Church; our people come from many different backgrounds.’ They are regularly surprised to hear that the same phenomenon is just as evident elsewhere. Our hunger for new expressions of faith, movement from city to city for work, and our desire for programs that better serve the ages represented in our family, all contribute to movement from one church or denomination to another. Throw in some hurtful experiences, and each congregation now has a potpourri of decision-making baggage and processes that can contribute to misunderstanding.
Second, a church may have clarity about how its pastor, board, and congregation should interact but personalities and uncertainty interfere. People often have a better idea of what they can’t do than what they should do. In one context, the church bylaws clearly stated the roles of the pastor, the associate pastors, and the elected leaders, but had little to say about how they interact. Right and wrong assumptions were being made about who reported to whom, but there was no guidance on what to do when one party was at odds with another. They found themselves in an uneasy, unending dance. Staff and board members, and congregants require clarity about their roles. They must be clear about where they have freedom to act effectively, and what their illimitations are. It is not enough to say, ‘Well-meaning people will work it out through prayer and patience.’
Having made it this far into the article, I’m sure you can see how your personal and congregational endeavours have been impacted by poor congregational governance. Earlier, I mentioned the relationship between the human heart and the skeleton. If the skeleton of a church is good governance, the heart of a church is its unique calling, under Christ, to love, serve, and disciple, its community. A body without a skeleton is limp, but one without a heart is passionless. Both interplay to function in health as one body.
It is not uncommon for a passionate congregation to be held back by those nagging tensions that seem to pop up whenever progress is being made. A healthy church is one that is freed to pursue a clear unifying purpose through people and structures that serve Christ’s call. Good governance will be the pathway clearer for that call.
A follow up article on “The Characteristics of Good Governance” will be posted next month.
Sam Breakey, CBWC Church Health Strategist
Q: We are having problems in our church. Does CBWC have a church leadership resource that we can use to help us make unifying decisions?
A: The short answer is no; we do not have one specific resource that you can apply to every situation. We do however, have resources (plural) that will help you determine together what structure best reflects scriptural guidelines and the uniqueness of your congregation. Contact your Regional Minister for more information.
Q: We seemed to have lost our way. We are unsure about our future as a congregation and how we can reconnect with our community. Do you have any suggestions?
A: The CBWC Church Health Initiative is designed to help congregations regain their focus and calling to their community. For more information, contact our Church Health Strategist or your Regional Minister.
This article was published in the July issue of Treasurer’s Corner. Subscribe here.