Who runs the church?
October 4 2002 by Jim Royston , BSC Executive Director-treasurer

Who runs the church? | Friday, Oct. 4, 2002

Friday, Oct. 4, 2002

Who runs the church?

By Jim Royston BSC Executive Director-treasurer

The research department of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention has now established something virtually every minister and lay church leader has known forever. As reported by Associated Baptist Press, the LifeWay study discovered that the "Who runs the church?" question perhaps divides Baptist congregations more than any other single issue.

Of course, the real issue is control. Bottom line: Who's in charge? When a dispute arises, who generally wins, and who loses? Who stays and who has to leave? Do substantial numbers of members join other churches or is the pastor (and/or other staff members) asked to find employment elsewhere?

In most cases, according to LifeWay, the issue is authority. Although we generally talk about "the authority issue" related to the pastor, it is a layman's problem as well. Many young seminarians have discovered the "patriarch and matriarch" rulers solidly present in their first congregation. In fact, smaller churches with a higher turnover in pastoral leadership are probably more likely to suffer from lay authoritarianism than larger, longer-staffed congregations.

The arguments are painfully familiar. The laymen accuse the pastor of being a dictator, always demanding his way and being insensitive to the needs of the congregation and community. Pastors see these laypeople as obstructions to progress, out-of-step with the changing needs of the church community - or simply, instruments of the devil sent to test one's spirituality. Both sides often duel with scripture passages to underscore their point of view.

In a Baptist church, the one able to garner the most votes wins. In reality, neither side really wins and both sides lose a great deal.

The notion that a pastor should run the church, usually something identified with fundamentalist groups, can be found almost as often among moderate and even liberal congregations. Either way, unchecked pastoral authority is a disaster waiting to happen.

The issue, according to the experts, is more about leadership skills than theological stances. Arrogance knows no theological, ideological or political boundaries. There is no shortage of self-centeredness among clergy or laity; fundamentalists, conservatives, moderates or liberals. This one cannot be blamed on "the controversy." It is neither the result of the "fundamentalist takeover" or the "conservative resurgence."

LifeWay's church-conflict mediation specialist, Bob Sheffield, points to insecurity as a root of the problem. "The more insecure a person is, sometimes the more authoritarian he has to be. If you're secure, you can allow people to be involved in decision making."

Jan Daehnert, director of minister/church relations with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, claims the problem does have a theological dimension. "We've never known how to reconcile the role of the pastor and the role of the layman in ministry." Noting that the Protestant Reformation was never fully completed, Baptists "have kept some of the old Catholic church tendencies of clerical superiority."

Wayne Oakes of our pastoral ministries team sees pastoral mentoring as part of the issue. "Many young ministers select as their role models other ministers who have been successful in building large congregations. Unfortunately, the style that works with a large congregation does not work with a small to medium size church. His role model, from his experience, may even suggest that the pastor must be more of a CEO-type leader. The minister, seeking to give the best leadership possible, mistakenly adopts this model only to face the pain of rejection and termination."

What are the answers?

Texas' Daehnert notes that perhaps some of us are locked into an Old Testament view of the pastor as prophet-priest-king rather than Jesus as the Good Shepherd. You lead, not drive, sheep.

My personal opinion is that in far too many cases the lack of a loving relationship built around trust undermines congregational health. Pastoral care, proclaiming the gospel and mentoring disciples will earn all the trust a pastor needs.

After all, the church - your church and my church - does not belong to the pastor or the people. Neither should have ultimate authority over the other. The church belongs to God. And, too often, we forget to invite Him into our most critical deliberations.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
10/4/2002 12:00:00 AM by Jim Royston , BSC Executive Director-treasurer | with 0 comments
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