This is the fourth installment in a series of blog posts that seek to speak to the topic of decision making in the organic church. It seems good, before sharing my thoughts, to briefly summarize what has been brought out so far:
From Richard Jacobson: There is authority in the church, but not hierarchy. Disputes are settled in community, rather than appeal to higher authority. “Jesus relocated the locus of authority from the ranks of the hierarchy to the midst of the community.” Richard ended his post with this question: “So what about bigger disagreements in the church where the group can’t seem to reach a consensus?”
From Jon Zens: “To Christ, every person and their voice is precious and significant.” “The easy way is to let one or a few give direction. The way of the Cross is for the body to hear Him by caring about what every person has to bring of Christ.” “As body-life is incarnated, one of the most important matters a group must process is how to work things out together.”
From Keith Giles: There is leadership in the church, but it is not the domineering, tell-everyone-what-to-do sort. Jesus will give direction if decisions need to be made by speaking to the group through members of the group. The need is for everyone in the church family to work together to submit to the Holy Spirit, and to one another, to arrive at the answer that the Lord desires. “Ask Jesus” and “pray together and wait on the Lord and see where and how He is leading you to act or move.”
There were some additional comments, from which I’m including these thoughts:
From John White (on his blog): The church is a family, and there are more and less mature members. There is a need for spiritual parents. Their level of direction and decision making depends on the relative maturity of the rest of the group.
From Ben Cooper (in a comment): Church structure is of secondary importance. Fruitfulness is a better indicator. “… if the fruit is there, what more is there to criticize?” “… God will not be confined to any system, organization or structure, even an “organic” one. …His people, are far too diverse, and full of untapped potential to be confined to any one model of fellowship.” “…what is the ministry that God has placed in my unique heart, and who around me might I be able to co-labor in the effort to fulfill it?”
The general theme is that in an organic church setting, decisions are made by giving space for all believers to share their thoughts, recognizing that the Holy Spirit is the guide, and that Jesus is capable of speaking through anyone. There is open dialogue in the community, humbly facilitated where necessary by those with gifting and maturity. Key concepts are humility, community, patience, listening, and prayer, in contrast to pride, individualism, speed and efficiency, and dictating.
Now, let’s note that the participants in the conversation so far all affirm the notion that the church is not an organization with structure and roles so much as it is a living organism. The range of viewpoints in the discussion is therefore fairly narrow, and assumes a number of ideas, including a relatively small and intimate gathering.
We might reasonably ask if this model of decision making scales. Can we take this approach and apply it effectively to larger groups of believers? If not, would that negate this approach? What would negate any approach we might take to making decisions in the church, or (to pry open another can of worms) sorting out what the Bible says? What is our standard of judgement in these things? Certainly, the Bible is our guide, but how do we bring it to bear?
Ben Cooper made some statements and asked some questions in his comment, with the thought that we should be less concerned about ‘doing church right’ than doing what God has called us and gifted us to do – that our concern should be fruitfulness. I agree that trying to ‘do church the right way’ is a trap, but the reality is that wrong structures and wrong ideas do get in the way and limit fruitfulness.
So, we need to consider the fruit of the process. Not just the results of the decisions, but the fruit of the decision making process. Buildings and numbers may be the exciting fruit of certain leadership models, but the fruit of the process is the real measure. The smoking rubble of failed institutions is a warning here.
Whatever the size of a group of believers, the standard is love. We meet to edify, to encourage, to teach, to stir one another to love and good works, and ultimately to manifest Jesus to the world with all those who will.
The kind of fruit which is edification, love, help, encouragement, humility, forgiving, serving, submitting, bearing with, confessing, and honoring one another is the right reference.
If a group is too big to have the kind of environment to bear this fruit, the group is too big. If the style of leadership thwarts the kind of process that bears this fruit, the leadership model is broken. If the church in a place is fractured on the basis of preferences (as is typical), then preferences must give way. If a disagreement is intractable (to reference Richard’s question), then perhaps the decision needs to be deferred until relationships can bear the process.
As we meet, and as we consider and discuss, let’s evaluate our choices, posture, and actions – are they bearing the kinds of fruit, individually and corporately, that God is concerned with? We don’t need a rule book. We need a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit, so that we can hear and follow – not just in getting to the right conclusions, but all along the way.
PS Neil Cole has his post up now here! Check it out!