Church Polity - Part 3
In the conclusion to our treatment of Church Polity, allow me to answer some common questions:
What about Deacons?
The congregation is able to be better served in some of the practical needs by an additional sphere of spiritual leadership called the “deacons” (“servants”). These are men who are selected by the congregation, but authorized by the elders to work in conjunction with the elders to care for the people. At Grace Bible Church, the elders and deacons operate together focusing on clearly established spheres. The deacons see themselves as servants – not only of the congregation as a whole, but the elders as well. This enables the elders to focus more diligently on the spiritual activities of studying the Word, teaching, and discipling. These two “boards” meet individually as needed, but no less than once per month. Once a quarter, they meet together as the “official board” in order to keep communication and unity established. Matters that would prudently be brought before the congregation are first addressed at this level. If the elders and deacons agree on the matter, it then goes to the congregation for final approval and united commitment.
What about Members’ Meetings?
Members’ meetings are scheduled at least twice per year: once in June to approve the next fiscal year’s budget (July-June); and, once in October for the purpose of affirming the leadership nominations. Other meetings are able to be called as needed. During these meetings various ministries of the church provide reports or testimonies of what God is doing in order to encourage the church. Questions are fielded by ministry heads and communication is tremendously enhanced. In most cases, decisions are made by ballot in order to keep less verbal members from feeling intimidated in their ability to freely convey their heart. It is important to note that any matter that comes to a vote must be agreed upon by the spiritual leadership of the church prior to the meeting and come as a recommendation to the congregation from the elders. Initiatives raised by the congregation at a members’ meeting are referred to the spiritual leadership for consideration and advisement.
The Selection of Elders
Perhaps the most important matter in which the congregation participates is the selection of spiritual leadership. Because of the crucial nature of maintaining the biblically mandated qualifications for elders and deacons, nominations for these positions are made exclusively by the spiritual leaders who, in cooperation with a “nominating committee” provide recommendations to the congregation. Nominees are those whom the elders consider to be “blameless.” When these men are identified, they are then approached to assess the final qualification – “desire” (cp. 1 Timothy 3:1). Those identified as blameless by the spiritual leadership and who demonstrate this desire are presented to the congregation over a month prior to the time when the selection is made. This provides ample opportunity for the congregation to evaluate the men and pray for the leading of God’s Spirit in the selection. The affirmation of the servants is made by paper ballot at the members’ meeting. It is the awareness of the Holy Spirit’s work through the congregation at large, together with their character and conduct, that brings about a unity of yieldedness to those men that God places into office through this procedure.
Approval of the Budget
The other major decision in which the congregation is involved is the establishment of the church budget. Again, the spiritual leadership of the church assesses the ministry needs and priorities and establishes a budget. This is worked on throughout the various committees of the church and brought to the respective elder and deacon boards. The elders consult with the deacons concerning the various financial and physical needs of the church. The deacons also consult with the elders to insure that the proper spiritual priorities are being maintained. After much prayer and discussion, the budget that is agreed upon is presented to the congregation at least two weeks prior to the meeting in which it will be adopted. It is approved as is or rejected as is and sent back to the elders for further prayer and discussion. Although this would be to procedure, I have yet to see an occasion when the congregation has not overwhelmingly (if not unanimously) adopted the recommendation by the spiritual leadership.
The effectiveness of a biblical model depends entirely upon the competence of the elders to shepherd God’s people in a manner worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ. If elders are not responsibly exercising their divinely ordained roles, the people will indeed react to the elders’ attempts to provide leadership as authoritarian. When there is an eldership that is incompetent or self-serving, it becomes a natural desire on the part of the congregation to marginalize their influence and popularize authority among the congregational members so as to minimize the “damage” of ineffective leadership. However, when godliness and competence characterizes the eldership of a local church, that congregation is able to respond warmly to the loving care provided by the shepherds that God has given them. May our church be consumed with the obedience to God’s Word concerning biblical ministry and eldership. When the function of a biblical eldership is in place, the working out of church polity will be one of Spirit-led harmony.