Thursday, April 06, 2006

Switching to Elders Takes Time and Care

Elder led Congregations is the practice taught and displayed in the Scriptures, yet throughout the history of the church that has not always been accepted. In recent years more and more people are, however, come to see this taught and many pastors are encouraging their churches to consider the switch from deacon led congregations to elder led congregations. This is a touchy subject among Southern Baptists, however, as many see it as a direct attack on Congregational polity. Such seems to be the case with Germantown Baptist Church, a historic church in Memphis, TN.

In a proposal brought before this church Senior Pastor Sam Shaw and 19 other members are recommending the switch, 1, 200 members are opposing it. The opposition has even led some members to start a web forum for discussion of the issues at stake. It seems from their comments that many are concerned that a change in governance would dissolve all congregational say in the rule of the church, but such does not have to be the case. A pluarality of elders is perfectly compatible, as one sees in the New Testament, with congregational rule. This is simply a case of misinformation, and what appears high emotions.

I do not wish to claim that I know what is going on at GBC, I do not. And to comment on it is risky. I pray for my brothers and sisters at this church, that the Lord will give them discernment and kindness to work through the texts of Scripture and come together on approving the Biblical model of church government.

There is another concern, however, in this matter. Pastor Shaw's comments on the matter have struck me as equally uninformed. I hope such is not the case, but it appears that his conclusions about what elder led means seem to be more of a replacement board instead of a spiritual leadership team. To replace a deacon board with an elder board that does the same thing would be to miss the entire purpose of the switch. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, however.

Changes within churches are often hard, especially on those who have been long time members of that church. What's worse is when changes are attempted without anyone ever teaching on why these changes are Biblical and necessary, I hope such has not been the case at GBC. A word to pastors, teach it before you do it!

To our family at GBC we pray with you that God's will be done, and that in the midst of high emotions there is no sin.


Anonymous Dick said...

I am a member of GBC and I am one of those in opposition. I am not seminary trained. I am a prenatal Baptist and a believer since early childhood. I understand that the NT teaches elder leadership. I also that in the NT pastor = elder = bishop = overseer. GBC has numerous associate pastors, as do many SBC churches, so we and they already have plural elders.

I read our proposed document to establish elder rule. The document establishes that authority is vested in the congregation, but then states that the authority is delegated to the elders. The elders will control the agenda of the one business conferance to be held each year and the bylaws cannot be amended without the elders reviewing the suggestion and placing it to be put in the agenda. Once the authority is delegated to the elders it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the congregation to regain or control that authority. That is one of the reasons that I read it as elder rule.

Traditionally, the Deacons have been granted elder authority in SBC churches, even though that has never been so clearly stated . At present, decons at GBC do not exercise any management functions. That was amended out of our present bylaws under the leadership of Pastor Sam several years ago.

Under the proposed document the senior pastor and the executive pastor are permanent elders. All others serve 3 years and then must rotate off for one year. The elders control the slate of replacement elders that the church will approve. I see this as presenting the potentional for a small group of men from hijacking the church and moving it any any way they choose without approval of the congregation. Other associate pastors can be elected, but there must be 2 lay elders for every 1 pastor elder. The board can be as few as 6 and as many as 12.

When this was first being introduced to the congregation, we were told that Sam had certain unspecified weaknesses and that there were also unspecified problems in the church which this new constitution/bylaws would cure. I see this whole affair as clumsy leadership exercising an ungodly response to conflict.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Wayne said...

I, too, am a GBC member. Thanks for praying for our congregation!

I never would have expected a move towards a more Biblical, NT model of church polity would be opposed with such animosity.

Sadly, the issue of church polity has been used as a butcher block on which to vivisect our pastor and staff. In spite of reservations many of the congregation may have about the change of polity, the lack of Christian love, grace and mercy from the some of the "opposition" has made supporting their position untenable. There are certainly sincere, godly, and Christ-honoring people on both sides of the debate. Hopefully, with the Holy Spirit's guidance, we will heal our divisions and emerge from this time of winnowing united, reconciled and in the midst of a great revival!

To God be the Glory and may He not remove His hand of blessing from our body of believers.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, am a GBC member. Elders are not a bad thing, but HAVE YOU READ THE REGRESSIVE DOCUMENT for ELDER CONTROL of Germantown Baptist Church? You have to read and study the whole thing. It is a web. Certainly there are people on either side, for and against, who have made statements that should not have been made, acted in ways that were not admirable, but the truth is that the pastor himself set out to divide the congregation. If you go to Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox you can see how to do it in easy steps. God alone has the final answer, and I pray that the church will be whole when it is over.

8:58 AM  

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