Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Congregationalism

A friend said to me recently, “I could never be a part of Mission Catalyst because they promote congregational churches, and congregational churches are a dangerous trend.” I agree with him completely on one point, and must strongly disagree on the other. The point of agreement: congregationalism is not good. Point of disagreement: Mission Catalyst plants and promotes congregational churches. I had heard this myth from others. First impressions say that if you are not a part of a denomination, your church is congregational. Why is this a myth? Because most independent and growing, healthy churches are not based on the congregational model. Many denominational churches are congregational. Congregational churches are those in which the congregation makes the most important decisions through the democratic process of voting. Therefore, they are congregationally run. Healthy churches are leader driven churches from Biblical models. Rick Warren makes a good point in his book, The Purpose Driven Church. He says that democracy is definitely not a New Testament model. Most churches and denominations are based on the American political model, not the Biblical model. Biblically, when God wanted to do something big, he raised up a leader and put a passion on his heart to lead and persuade others to follow. Nehemiah did not go back to Jerusalem and announce that they were going to have a vote on whether or not to build the wall. Moses did not bring Israel together to vote on whether the time had come to leave Egypt. Nor did he have the people vote on what colors should be used in the new sanctuary. In fact, they voted on nothing. I’m sorry, they did vote once — they voted to go back to Egypt. The plan went well until Aaron, the democratically chosen leader, was confronted by the true visionary leader, his brother Moses, who vetoed the entire congregation’s vote. Leaders that were in tune with God led. The growing mega-churches in America are led by inspired and visionary leaders who often allow spiritual leaders in their congregation to be involved in decisions, but I do not know of any who have their congregation vote on matters that affect the direction of the church. One such church leader says that, the larger the decision, the fewer people are involved in the process. On the other hand, in the denominational churches in which I have pastored, leaders who have great visions have to submit them all to the congregation for a vote. This reduces the vision’s outcome to the lowest common denominator of faith. Often people who are neither spiritual nor visionary kill the plan, and the church regresses back into mediocrity. You might say, “But a visionary leader might run the church way into debt or bite off more than the church can chew.” That is true. That is why good churches start with bylaws. A good bylaw might say that debt cannot be incurred without the consent of the board of elders, that 50% of the projected monies must be in hand, that a loan cannot be incurred for more than seven years, and that the payments must not go beyond 30% of the average monthly income. Bylaws contain but do not kill the vision. I would argue that, if there had not been a drift to congregationalism within the denomination, there would have been no need for Mission Catalyst. Hence, the argument that MCN plants congregational churches is exactly upside down. Think about it!

Dennis Pumford
Assistant Directional Leader

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've heard for years that if your church is not part of a denomination, it is congregational. I learned recently that the churches that are most successful in reaching the lost do not have a congregational form of givernment. Dennis is right on!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the differentiation and the spirit in which it is made.

Don Jacobsen said...

Dennis said, "...in the denominational churches in which I have pastored, leaders who have great visions have to submit them all to the congregation for a vote. This reduces the vision’s outcome to the lowest common denominator of faith. Often people who are neither spiritual nor visionary kill the plan, and the church regresses back into mediocrity," and he's right. If you're old enough to remember WWII you will recognize the word "tramp steamer." These were the freighters that travelled with military convoys crossing the Atlantic carrying troops, fuel, ammunition, and cargo. The strategy was that the Destroyers in the convoy would protect the cargo in the tramp steamers. Reality was that the tramp steamers travelled so slowly they endangered the entire convoy which had to slow down so the freighters could keep up. It made the whole flotilla more vulnerable to the enemy. Who of us hasn't served on committees or boards that are loaded up with spiritual tramp steamers? Would those be called "tramp members"? Maybe that sounds crass; I don't intend it that way. Let's just not miss what we could learn from history.

Anonymous said...

What's in a name, anyway? Are the Congregationalists not a denomination? Yet are they not congregational? Are the highly successful Vineyard churches a denomination, or have they been held back by not being? I must wonder if there's not a bit of jealousy in the hearts of those who look down on the churches that are thriving even though they don't belong to a mainstream denomination!

Warren said...

I have several concerns with your view of visionary leader vs. the voting process.

While I agree that a visionary leader was often used by God in the Bible, the spiritual leadership through most of the Bible was fairly "hands off". Keep in mind the example of Samuel, Elisha, and some of the less fiery prophets of God. When Israel wanted to have a leader rather than going to God directly, Samuel discouraged it. It wasn't God's ideal.

I disagree that churches should be led by pastors directly most of the time. Rather, like the New Testament model, they should be raised up by visionary leaders, but develop their own internal leadership to carry on the church. Our early denomination followed this model, with pastors being mostly evangelists.

I feel there are dangers in a church relying on a single visionary leader.

1. The members are less likely to develop their own leadership skills.

2. Leaders have a natural tendency to develop pride.

3. Submitting a decision to a vote is a good exercise in developing heavenly attitudes. Do you think God, Jesus and Angels will dictate how everything is to be done in Heaven? If not, then humans will make decisions. If that's the case, will we have king-like leaders in heaven, or will we all be individual kings as God intended Adam to be? I believe the last is true. But in order to have that freedom without also having conflict, we must learn to submit to others much more than we usually like to do. And that is something the democratic process can be helpful for, if done in a spirit of prayer and humility, rather than the usual political spirit of democracy.

Mission Catalyst said...

Warren,

It appears to me that in your mind a visionary leader is more of an autocrat who tells people what to do. To the contrary, a true leader of a voluntary organization has to take people with him or her by integrity and persuasiveness. Followers can always walk away. True leadership is based on trust. People trust and follow a leader because of their track record with that leader. Churches with a dictator at the helm do not last long. Churches that submit every decision to the popular vote stagnate.

Dennis