Power, policy and practice – The need for good church governance by Rev Stephen Brooks

Rev Stephen Brooks looks at the importance of good administrative practices within the Church, and calls for leaders to look again at how their churches are governed.

In October 2013, Pope Francis and eight cardinals from around the world held three days of closed-door meetings to discuss the Vatican’s troubled administration, and to map out possible changes in the Catholic Church. The group’s main task was to rewrite the constitution on the workings of the Vatican’s various departments. He said, “This Vatican-centric vision neglects the world around it, and I will do everything to change it; this is the start of a Church with an organisation that is not only vertical but also horizontal.”

We, too, need to take time to see how the experience of local church governance can be improved, in order to increase the effectiveness and accountability of ministry. The challenge is always to maintain an appropriate balance; people must always be more important than the organisation.

The Apostle Paul expressed the importance of administration in the ministry of the local church.  In 1 Corinthians 12:28, the gift of administration is listed among the spiritual gifts.  In 1 Corinthians 14:40, we read that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

Church leaders and administrators are called to use their gifts to provide for orderly functioning of the church. This work must be God-centred, led by the Spirit of God, and accomplished with a servant heart.

Most pastors and elders do not have the training experience or education to know how to exhibit healthy leadership within a church. Many work in occupations that are very different from church administration. Pastors frequently say they’ve had to learn church administration and governance on the job, while others admit it isn’t their strong point in ministry work.

Typically, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are led by a single Elder/Pastor; this leader also provides the preaching and teaching ministries for the church, in addition to administrative leadership. Often, a church led by a single leader was founded by that singular leader, or by a previous singular leader who appointed the present leader. In recent years, concerns raised by the Charity Commission have resulted in more accountability within Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations, such as those affiliated to Black Majority Churches. In my estimation, one of the common consequences of unaccountable authority is inappropriate use of church finances, unethical behaviour and the abuse of power. It is easier to manipulate a congregation than it is to manipulate an organised body that provides accountability.

The Lord was very clear in His Word about how He wishes His Church on earth to be organised and managed. Christ is the Head of the Church, and its supreme Authority (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18). The New Testament refers a number of times to elders who served in the role of church leadership (Acts 14:23, 15:2, 20:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14), and apparently each church had more than one, as the word is usually found in the plural.

Because of the nature of man, mutual accountability is necessary. Churches led by a single pastor also risk putting too much demand on the leader.

There is a consistent pattern in the New Testament that every church had several elders, who oversee and govern the church with equal authority. The issue of local independence without accountability to a wider body remains a weakness.

Members of the church have the right to appeal disputed matters in the congregation by going to their elders for resolution and, if the dispute is with those local elders, to appeal to the regional governing body or, beyond that, to the whole general assembly (Acts 15). Sadly, when allegations of abuse or misconduct have been made, I’ve seen the response of church leaders add to the pain of victims instead of relieving it, in their attempt to protect the institution at the expense of the person. Churches tend to rise and fall based on the quality of their leaders. Strong, godly, servant leadership is critical.

Few church boards and governance structures are working effectively. There is a need for transition in the way we do church from an organisational, governance perspective. If procedures and policies are clear in the areas of church organisation, accounting, finance, employment and risk management, people will have more trust in the Church, and will be better able to serve in a loving and God-glorifying way.

I am convinced that governance should be a tool for ministry. We should take time to see how the experience of local church governance can be improved in order to increase the effectiveness of the local church. In my experience, a long and detailed constitution is concerned with ministry control and restriction. A short and less detailed constitution is concerned with ministry development and flexibility. It is my hope that church leaders will be challenged to engage in the process of review and reform of many outdated policies for the sake of the congregation and the wellbeing of the ministry.

If you would like assistance in reviewing or improving your church administration, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

For more information about Excell3 visit www.excell3.com. You can contact Rev Brooks at sbrooksaui@yahoo.co.uk or phone 07940 237959.

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