Leadership in the New Church

Right from the start, there must be a plan for leadership and decision making, if possible even before a new church begins

Such a plan need not be complicated and should reflect the principles that guided the early churches as recorded in the NT.

This would include such basics as:

  • who makes decisions
  • how the decision making process works
  • how are decisions carried out
  • what principles guide the transition from those who make most of the decisions at the beginning to others who will carry the work forward..

Who will make decisions

Simply stated, the decisions of an assembly need to be made by the people of that assembly.  But the Biblical plan is not a democracy in which each “member” gets one vote. Rather, the men of the assembly must work together to come to unity as they seek the will of God, always mindful of the needs and concerns of the people, and especially the wisdom and experience of the older men who will eventually be recognized as the elders. This plan is best because it is the one used by the apostles, and because it seeks to accomplish the following four important goals.

  1. It teaches the truth that the right course of action is not determined by majority vote but by consulting the Head of the church Who is all wise.
  2. It is one of the most powerful discipling tools available to a growing church, as the younger men watch the older men and work along side of them, learning; to participate in godly decision making and accountability.
  3. It respects the truth taught numerous times in the NT that leadership [church planter(s) at the beginning; elders later] must lead from among the people and not in isolation from them.
  4. It encourages the men to become good leaders at home by training them in responsibility in the church.

How decision making takes place

Here again, the rule is simplicity.  From the outset, it is important to have a time when all those brothers who are interested in the well being of the work can meet and give input, ask questions and have a voice in decisions. The goal is always to discover the will of God, and come to unity of mind in those decisions. Certainly those who are older and more experienced will need to guide the discussion and they will (due to experience and knowledge of the Scriptures) have a larger influence on the proceedings, but all who have enough concern to attend, should at least be able to state a viewpoint or ask a question.

  • Meetings should begin with a brief meditation from Scripture and a time of prayer. It is better to allow liberty in the content in each of these. That is to say, prayers should not be forced into a certain mold of subject or sphere of concern e.g., only assembly needs, etc. since many things can be learned about the relative maturity and spiritual progress of those present by the content of their prayers. Neither should there be regulations about what subjects are brought forward in Bible meditations. It will quickly become clear as to those who are able to present thoughts that are both relevant and edifying to the group.
  • In general, it is better not to use thorny moral or doctrinal issues as the theme for a meditation from Scripture. Rather, some portion that turns the eyes of all present to the Lord and His ways so that spirits are refreshed before the issues are taken up. Following the time spent in the Word and prayer, the Bibles should not be “put away,” but rather kept nearby and consulted when needed during the meeting so that the young believers may learn that the Head can be consulted at any time. Nor is it wrong to pause at any time during discussions to ask for wisdom or strength.
  • In this connection it usually helps to designate a moderator to lead the meeting. Any brother can do this, but as always, those who have gift in the area of need will do a better job, not because they are better people, but because the Holy Spirit has divinely enabled them to function in this particular area. In this case, the gift of administrations or ruling will be helpful if present.

Carrying out the things decided

It is helpful to designate a record keeper to take notes about decisions made in the meetings.  This should not replace the private record keeping of the brothers who are present, but serves as a collective reminder of decisions and commitments made.  Before each meeting, brothers should look over the records of recent meetings to be sure that those things that have been decided have in fact been faithfully carried out.  Keep careful records of policy decisions; important dates, and financial matters.  Make note of the names of those who commit to the various responsibilities.  Accountability is crucial to discipleship.

Leadership transition through the passing of time

Anyone who has studied the book of Acts will notice the transition from “apostles” to “the apostles and elders” to “the elders.” This last is the goal of a mature assembly. But in the beginning of the work, most decisions will be in the hands of those few who understand the need for direction. Sometimes this is the pioneer or missionary worker or a small team of brothers who are willing to address the various needs that arise. Regardless of the details of such a beginning, the goal is to involve those who are being saved or who come into the work in a meaningful share in the same. Note the word “meaningful.” It is surprising how many veteran Christian leaders seem blind to the fact that people quickly discern whether or not they are being given a share in the heart of the action or just busy work that keeps them on the outside.

This awareness comes to them from noting

  1. who has a say in the finances and
  2. who has a say in decision making.

Common mistakes

Inevitably, some things will be tried that turn out to be mistakes.  The wonders of hindsight!  It is important that those who lead be humble men, willing to admit that a decision or course of action is not proving helpful and must be laid aside.  Experienced workers and more established works can offer examples of lessons learned by trial and error.  Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:

*   Trying to use Robert’s rules of order or “parliamentary procedure” to accomplish spiritual business. Many of these so called “rules of order” are harmless in themselves, but in time they can lead to voting about decisions.  It cannot be stressed enough that unanimity is the goal.  (see the article on Unanimity)

*  Giving leadership responsibilities to men based on success in the business worldLove for the Lord and the flock are of greater value than administrative genius.

Elders who insist on making all the decisions.  Where there has been a lack of discipleship of the men of the church, or where the elders are insecure in their position, they will not share the decision making process.  If meetings of the men are held at all, the elders decree that they are for informational purposes only; matters to be discussed must be temporal only – no “spiritual” concerns.  This practice stifles discipleship.

*  Those young or new should not be allowed a voice or involvement.  Because there are no votes to be taken, the presence of young or new people should not pose a treat where good leadership is available.   The ability to discover and apply meaningful passages of Scripture is sometimes found in unusual places, but will be refreshing if given in a good spirit.

*  Since the men make the decisions, the decisions reflect the will of the men of the church.  Actually, the decisions must reflect the will of Christ, the Head of the church, and are discovered not only by consulting Scripture, but also from input carefully gathered from the people of the church including the women and young people etc.

*  When problems arise, the answer is “We’ll pray about it.”  This sounds pious but can be deadly.  Problems are like weeds in the garden; easy to deal with when small but requiring more drastic measures once they take deep root.  The correct answer is “We’ll pray and deal with it.” 

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