One of the greatest challenges facing a NT church is to maintain harmony among the brothers throughout the decision making process. This is a comparatively small problem in churches where decisions are made by a single person, or in churches that follow a democratic form of government in which each “member” gets one vote. In a true plurality of leadership, people of diverse cultural backgrounds, traditions and preferences bring all sorts of viewpoints and perspectives to the table. How can such an admittedly wonderful diversity come to a unified decision in any matter?
It ought to encourage us that this situation is exactly what happened in the early church! Read Acts 15 and note what widely different views were held on a matter of utmost importance, the basis of God’s salvation. Not only so, but we read of disputes between those of different persuasions; disputes that prevented a simple solution to the problem. Yet Acts 15:25 in the original reads: “It seemed good to us, becoming of one mind……” What was this “one mind” and how was it achieved? In the interest of brevity, it will suffice to state the principles upon which the whole idea of decision making by unanimity rests.
Of supreme importance is the conviction that the church ought to be subject to Christ “in everything” (Eph. 5:24). In the context, this injunction is given to the wife in a marriage relationship because it is first true of the Christ – church relationship of which the former is a picture. In the same way, decision making in the human body is a function reserved for the head; it is never left to the members. As Head of the church, the Lord is exercising His will for the good of His people. And like any intelligent being, He has only one mind or will in any matter. Therefore, in the church, it is not so much what I think or what you think or even what the so called “majority” thinks, but what does the Head think? And we may be sure that for any matter we bring to the Lord, He has – not just a will – but the best possible answer for us. Every brother must have as his heart’s desire to know the mind of the Lord.
Secondly, there is a working process which must be followed. Once again, a careful study of Acts 15 will be instructive. There must be fact gathering, attention to history (that which has led us to the present point), personal testimony, concern for the good of the people, recognition of the work of God among us, the voice of wisdom and experience, good leadership and so much more. We do our homework, not to generate more votes for our position, but in order that the Holy Spirit may build within each person a growing conviction that the mind of the Lord is being discerned, whether one or many understood it from the beginning.
At this point it will help to anticipate two common objections. “This sounds like a time consuming process.” Yes, that’s right. It must be conceded that if speed is God’s primary objective, this is not the method to follow. How much time does it require for a one-man leadership to come to oneness? No, God has something more important in view than a quick decision. He uses the decision making process to teach us about Himself, and how we are to show love and forbearance to one another. Coming to oneness of mind is challenging work, and there are always some who are not willing to pay the price. But what a comfort to realize that God is more interested in the growth and maturity of his people than in the speedy accomplishment of their projects!
Another objection: “By this means, one obstinate or misguided brother can prevent the entire church from moving forward simply by stating he is not of one accord.” Without question this is the most common objection to decision making by unanimity, and requires some careful thinking to answer.
Part of the work of any leadership team, will be to agree in advance about how decisions shall be made. It is right here that stagnation through “stonewalling” (stubborn unwillingness to budge) may be foreseen and provided for. Assuming an impasse on some important decision, the following approach will help. The brothers can say to the dissident brother in the group: “We understand that you are unable to consent to the proposed course of action. Now we need you to help us understand the basis of your position. If there are specific and applicable verses of Scripture that forbid or warn about this course of action, please bring them forward so that we may study them together. If these seem reasonable (whether or not we agree with your understanding of them), we may need to postpone our decision and wait on the Lord to bring us to oneness. But if your hesitation is based on personal preference, cultural background, custom or tradition, for the sake of the blessing and forward progress of the Lord’s work, we would like to move ahead with the consensus of the rest of the group, and we ask you to give your blessing to this decision so that we may be in oneness.”
Note that unity does not mean uniformity! Brothers may see things differently, but have the grace and maturity to distinguish between personal scruples and violations of God’s written word. In the former case, a team player may support his brethren even though he has private reservations about a course of action. In the latter case, all should remember the truth of Proverbs 11:14: “… in the multitude of counselors there is safety,” and allow that God may use the insight of one to protect the others from a course of action that could in fact bring harm to the church.
It may take longer to arrive at heartfelt oneness using this procedure, but the blessings of unity far outweigh any momentary satisfaction derived from a speedy decision. Over the years, the writer has never known a single case where sincere waiting on the Lord has brought spiritual harm to the work. But there have been many situations where the one dissenting brother correctly discerned the mind of Christ, and over time, his fellow servants were able to see things from a different perspective and were brought to agree with him, thus sparing the work from harm. All of this is over and above the blessing which comes to the people of the church as they see their leaders laying aside personal preferences, and seeking together for the mind of Christ. How many church splits might have been prevented had the leaders grace to wait on the Lord rather than press ahead in spite of the warnings of a trusted member of their number?