Scrutinizing Church Leadership
Why are so many church structures predicated on distrust?

Last week I came across one of those news articles that makes you wonder if we're all just flying upside down. This headline comes from the UK Telegraph: "Council sets up scrutiny panel - to scrutinize its scrutiny panels"

A spokesperson from the Wealden District Council said a working party was established in July to oversee the decisions of its three existing scrutiny panels and to "scrutinize the Council's scrutiny arrangements." It sounds to me like the citizens of Wealden District are the ones getting scrutted…but I digress. The article continues:

Mark Wallace, from the Taxpayers Alliance, said: "Whilst it may be well-intentioned the council appear to have wrapped themselves up in knots and ended up in an absurd situation. By all means they should review their procedures but there's no reason why a separate committee to scrutinize the scrutiny panel should be any better than the original body itself…. Local residents would probably prefer they were asked how the council was run instead of adding this extra layer of bureaucracy."

If my interest were primarily political this article would be raw meat for those who believe government is wasteful, bloated, and inept beyond redemption. But my interests are not primarily political but ecclesiastical. This wonderfully tongue-twisting article offers the opportunity to question how many of our churches are organized and governed.

We like to make cracks about the inefficiency of church committees almost as much as Fox News likes to ridicule congressional sub-committees. But committees have their place-both in church and congress. The creation of an "extra layer of bureaucracy" in Wealden to scrutinize the three existing scrutiny panels reveals a value that permeates governments and churches alike-distrust.

The separation of powers was a principle of wisdom embedded into our Constitution by its framers, and it was born out of the abuse of power evident in monarchs over the centuries. The checks and balances embedded into our form of government was predicated on distrust-the fear that power will be abused and those with it will run amok. But when "checks and balances" is taken to an absurd degree the result is scrutiny panels for scrutiny panels for scrutiny panels.

Unfortunately the same fear permeates many church governing structures. We worry that a pastor, a board, a staff, a committee will amass too much power and that abuse will surely result. To keep power in check, some churches construct numerous committees, panels, teams, policies, processes, bi-laws, and clauses to ensure power is diffused and its implementation scrutinized.

November 30, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 15 comments


September 13, 2010  10:39pm

A very thought-provoking post, as well as the comments following it. Many Americans, including myself, have grown up assuming that the governing system we have here is baisically perfect, with just the right amount of checks and balances between the different branches and leaders. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't pretend to speak with any authority on the problems and benefits of the American governing system; I do really appreciate it. My point is that we often forget that God has given us instructions on how to lead in the local church. We don't have to translate the "American way" of leadership into the local church context; we have God's way, which is outlined in the passages quoted by several previous commentors. Granted, God's leadership model has some similarities to secular government, but it has decided differences too, and we need to be cautious about the reasons we are putting certain systems in place. Are they true to the biblical model, or are they just mimicking what seems to be working on the governmental or secular workplace level? I especially appreciate Skye's added question, "do we now find ourselves relying on structures to protect us because we've lost the capacity to have real relationships in the church?" I think it is a question we need to be asking ourselves a lot more often.

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Rahab Klingensmith

December 02, 2009  9:20pm

I believe Skye that you have partically answered your own question. "Do we now find ourselves relying on structures to protect us because we have lost all capacity invisioned of what it really looks like to have real relationships within the Church".... I would have to say this is "the hiding of real identity's" that has become a cruscial downturn in what we are facing today within the church structure, that is so forebodingly taking its toll on the inner healths of the Church itself. These failures be known usually present themselves mostly through Leadership Forms – unable to grasp the fact that they too are human~and fall flat on their face, and a far cry from good behaved–-most of them not even remotely holy~ nor humble~ or holding onto any profound effort of integrity they swore initially too in the begining while hands laid upon them in hopeful Prayers. Unfortunately today we see so often a lazy representation–when trouble abounds 'favor' is shown to a failed leader when all are abrsut to the full knowledge that sin usually has two sides....this matter type behavior is detested by God–this therefore opens the door for *Gods Wrath* making things even worse. I DO believe we throw individuals (with degrees) into high clergy positions when they by minor attributes are obviously NOT qaulified. It seriously has nothing all to do with a speciality of some form of signifiance in historical theology...I'm just talking plain old out front qualifying subdued through the excellence held within the interpersonal relationships, being capable to withstand the sin/sinner without the false tithered robes of pretend destroying any reconsiling effort before God or even before the words are mentioned to others~THIS IS SO SAD. Paul tells us to abide by what is written in the book of Timothy/Titus, and never do i see a respect fully held in confidences seen. Even adhereing to the easy method offered written in Luke/Matthew. Only selfishness is favored~another abusive form of entangelments God wants so desperately to see different. Later outcomes of judgement from Our Heavenly Father.....dissasters and grief again be known. We have choices...lest we fail more. Hummmmm.....this is why clergy are to broaden their horizons–getting way beyond themselves would be a start....and than asking forgivnesses like Keller talks about. If something is not seeked out for desperate need of change....corrrecting these leadership type failures.....well....churches have lost many, and will loose many more if nOT handled to account and well. It's not worth the gamble for more certain failure... I don't think so ...ALSO...SOME LEADERS WHO ARE CHOOSEN–ARE TRULY NOT APPOINTED FROM GOD....these careless country club efforts of non-diversity for spiritual health is one of the worst items over looked today facing the "Face Off" needed for change... Rahab

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Stuart Alcock

December 02, 2009  5:55pm

The article in the Telegraph is not so much an indictment of a over-reacting council, more the result of the increasing growth of the lawsuit culture that is creeping into British society (I'm British, by the way)and the measures that are taken to simply cover one's behind due to the fact that sometimes, people simply make mistakes. With regard to church government, the reason we have failures in such things, whatever the denomination, is the same thing that caused the initial downfall of Israel - instead of following God and His methodology for ruling, the Israelites decided they wanted to be like everyone else and have a king of their own. Likewise, the church has veered away from scriptural directions (as referenced previously in this thread) and started to run churches like businesses, with pastors as CEOs, elders as boards of directors, etc. Now while I agree that there is a need for oversight and accountability, once we start to digress from the biblical model, for which there is plenty of material to use to manage any fellowship, along with our own God-given wisdom (see James' comments in ch.1) and start to run things from a man-designed fashion, we eliminate the reliance on God to fulfill the mission He calls individual churches to and thus we stop church from being the body of Christ bringing God's love to the human race and simply turn it into another club with its own man-made constitution, rules and regulations.

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December 02, 2009  12:58am

This is typical "management by committee" mess. If your church now doesn't bear the brunt of such mess, you're indeed fortunate, according to Thomas R. Schori, Ph. D. and Michael L. Garee, organization researchers. It means that your church is either still in the "toddler" (new church, very nimble) stage or the "adolescent" (church experiencing rapid growth) stage. Either way, your church still has at its helm someone who continues to manage with visionary zeal, and is unafraid of making decisions - unafraid of making a "mistake" and be blamed, unafraid of coping with a superior's wrath. On the other hand, if your church is one of the "management by committee" variety, watch out! Your church has already progressed to the "aging athlete" (established church merely "running in place") or "old geezer" (church characterized by turgidity, headed for imminent decline) stage of its life cycle. Such church has at its helm a "dodger" who always steers clear of making decisions by hiding behind a committee's skirt to "spread around" the "blame" in case of a flop.

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Skye Jethani

December 01, 2009  3:11pm

Great comments, everyone. Here's another way to think about this issue. It's not a matter of accountability vs. no accountability. Rather, it's what's the source of the accountability. It seems in many of our churches we create structures and/or policies to keep power in check. We put our trust in these things. But what about the power of personal relationships, friendship, and Christian love? Paul confronted Peter when he saw him going astray... he didn't relay on a policy or structure but a relationship. Yes, all leaders are frail and subject to error and sin. But do we now find ourselves relying on structures to protect us because we've lost the capacity to have real relationships in the church?

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December 01, 2009  3:09pm

The New Testament lays out a very clear plan for providing godly leadership that congregations can trust while at the same time providing checks and balances that do not hinder the effective operation of the church. In Titus 1:5, Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders (plural) in every city where the church was established. An elder in the New Testament is synonymous with the terms pastor, bishop, or shepherd. While in most cases a "lead" elder probably emerged, Paul directed that there was to be more than one elder in each church. There were not separate titles for a lead elder and the other elders. The title was the same for each. Certainly, based on their gifting and maturity levels, their roles varied. Yet they shared the spiritual authority in the church. This had the advantage of keeping all of the authority out of the hands of one man. It also had the advantage of keeping all of the responsibility off the back of one man. There was built-in accountabiility and shared responsibility in this system. Also, Paul revealed that the qualification for an elder (pastor) to be appointed was NOT a seminary degree or great oratory skills, it was proven and godly character (see Titus 1:6-9). Men that are faithful to their wives, diligent to love and train their children, humble, gentle, unselfish, kind, pure, just, devoted to Christ, self-controlled, and who hold courageously to the Truth at great personal cost are men that can be trusted. You can't necessarily trust a man with a degree or great oratory skills.

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December 01, 2009  2:57pm

When all is good we ask why do we have these limitations. When bad goes unchecked we ask why aren't there limitations. The proud feel they are too good to fail, and push to remove limitations they feel hinder them. Then they fail and it hurts a lot of people. From the ashes the people work to prevent future pain. My family is currently feeling the pain of wrongs done by a pastor that are going unchecked. My voice of complaint is tagged as "judgmental" and discarded, even though blatant and obvious sin is occurring. I've been to the board and they did nothing. Do I petition the congregation for a meeting to present my case? Or, do I leave and let this pastor and board go unchallenged?

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December 01, 2009  2:29pm

Both structures and leaders are subject to failure, corruption, sin. How many churches have been thrown into turmoil because they placed their trust in a person, and consequently had inadequate accountability and scrutiny in place? How many churches have died a slow death from placing more emphasis on filling committee spots that fulfilling their mission to the world? The spiritual foundation for any church governance has to rest on the reality of the Fall and that only God is truly trustworthy. I suppose that calls for prayer more than a practical person like myself would naturally think.

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December 01, 2009  8:37am

Structures, like the commandments of the OT, are in place because people–even leaders–are sinful. Just as the U.S. government has "checks and balances" to limit the damage one branch can do, so too do church structures serve to limit (or at least complicate) the exercise of depravity. It's not an inspiring system, but it is based on biblical theology.

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December 01, 2009  6:49am

It is called "accountability".

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