Church governance and cultural mismatch

About ten or twelve years ago, we used to go to a Baptist church (which, note well, indicates a very different denomination in the UK from what it is in the US). Unlike other churches we’d been members of, it had a rigidly democratic governance structure — something that had both pros and cons. Once a year, there would be a business meeting where members of the congregation would all come and hear proposals from the church leader and vote on them.

One year, the idea being floated was that instead of the church having a single leader (backed up, or as it may be opposed, by this democratic process), we would introduce a notion of church elders — so that a group of several people would jointly form a sort of “cabinet” to reach collective decisions. As I remember it, that much had already been decided, and the next question was who to appoint as elders.

The plan that was floated was that, rather than inviting members of the congregation to directly nominate candidates for eldership, we would instead be invited to anonymously suggest candidates for candidacy, whose names would go forward to the deacons and be discussed at their next meeting. The result of this process would be a list of candidates who we would then vote on.

So all this was terribly boring. Seeking to introduce a little levity into the proceedings, I got up and said that I worried all this was a bit rushed, and dangerously precipitate, and that instead wouldn’t it be better if the congretation anonymously nominated candidate elder-candidate nominators, and the board of deacons could then sift the set of nominated candidate nominators and present the congregation with a list of people who they would then vote in or out of a group whose job it would be to nominate people for actual eldership.

I wasn’t far into this spiel before I realised it wasn’t working at all. I had completely misjudged the magnitude of the cultural gulf between me and the church members. They were all sitting there thoughtfully considering my proposal, and evidently turning over in their minds what tweaks might make it even better. No-one got the joke. I had to explain it.

It was shortly after this that we moved to a different church.

(There is no moral to this story.)

2 responses to “Church governance and cultural mismatch

  1. You suggested setting up a sub-committee in charge of overseeing the vacancy sub-committee to a bunch of Protestants and you didn’t foresee that you were basically making their deepest bureaucratic dreams come true?

  2. I know, right? Shoulda seen it coming.

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