In 2011, after a long period of prayer and self-searching, BP made significant changes in her governance and leadership paradigm. We now utilize the “Elder-Led Model,” which seeks to replicate the spirit of the early Christian communities. Rather than having a Senior Pastor as the “CEO” of the church, we have a group of several men, who have consistently demonstrated their character and spiritual maturity to the church body over many years and in many ways. This team takes responsibility for the overall strategic direction for BP, and leaves ministry leaders empowered to use their gifts and talents without micromanagement. While paid full-time pastoral ministers remain as Elders for the entire time of their paid service at BP, others men serve on the Elder team through periodic, staggered elections. Every year sees at least one Elder election. Elders may serve for up to two three-year terms, at which time they remain ineligible for election for one year, to ensure some periodic refreshment of the team.
The Elder team seeks to establish consensus within the church body. This may mean that they will not execute a decision if a small minority of members has a strong objection, because they will seek time to review and investigate those concerns. The decisions are not merely majority votes.
The Bible lists the qualifications for Elders in Titus 1, and 1 Timothy 3. Service as an Elder is only one of many manifestations of God’s grace in bestowing gifts upon His people. We do not consider Elders as “better” or “more holy” than anyone else, but merely those whom God has gifted for this role. All of our Elders serve in other ministries (e.g., choir, teaching, Children’s Ministry), and in that capacity they follow the leadership of that member who has responsibility for that ministry. Proper exercise of Christian authority is not about self-aggrandizement, but about service towards God’s people (Matthew 20.25-26).
The existing Elders seek to identify and develop those men with the spiritual gifts appropriate for service as an Elder. After prayerful consideration, discussion with the man and his family, and further investigation, the Elders present him to the church Body for additional consideration. Ultimately, the church Body as a whole decides whether to approve this choice or not.
The Christian model of leadership focuses on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb 12.2). The Son of God humbled Himself, setting aside all the privileges that He deserved in order to serve others – even to the point of giving His life (Phil 2.8). The office of Elder is merely one of many roles in the church, and service as an Elder confers no unique status. Secular leaders in business or political office often use their position for self-aggrandizement, and to amass luxuries. Following Jesus, any church leader must subordinate his or her own benefit to the benefit of the church, and become a servant (Matt 20.25-28). Elders take on the burden of office not to enrich themselves (although they may benefit spiritually and in other non-economic terms), but to follow the Lord’s call to serve to Him by serving others (Matt 25.40).
- Full-time ordained ministers, called to pastoral ministry, serve as Elders for the duration of their full-time ministry at BP. The church Body votes on calling these Elders to full-time service.
- For every full-time Elder, we have at least two additional Elders who do not serve in ministry full-time. On a staggered basis, the church Body votes in an Elder for a three-year term. An Elder may request to stand for consideration for a successive term. After that term expires, he may not serve as an Elder for at least one year. This allows for some rotation of talent and refreshment of the members.
The currently-serving Elder team vets candidates for service on a continual basis. Any member of BP may nominate a candidate for service. Since every year the Body must vote on at least one Elder, the process requires constant attention. The Elder team prayerfully considers each candidate, conducting interviews and examinations, and ultimately makes recommendations to the Body. The Body approves or disapproves of the nominations.
Under an Elder-led model, the Elders seek to develop consensus within the church Body on decisions, even on those that do not require a vote from the church Body. Under an Elder-rule model, the Elders make decisions, and lack a specific mandate to develop consensus beforehand.
Commonly, groups make important decisions by presenting opposing viewpoints and then voting. The side with the majority of votes wins, and gets their way. Americans (and citizens of many other nations) elect their leaders through this process, using a secret ballot. This process legitimizes the transfer of political authority because it represents the will of the people governed.
Our Church governance operates differently, because we have a very different philosophy on the appropriate use and limits of authority. Fundamentally, the Church is not interested in creating a political climate of hostility, nor do we want to create camps of “winners and losers.” For us, the manner in which we make our decisions carries almost as much importance as the decisions themselves. We are one Body, and all the parts must live together and get along, even when we disagree. Our Approve/Disapprove process seeks to maintain our unity in the Spirit through the bond of peace.
We seek to develop consensus in decision-making. Consensus doesn’t mean unanimity, and it certainly doesn’t mean that one group intimidates others into submission. The Elders seek to build consensus within the Body through careful preparation, explanation, and demonstration of plans and ideas. Additionally, we take very seriously the competence of the individual Member. Our Elders have a specific mission and calling, but they are no more holy or privileged than any other child of God. Therefore, we have a methodology and process that seeks to draw out the insights of others. We do this by delegating authority in many matters, culminating in the Approve/Disapprove process for key decisions.
In traditional secret ballot voting, a “no” vote has no context. Does the individual disapprove of the matter because of a misconception? Is there a simple concern that the Elders could resolve? Would a small change make the initiative acceptable? Or has that individual identified a key flaw that others have missed? It’s critically important for leaders to know the content behind the disapproval. It’s an act of humility on the part of our Elders. A simple no vote with no explanation doesn’t give the Body any method to improve our decisions and outcomes.
Our Approve/Disapprove process gives members two weeks to prayerfully discuss the issues, raise questions, and get answers. Disapproval votes require contact information, so the Elders can follow-up with that individual. The Elders reserve the right to withdraw an issue from voting based on the input from Disapprove voters. In traditional voting, 51% of the voters will get their way, whereas in our process, a single insightful Disapprove vote may stop the issue in its tracks.
The genius of Approve/Disapprove is that it provides privacy with accountability. If every vote were done publicly, many members would feel intimidated to go against what many others think. Our process gives a timid person the opportunity to raise questions. It also eliminates the possibility of voting to disapprove for anything other than a legitimate concern. We are all in this together.