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Church-planter as Entrepreneur?

The business model has killed the church today and resulted in a muddled ecclesiology. That and the American post-“Bowling Alone” pathology of community/small group obsession that resembles group therapy more than actual salt-in-the-world fellowship. More on that later. Suffice it to say that I’m not a fan of using business models as an example to the church-planter. Continue reading

A Model Eldership Apology

Matt Chandler (the pastor at the Village Church) preached a good message yesterday and asked the church to forgive the elders with these five questions. I think that they are very well-conceived.
1. Will you forgive us where our counsel turned into control?
2. Will you forgive us where we failed to recognize the limits and scope of our authority?
3. Will you forgive us where we allowed our policies and processes to blind us to your pain and confusion?
4. Will you forgive us where we acted transactionally rather than transitionally? 
5. Will you forgive us where we failed to recognize you as the victim and didn’t empathize deeply with your situation?

Elder Authority, Discipline, Sanction, and the Village Leaders

Yes, the local church is too often like a village with elders. And each village has its dynamic, culture, traditions, and power structure. All the villages have their political dynamic and the unspoken-but-felt vibe of whether one is in or out. Unfortunately, too many villages feel that they are safe from the abuses of a single chief because they have a council of elders and that is enough. But a council of elders is no guarantee against the abuses of a council of elders.

In the space of six months we have seen several high profile churches deal with the public consequences of their elders’ decisions and, in all cases one way or another, retracting previous unanimous elder-decisions.

  • The 14,000 member Mars Hill Church closed its doors. Elders who were unanimous several years ago in their disciplinary actions toward two other elders recanted their decision.
  • The elders of Harvest Bible Church in Elgin, Illinois issued an apology for their unanimously-decided rebuke of dissenting elders.
  • The elders of The Village Church issued an apology for the way they dealt with a particular church discipline issue.

How could a group of elders be so confident that they would actually engage in actions that would hurt a brother and yet a mere few years later be no longer unanimous or confident in their elder action?

These churches have (had) this in common:

  1. A high view of church discipline and pastoral authority.
  2. A strong leader of “celebrity” status.
  3. A plurality of elders.
  4. Autonomy as a local church.
  5. Strong emphasis on the life of the local church and membership obligations to the local church as the central place for their spiritual growth.

This is a recipe for plurality groupthink and the consequences are dangerous, particularly when it comes to the very delicate business of spiritual discipline, rebuke, or issuing some kind of sanctioning action, whether that is advising the congregation to not fellowship with the person charged or by exercising a group policy in relations to any individual (as in “anything that is said to one of us elders about the church will be shared with the whole body of elders”). But this problem is not just a problem in the big churches, but it is prevalent in many small churches where there is plurality of elders.

In the Providence of God, I have been on both sides of the actions of this kind of plurality groupthink that was either disciplinary or sanctioning.

Continue reading