One of the core distinctives we claim to hold as Baptist churches is that of congregational government, a form of decision making that allows every member to participate and share in the process.
Simply put, it is the belief that Jesus (the head of the church) is able to speak to his people and that as we – the church – listen to him together we will discern his will for us. It means all of the community is able to participate in decision making according to their ability to listen to the spirit. This process becomes harder as a group grows larger but I see the underlying principle as very healthy and wise.
One of the critiques of CG is that is stifles leadership and makes everyone walk at the pace of the slowest person. I tend to think this is not CG working well. In a healthy community CG doesn’t preclude leadership – in fact it creates a forum where leadership can be both expressed and tested.
Perhaps the biggest achilles heel is that this form of church government so easily gets equated with democracy – “one member one vote” (because the systems of our society in which we participate require the process to finish with a ‘vote’.)
So in a perfect world ‘Baptists’ would decide on core issues by prayer, listening to God, discussing and debating and then discerning what is being said. There wouldn’t be a ‘vote’ – simply a conversation that led to a conclusion. However the addition of a ‘vote’ means that there is now power available to lobby groups and the availability of that power means that some of our worst sides get exposed.
At its worst CG finishes up as shameful bun fight and a disgrace to who we claim to be, but at its best it is a beautiful expression of the identity of the church. While I don’t think you can make a compelling biblical case for CG anymore than you can make a case for decision making by rolling a dice, (ok – maybe a bit… ) I do think it is a compelling vision for a church to aspire towards.
I haven’t been to a ‘members meeting’ at Quinns yet so I’m not sure of the ethos with which we function but thise post gives you an idea of what I hope for…raging bull download