Not Them! Who You Don’t Want to Revise Your Documents
From time to time a church may need to revise its foundational documents (statement of faith, covenant, by-laws, constitution, etc.). In normal cases, the leadership of the church (elders, deacons, or staff—depending on your polity) would be responsible for initiating and overseeing this process. But sometimes churches with an acute need to reform their documents lack the formal leadership infrastructure to walk the congregation through the process. If that is the case in your church, to whom should the church look for help?
Well, in the spirit of all that makes 9Marks great, we should start with the negative. Here are the five kinds of people that you might be tempted to put on your document revision committee, but should avoid if at all possible:
1. The person with a “pet” issue.
Church documents have the effect of hard-wiring a certain view of church into the life of a congregation. So if you have people in your church who hold a theological position or a ministry distinctive that occupies a disproportionate place in their thinking, you probably do not want them to have a seat at the table when it comes to these kinds of conversations.
From time to time, we’ll get someone in our church who thinks that Calvinism or a “family integrated” approach to church life should be universal in the congregation. While people are welcome to hold those positions personally, we intend for our congregation to be broader than that. We are content for there to be a diversity of views in the church on these issues. As a result, I wouldn’t want someone who insists on a more narrow position to be part of determining the contents of our statement of faith or bylaws.
2. The proportional-representation guy.
Americans in particular often have a deep-seated egalitarian impulse. When it comes to making a decision for a large group of people, we naturally think that every kind of person must be represented fairly. This is while you’ll see so many churches create committees comprised of people who represent all of the different demographics that are present in the congregation.
While there may be some wisdom in making sure different perspectives and strengths are accounted for, in the end that may not be a good way to create helpful church documents. Just because someone represents a particular demographic (old people, singles, young families, a certain ethnicity, a certain gender) does not mean that they will be able to help make good decisions for the church.
3. The outlier on social issues.
Inevitably, your church’s documents are going to describe a certain view of the world and the Christian’s place in it. And in the interest of fairness, you might be tempted to look for a certain amount of diversity of opinions on your document revision committee. But if you have someone who has an outlying view on social issues (such as marriage, gender roles, or the nature of sexual sin), you do not want to set their handprints in the concrete of your church’s foundation (metaphorically speaking).
4. The “doctrine divides” person.
For some, theological distinctions are a distraction from the community of the church. But a church’s statement of faith and by-laws actually help to build unity by clarifying not only what a church does and does not believe, but also how those beliefs play out in the life of the church. You can probably survive without clarity as long as there is never conflict or disagreement in your church. But if you find yourself in a time of disunity, you will be glad that your congregation has already decided and articulated what it believes about the faith and how it will handle a variety of situations. A person who does not see the value in such clarity will not be an asset to your team.
5. The “executive.”
Lots of churches assume that if you can run a company or make a lot of money, you will probably have similar results with whatever you put your hand to in the church. And while there may be some overlap in necessary skills, leadership in the church requires a different kind of wisdom. The priorities and values of the church are different from those of the workplace. If a person’s only qualifications are that they are successful in business, you do not want them leading your church’s efforts to revise its documents.
What all of these people have in common is that by virtue of temperament, perspective, or training, they may not be in a position to appreciate the nature of the decisions they are making. Re-working a church’s documents requires sensitivity to a host of issues, such as: in what kinds of matters does a church need to allow a diversity of opinion among its members? Where must it not allow such diversity? How can a church’s by-laws or constitution be structured to help preserve a church’s unity or bring about peace in a time of conflict?
SO, INSTEAD . . .
So, what kind of person do you want to serve the church in such a capacity? Look for godly, mature (which is not the same thing as saying “old”) believers who love the church and think well about the Scriptures. You want people with practical and organizational wisdom, who have had experience leading people, and who are respected by the congregation as a whole. The perfect “church document revision team member” does not exist, of course. But starting with the right priorities is a whole lot better than starting with the wrong ones. If your church needs to put together such a team, take time to pray carefully for the Lord to raise up and reveal people who can serve the congregation well in this arena.
One final piece of advice: at some point in the process, you should engage a qualified lawyer. If you have such a lawyer in your congregation, that is great. If not, then I recommend you find one. It should be obvious that Scripture drives the content of our church documents. But those documents also help us to live well in the world, and so they ought to be in compliance with applicable laws (whenever possible) and they also ought to help protect the church against legal perils. A good lawyer can be used by God to protect the church from unnecessary legal troubles.