I have often heard pastors making reference to the church(es) they have been asked by the conference to serve as, “my church(es)”. While it may be well intended, “my church” may be a loaded reference with several nuances, meanings, understanding, and application in practice. The basic understanding of Adventist ministry is that a person feels called by God. The individual then responds to the call through various acts of ministry and formal education as part of the person’s preparation. Although a person may feel called by God to pastoral ministry, while individuals and groups of people may affirm the call, providing arena for the individual’s ministry, a conference may also hire the individual as part of the affirmation. In this context, God calls a person, however, the individual is employed by a conference that assigns a church or a district to the individual.
The average turnaround for pastors in a church or district has been about four to five years depending on several circumstances. In some instances pastors have served in particular districts longer than the average. There are however, exceptions. For example, I have been blessed to serve in churches for almost twelve years in one district, nine years and seven years in other churches and districts. One may therefore ask, first, if the pastor is employed by a conference and is assigned to a church or district to serve, then whose church is it? Second, if the conference administration is empowered by the local churches in its territory through delegation, then whose conference is it? Third, if God institutes the church through a collective work of individuals, groups or even a conference, then whose church is it? While one may ask several putative questions, we may infer from the above description, as also affirmed in scripture, that the church is to God’s church.
One of the areas in the running of God’s church that has often brought challenges, conflicts, division, political moves, squabbles, confusion, and potentially ruining others’ faith in God is a nominating committee process hijacked by a small group of individuals or a pastor who believes he/she should select the leadership. This article is in the context of the latter.
Although the phrase “my Church” may connote or conjure up several meanings to different people, could it be one of the reasons why some pastors usurp the undue authority and power by personally maneuvering who serves at what office in the local church? Is this attitude taken to the conference, union, division and even at the general conference level? Or could it be that there is a double standard in the process of nomination of officers in our dear loved church of God? We, as a church firmly believe that it is God who appoints or chooses leaders and therefore when the nominating committee (composed of imperfect human beings) meets and does its work, God works through the collective decisions of the nominating committee in choosing leaders for His church, whether it is at the local church or at the Conference, Union, Division, or the General conference level.
However, in practice there have been different interpretations of our understanding. For example, at the General Conference level, as well as other Division, Union and Conference levels, some of the practices have been such that, when a president is chosen, the individual is then invited to either provide counsel or join the nominating committee to nominate assistants (secretary and treasurer) that he can work with. To the contrary the church manual provides a very different process to allow the nominating committee to nominate all officers for the local church. Visiting churches across the conference territory in which I serve, members have often asked the question regarding the double standard in our system. That topic is for another discussion.
As the demands for conflict resolution and mediation have brought me into several churches, I have observed that numerous of the conflicts stem from inappropriate nominating committee process and most often, from the role the local church pastor played in the process. Some pastors, serving as the chairperson of the nominating committee (which the church manual recommends) have hand-picked the elders, clerks and sometimes the treasurer during the nominating committee process. In such a situation, members have asked, “Why would a pastor handpick leaders when the church manual, the standard for church governance in addition to Scripture does not make such a provision”? The church manual states, “the committee deals with all the leadership positions” (Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 19th ed; p. 112). Could it be that pastors who hold this view see the church they serve as their church? Is “my church” attitude percolating down the governance of the church and affecting the local church nominations? If the church is God’s church, then shouldn't the collective decision of the nominating committee, made with openness, prayer, transparency, and the Holy Spirit leading be the express will of God?
Few pastors that I have had a chance to discuss the issue with have maintained that in some the previous conferences where they served, the conference administration made such recommendation for pastors to choose the elders, clerks and treasurers to ensure smooth administration and running of the churches they served. Questioning this reasoning one may ask, how about elders choosing their assistants for smoother administration? Why not allow all local church heads of departments to choose their own assistants for the sake of smooth administration?
The problem is that church members only know of the process described in the church manual and therefore when a pastor seeks to appoint elders, clerks and treasurers, church members oppose with reference to the church manual’s recommendation. The pastor’s unwillingness to work with the church manual recommendation further creates a conflict in the church thereby stifling progress, pitting people against each other, describing pastors as dictators, and derailing the progress of the church. Additionally, pastors and sometimes conference officers who subscribe to a pastor selecting his/her leaders describe the members or the entire church that opposes the idea, as “trouble makers”, and subsequently allowing room for the devil to divide and conquer. How then can pastors avoid conflict around the nominating process in the local church?
1. Let the church roll on. It is God’s church and through His guidance, the church has a defined procedure in the church manual to govern the process therefore a pastor’s willingness to allow the process to work would lessen untold conflicts in many of our churches. Leading God’s people is not about power; rather it is about “being conscious of, and sensitive to, the will of God. His will is plain: Power is to be used to honor and protect others. Ministry is not for self-aggrandizement but service, not for personal gain but willing self-sacrifice, not to be in charge but to be an example to others.” (Shepherd, T. (2014) in, Servants & Friends, A Biblical Theology of l
Leadership; p.1028, e-book).
2. If conference administrators desire to empower the pastors in their territory to hand pick the local church leadership, there should be a greater work of educating its constituents, design such process or policies about nomination process and educate church members in its territory. It should be noted, however, that such a move has greater adverse implications to the entire church body across the globe.
3. If there is a need to change the process, then revision of the section of church nominations in the church manual should be looked at with, theologically based model to replace the existing process. Some pastors have argued that the US president or even CEO’s get to choose their own cabinets. The terms of references and settings in secular government and church are incongruent to compare.
4. Pastors should seek to cultivate the love of Christ to be able to love His people. The fear of some pastors who engage in hand picking local church leaders has been that if the person disagrees with the pastor then for the term of office of the individual, the pastor’s life will be miserable. It is often seen as competition and the pastor should win. The love of Christ constrains us to love even the unlovable and it is with the attitude of love that we can work with even those who dislike us. Jesus worked with Judas although He knew his intentions.
5. Ministry is not about me but about Christ. We pastors have often felt that it is about our vision, goals, accomplishments and accolades. When the vision, mission and goals of the church are shared visions, mission and goals developed in the spirit of Christ, church members will take ownership and collaborate with pastors and everything would be about Christ and not self.
The local Seventh-day Adventist church is a church of God and therefore church governance should be Christ-led including the nominating process.
John K. Amoah is the ministerial and evangelism director for the Southern New England Conference
To be continued in the March 11, 2018 issue of Best Practices for Adventist Ministry
1. Bell, S. (2014). Servants & Friends, a Biblical Theology of Leadership. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press.
2. Seventh-day Adventist church manual. (2016). Hagerstown, MD: Secretariat, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.