Decisions, decisions, decisions. They seem to be the problem that causes most confusion and disagreements in a church. There is a not-so-nice joke that Asian churches have too many “big heads”, “too many PhD’s”, too many people who are doing quite well in secular professions, who bring secular decision-making approaches into the church. In curiosity, I looked around one time during a church committee meeting, and was surprised that indeed, about half of the members were PhDs, which sounds quite weird, as if we were on a college campus. I guess it is so common we don’t really even pay any attention to it.
There is also a rumor that splits in Asian churches are quite common, and usually related to unhappiness with church decisions. Whether this is true or not, I’m not totally sure, but I certainly know of many splits that occurred in cities near us, seemingly like practically every Chinese-speaking church, so we know that definitely there are many problems that we should pay attention to, big heads or not.
One misunderstanding is indeed common: many Asians, or maybe even average Americans, unconsciously simply think that churches are like USA society, a democracy. Many have migrated here to live in a “free society” that was born of “Christian principles”, so therefore they think they can just bring some of the ways of US society into their churches also, assuming somehow that many principles of US society are Christian principles. For example, a simple logic is, of course, we vote in a democracy, so in church we will simply vote and decide on issues, just like US elections, which “somehow” relate to the Christian foundations of our society.
And, yet, on simple reflection, we know how complicated, unsatisfactory and, frankly, chaotic US elections are! Definitely, it is not a good model for church decisions. And, surprise, it is definitely not biblical! The biblical model for church management is, to be emphatic, actually not democracy! And that’s one of the first myths we should dispel.
Acts 13:1-4 (NIV) 1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.
使徒行传13：1-4 1在安提阿的教会中有几位先知和教师，就是巴拿巴和称呼尼结的西面、古利奈人路求、与分封之王希律同养的马念并扫罗。 2 他们侍奉主、禁食的时候，圣灵说：“要为我分派巴拿巴和扫罗，去做我召他们所做的工。” 3 于是禁食、祷告，按手在他们头上，就打发他们去了。4他们既被圣灵差遣，就下到西流基，从那里坐船往塞浦路斯去。
In fact, possibly to some people’s great surprise, the basic driving principle of church management, according to the Bible, is to simply seriously seek God’s will. In this passage, the leadership group of prophets and teachers worshipped, fasted and prayed, and were guided by the Spirit of God in their decision. And decisions were always group decisions; i.e., there were always several elders, and never a decision made alone by a single “dictator like” type of pastor. In the bible, elders and pastors are the same, though in today’s usage pastors are usually financially supported by the church, whereas elders generally have a separate profession in addition to serving the church.
In effect, the leadership of the church is given the main responsibility to seek God’s will. That sounds very ancient, and even very abstract, and people might think that that is impossible! But don’t we believe that God is the God of the impossible? Meaning, I think God’s ways are not meant to be “just like what happens naturally in the world”, especially not the secular world or the western world. We definitely should try to follow biblical principles first, and not the “natural way” or the “American way”.
Some people also like to say the bible doesn’t really lay out how a church is to run. Surprise! There are actually lots of principles in the Bible, principles about how to work with people and how to deal with issues. And church management means we have to deal with people and issues. So, it’s not true that we are just left to devise our own system without clear guidance. Plus, what about all those verses about elders and deacons, the key components of any church management. There certainly are a lot of descriptions of qualifications and responsibilities for them, and therefore the expectations for proper church management.
And, there is another secret, that even though there are no titles of bible chapters which say, “How to organize a church,” we actually even have a pretty detailed description of what happened in the first church. So, we can definitely learn from the practical example of the early church, and especially the letters from Paul, which especially often deal with practical issues within the church. So, there is plenty of material to work with. It’s just whether we want to follow it or not.
还有另外一个秘密就是，尽管圣经章节的题目没有说“如何管理教会”， 我们实际上甚至有非常详细的描述关于第一个教会发生了什么。 所以， 我们当然可以从早期教会的实际例子中学习， 尤其是从保罗书信里，里面经常处理教会发生的实际事情，所以有很多材料可以参考。只是我们是否愿意效法。
As a first step, I think, therefore, every responsible person in the church should read how the early church managed its problems, as a model. The principles that derive from the early church are extremely instructive, even though they were 2,000 years ago. Or maybe we should say, it is so valuable especially since it has a 2,000-year history that has been tested and used, again and again. Just like we are all reminded by the Christian Reformation, we need to go back to the bible, and not just follow the traditions accumulated over the years in western denominational structure.
Remember the church is a living organism, so it is not just theory and philosophy. And don’t give me this modern spin, and say, “Oh, the bible is such an old book, can we trust it for modern society and modern churches?” This response is probably why there are so many problems in today’s churches: we forget to check what the Good Book clearly tells us we can and should do, from the very beginning of the church.
Traditions that have been started and added down through the centuries are interesting, and may be helpful, especially during their time and culture, but these traditions may not be the most helpful for our specific church. It’s better to check with the original and go from there, as the “main frame” of reference, considering some other traditions that have come along as “add-ons”, since they could be helpful, instead of using traditions as main frame.
Read Acts 15 especially carefully please. In this chapter there is a detailed example of how the early church dealt with a controversial issue about the gentiles’ salvation. The leaders did not focus on advantages or disadvantages, like we commonly do, or what the majority wanted, or even what was best for the gentiles. They did not vote. And the leaders were given the responsibility to make the main decision. From principles that are clearly in the scriptures, and from personal experience, here are some guiding thoughts that should help us in making decisions for our “modern” church, using these “case studies” as a start.
Prayer works! Again, you might think, of course, everyone says that, and anyway, that’s too abstract and too theoretic! But in reality, that’s the best way. It’s biblical. It has a 6,000-year history. It is highly regarded by all believers. And, I don’t mean the rather perfunctory prayer of a quick blessing at the beginning and/or end of the meeting, like, “Lord, bless us for a decision we have already made.” Or, “Lord, just stamp this ‘OK,’” the typical “rubber stamp prayer” churches love. That doesn’t seem to be the original biblical “style”.
How about starting with serious prayer from each of the members of the meeting? That way, each person has a fully vested involvement. How about really spending some time praying and focusing on sincerely finding out God’s will? How about keeping on praying during the discussions, by stopping and praying intermittently and especially when there is an impasse. That is novel, and yet should not be novel, since it seems more consistent with the Book.
And reminding ourselves we should never say, “There’s not enough time to pray.” If we ever say that, please stop!! And pray! One time, a senior member of the leadership said that, and instantly everyone froze, since we all realized that something was indeed wrong. And pray seriously just before you are to make a decision, instead of after the decision!! You will find that, amazingly, it works. God helps us to direct our thoughts towards Him and what His specific will is for the subject at hand, and surprisingly, we can come to some kind of better agreement for our decision.
If you still think that prayer is too abstract, I’ll give you many good “side effects” to encourage you. Haven’t you always found that when you pray together, instantly you actually feel humbled, because you are praying to God! Your temper immediately changes, and you might even be quietly reminded to consider your fellow colleagues in a more gentle way! Which quite changes the dynamic, mainly because I think you’re reminded that we are all focused on God, and therefore this is a serious matter, and not just an argument between two or three people!
The biggest practical reason God’s will needs to be prayerfully sought, however, is that Jesus modeled it dramatically Himself, in the historic “not my will” passage, the moment of His greatest decision, to commit His greatest act. Matthew 26:39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” If the Lord Himself modeled it for us, who are we to doubt it?
然而，上帝的意志需要虔诚地寻求的最大的实际理由是，耶稣在历史性的“不是我的意志”的段落中，即他做最大决定的时刻，为我们做了榜样，以实现祂最大的行为。马太福音26:39 – 他就稍往前走，俯伏在地，祷告说：“我父啊！倘若可行，求你叫这杯离开我！然而，不要照我的意思，只要照你的意思。” “如果主自己为我们做榜样，我们是谁还要怀疑呢？
Note that even for Jesus, He had to pray with tremendous fervor. He sought the will of God always, even when He knew it would mean His own struggle, anguish and death. He was submissive to the greater will of God and did not seek the easy way out, the simplest solution. So should we.
If I have whetted your appetite, see part 2 and 3 for the rest, and the conclusion of this theme…..