The Cincinnati Chinese Church (CCC) was started in October 1970, 45 years ago. We have had a truly harmonious church and church leadership over the years, and we are glad to share some of our thoughts about our structure and function, which might be helpful for others.
In general, our church does not have a specific denominational bias, since our members have traditionally come from many different evangelical Christian backgrounds. We try to be biblically based in our organization, especially following New Testament principles. We consider elders and ministers to be equivalent, in scriptural authority and general responsibility, except that elders usually receive support from non-ministry sources, and most, but not all, are not full time in ministry. The elders and ministers meet regularly to provide spiritual guidance for the church: the full-time ones meet once a week and we include the non-full-time ones every 1 to 2 months.
Elders are carefully selected by the combined elder ministers group, and agreed upon by the all deacons group, before agreement by the entire workers meeting. This ultimate decision group, by tradition, meets, back to back and right after, the monthly combined prayer meeting of CCC, on the principle that if members are not praying together they should not be the decision makers for CCC.
All major decisions at CCC, including the important appointment of a new minister, are made by consensus, after prayer, meaning that if there is an objection which is declared to be based on prayer and Bible principles, we will take a pause, and meet with the individual(s) in prayer and discussion to resolve any remaining issues. The issue is then delayed for decision for as long as it takes for consensus to appear. This is based on the principle that there might be “one lonely prophet” who is giving a minority view, but who is particularly sensitive to God’s guidance in the matter at hand, and we need to pray with the person to be assured the decisions are Godly. In our history, we have delayed a major decision for one year to resolve issues, and have changed major decisions based on prayerful objections to the majority position.
Thus, we take a long time before appointing an elder, probably a year to several years of praying and waiting for the right time and person. Elders are appointed for life, although they could request to (or be asked to) step down in exceptional circumstances. We feel that this provides stability for the church, since ministers are also appointed for a long-term basis, with the expectation for the minister generally of commitment for more than 10 years at least. In fact, and by tradition, we generally assume the ministerial appointment is a life-time commitment.
We have a general philosophy of “we don’t hire ministers, so we don’t fire them,” meaning we take extreme care in welcoming new ministers, and we seriously recognize that God calls them: therefore, we literally have not considered that elders or deacons (as representing the church) are their “employers..” Meaning we emphasize also to the congregants, that we do not use the term “we have hired a minister,” when we “welcome him” to serve together with us. Where problems arise in relation to the ministers or elders, we adopt a family conference prayer approach to resolving the issue and improving the situation. Elders and deacons have never initiated, encouraged, or conducted a process to “fire” a minister, and elder-minister relationships have continued to be mutually encouraging and accountable. In fact we have mutual accountability reports built into our regular meetings to provide accountability on a formal basis, and our regular updates in weekly and monthly meetings provide another layer of accountability. In these meetings we report our ministry to each other and receive encouragement and criticisms in a mutually beneficial manner. Thus elders and ministers grow together spiritually and learn a great deal from one another, in a mutually positive environment.
In general we have tried to have at least one elder per congregation. Currently we have five elders, to cover the three congregations (Chinese Compton site, English All Nations Compton site, and Chinese Mason site), and campus, youth and missions, but the number depends on CCC needs and specific qualifications and burdens of elders. The elder’s role in each case is to be supportive of the respective ministers, and basically be another shepherd for that specific group of people he is responsible for. Outreach, visitation, and bible study leadership, and overall financial oversight, are the major services expected of all elders. In brief the elders should assume that, if the respective minister is absent for a long period for any reason, the elder should be ready to assume responsibility for most of the ministry, and organize the church members to step in and fulfill the responsibility. This in point of fact happened to me as elder, 7 times in the history of the church, to function sort of as “acting minister,” when necessary.
All major issues from each congregation or major ministry are brought by the responsible elder (or responsible deacon if there is no equivalent elder) to the combined elder ministers meeting for discussion, prayer and if necessary, decision. Otherwise we allow a fair amount of autonomy within each major group: the three congregations, student ministry, mission ministry, and youth ministry, all of which involve the leadership of a minister and/ or elder and a deacon. The elder of each functional group, or the equivalent deacon, provides the spiritual guidance and direction to the group, and wisdom of experience. Financial accountability is achieved by each group being able to make a decision, by consensus of the leadership within each group, of projects or plans each within $4000 a year. If the amount exceeds this, the proposal for the specific need or project, and the proposed recommendation will have to be sent for decision to the combined deacons group and the combined workers group, again requiring consensus decisions.
On the surface, a consensus decision principle might seem to be an impossible task, but the reality is that because we prepare the concerned people and congregations before the decision making meeting, through debates and arguments as necessary, consensus actually can be, and has been, achieved, and harmony maintained. Without a potentially adversarial “for or against” vote, we have the result that, while more tedious, more people seem “satisfied” with the end result, since they have not been “outvoted,” or on the “losing side.” This does mean that some people might not totally feel that is the “right decision,” but since they are encouraged to state their concerns, they generally have a willingness to agree with the consensus thought, in spite of reservations, when the issues are not biblically unsound, and more a matter of preference. We can say with a fair degree of assurance, that this approach has removed many sources of potential major tension within the church.
The elders are the overall financial supervisors of the church, in conjunction with the deacons’ board as necessary. For example, each elder specifically works with their ministry related minister to assess any special needs, before the combined elders and deacons chair engages in the annual adjusting of the regular support of the ministers. The usual target of the minister support is based on the average of published averages for comparable individuals in their peer group, adjusted for special needs. So in general we try to be sensitive to any special needs of the ministers and of course also provide adequate health insurance and pension plans. As usual all decisions are by consensus.
One of the few major difficult difficulties that I have experienced in these 45 years is when the other founding elder in the beginning of the church had to leave, first for professional work reasons, and then for ministry reasons, leaving one lonely elder to take care of a fledging church. That generated a whole host of technical difficulties, which by God’s grace was overcome, one by one, as members amazingly began to step up and help, so that within months we had stabilized the situation, once again reminding us that the work and ministry is not ours, but God’s and He always come through and provides for our needs.
It has been thrilling to be an elder of CCC. A lot of praying and discussion sessions are part of the ministry (and might seem wearisome to some), but the resulting harmony and mutual encouragement are very gratifying. Our decision-making process is probably slower than most, but the results seem to be more lasting, and definitely encouraging and joyful. I believe the Lord has guided us through each major challenge, and by being willing to prepare for, and pray through, each major challenge, we have been able to weather each one in a good way.