Home > Brian's Blogs, Missional Church, Uncategorized > What is the/a Missional Church? (9): Spirit-Led Decision Making

What is the/a Missional Church? (9): Spirit-Led Decision Making

We had a great evening at Dan Lohrmann’s book launch.  We are excited to see how God will use this book and lead Dan in the future.  In fact, decisions about the future provide a nice homiletical transition to Craig Van Gelder’s The Ministry of the Missional Church.  In the final three chapters he gets very practical. Today: how do missional churches make decisions?

There are a lot of details in this chapter that I have to leave out, so let me focus on two issues: 1) the foundations of decision making and 2) the process of decision making.

There are a three theological foundations to decision making.  First, Scripture – which is inspired by the Holy Spirit – must remain our ultimate authority.  Second, this same Holy Spirit presently indwells every Christian (1 Cor. 6:19) and every Christian community (1 Cor. 3:16-17).  Third, Christian communities are very diverse.  This diversity is a both God-given (1 Cor. 12) and man-made (our prejudices and biases due to sin).

Van Gelder urges us to keep these as the foundation of our decision making.  I imagine that many people would agree with these foundations, but it is important to really consider the implications.  The implication of the second and third foundations is that decision making must be a communal process.

Most churches do not operate with a communal decision making.  Most decisions are driven by an authoritative pastor, Elder, or group of Elders.  While congregational churches often require a congregational “vote” to affirm major decisions, the reality is that very few members of the congregation have a role in the decision making process.  Sure they ask questions, debate, and vote at a business meeting, but very few are involved from the beginning.  In most cases, the congregation is only included when the decision has been made and the leaders have to “sell” the decision to “win” the vote.

What does this say about our theology of the Holy Spirit?  What does this say about our theology of the priesthood of all believers?  What does this say about how we view the pastor?

Keeping these foundations in mind, Van Gelder provides a simple (and alliterated!) process for decision making.  Even though it is not explicitly stated, each phase of the process involves the community who must be submissive to Scripture:

  1. Attending: “this phase of the process involves giving careful attention to the context, both the context of the congregation and that of the larger community within its cultural milieu…Attending is the part of the process that involves both listening to the various perspectives, and also testing these against one another.”
  2. Asserting: “this phase of the process involves testing alternative strategic choices for action but doing so in relation to both biblical-theological frameworks and theoretical insights from the social sciences and common wisdom.”
  3. Agreeing: “this phase involves the process of coming to a communally discerned agreement on the strategic action of choice in light of biblical-theological foundations and theoretical insights.  Foundational to this process for a Christian congregation is the role of prayer, which invites the active participation of the Spirit into the discernment and decision process.”
  4. Acting: “this phase of the process involves the implementation of the strategic choice that was communally discerned and agreed to.”
  5. Assessing: “this phrase of the process…involves a thorough review of what took place in the implementation process of the strategic choice that was made.”

Involving the community at each phase of the process is difficult and time consuming.  In fact, it requires a new and greater form of leadership than does the authoritative method.  This leadership is the subject of the next chapter…

  1. October 29, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    My concern with a communal decision making process is that you still need controls of some sort to keep from breaking into x number of different “spirit-led” opinions, particularly in larger churches. Consensus is good, but it’s harder to achieve as the group grows bigger. Does Van Gelder have a suggestion for that?

  2. Brian McLaughlin
    October 30, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    He does address this. Here are a couple major points:

    1) have a formal and official process that brings in the community, but in a structured way (of course, the process is contextual based upon the community and their traditions).
    2) Congregations “must be willing to sustain a committed engagement of deliberative discourse.” In other words, the community must commit to the process and commit to giving it time.

    I think it is difficult, but founded on good theology. I also see a benefit. When the community is involved and there are a few stick-in-the-muds that want to mess things up, the community will challenge them rather than just a pastor or Elders. In other words, communal decisions can make it more difficult for one or two people to mess up the process.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: