The Bible recognizes three classes of workers placed in the church: (1) Prophets, chosen by God alone. (2) Apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. All such should be called of God, in cooperation with the church, and sent forth as messengers of the churches. (3) Elders, deacons, and such others as may be necessary to carry the responsibility of leadership in the local church. These are chosen by the church to serve for a period of one year.
How may these church officers be chosen and elected by the church ? First, a nominating committee must be chosen. The methods recommended in the "Church Manual," page 66, work fairly well. I have tried them with varying degrees of success. But there is a more representative plan, which removes the possibility of the criticism that the church board brings upon itself by choosing and controlling the members of the nominating committee. Many of our larger churches now use this plan, and prefer it because it is more democratic than any other yet devised.
Appointment of Nominating Committee
This more representative plan calls for an enlargement of the church board by adding five or seven persons who are chosen by the church through the ballot method. These additional individuals sit with the church board to choose the nominating committee. Not later than the first Sabbath in November, the deacons should distribute ballots, upon which each church member may write the name of one person to sit with the church board in selecting the nominating committee. Obviously the present board members should not be named on the ballot, for they serve anyway. The deacons collect and count the ballots, and give to the pastor a list of the five or seven persons who have the highest count. The pastor reads the names to the congregation, declaring them chosen by ballot to meet with the church board to name the nominating committee.
This augmented board should remember that the goal of a nominating committee is, above all, to preserve unity and stability within the church. That is why the rules which govern the selection of such a committee should be stated at the beginning and kept in mind all through the procedure. Some of the rules which help in determining who shall serve on the nominating committee should be stated by the pastor, who is chairman of the board. These may include the following suggestive rules:
First, nominations should be limited to one to a person: In this way one can quickly get twelve to fifteen names on the blackboard for consideration. Second, it is agreed that all persons eligible for such an important committee must be of good judgment, and loyal to every point of doctrine taught by the church. Third, the General Conference recommends that a member representing the Missionary Volunteer Society should serve on this committee. Fourth, ethics demand that the membership of the nominating committee be distributed among the various families of the church, rather than among relatives or members within the same family. Also, the majority of the committee should not be church-board members. For example, a committee of seven could properly and ethically consist of four persons not serving on the church board and three church-board members. This removes any chance of the board's perpetuating itself.
If the pastor as chairman of this enlarged board would state these simple rules of fair play that are so self-evident, the result could yield dividends of harmony and cooperation that presage success in getting a well-chosen committee. The old rule was that the first person chosen automatically served as chairman. But it is a wiser plan for the larger board to give study to the one who should serve as chairman of the nominating committee. After the five or seven committee members have been agreed upon, the chairman should be named by this larger board.
Choosing church officers is a serious and important work. A square peg does not fit in a round hole. Neither does a man fit into a church office for which he is not suited. Men do not select their automobiles on snap judgment. They weigh the advantages of one over the other, and then decide upon the one that will best serve their needs. They examine, compare, and test. Careful thought and prayerful study should enter into the work of the nominating committee as men and women are chosen for church leadership. This would avoid many ills that develop in our churches. No one should be elected to church office who is not a church member, of course. Our churches would do well to take their church elections more seriously, praying that wisdom should prevail in the choice of names to be presented for election.
It is a mistake to play, as it were, the game of -fruit basket upset" with church officers, merely changing for the sake of change. Too great a change in one year does not build up a church. If the solidity of a church is to be preserved, not more than a third of the officers should be changed in a given year. This would always leave a two-thirds remainder, tying the former year's work with that of the incoming year. Furthermore, with this suggested program there could be a complete turnover of officers in three years, if desired. This gives a variety of leadership without risking the stability of the church. In our larger churches there are fifty-five or sixty officers and assistants to be nominated and elected in all the departments and divisions of the church and Sabbath school. Nothing must be done to weaken any branch of work in the church.
All discussions of the committee, and before the committee, are for the good of the church as a whole, and should never be repeated out of the committee. Information that "leaks out" of the committee causes many of the troubles that follow church elections. Here is where a committee member shows his true character. He will not divulge what any fellow committee member says in confidence and trust to the committee.
To ensure a successful election, without embarrassment or delay, when the report is ready for the vote of the church, it is positively essential that the consent of all persons nominated has been obtained. This should be done as the work of the nominating committee progresses. Unfortunately, there is a growing tendency, particularly in our city churches, to decline office. Therefore, not a little of the committee's work is to convince qualified nominees of their duty to accept the position suggested, 2nd give their time and talent to the work of God's church. It is important that the chairman appoint only those with tact and diplomacy to approach these nominees.
It is a good policy after nominating a person to head a department in the church, to invite him to meet with the committee in naming assistant officers who would naturally and agreeably work together. The pastor is extended the courtesy of an invitation to be present with the committee in the discussion of his church officers, and we have found it wise to extend this same courtesy to a nominee while his department officers are considered. This method avoids making certain combinations that might not work out as well as other combinations. Paul and Barnabas were unable to work together because of a difference of opinion over John Mark. There are good workers who do not function well together. Therefore, it is wise to plan carefully, so that those chosen may agreeably work together in the various positions of leadership within the church.
Pastor's Relation to Nominating Committee
Wise is the pastor who refuses to serve as the chairman or as an appointed member of the nominating committee. His influence is wider when he sits with the committee in an advisory capacity rather than as a member of the committee. For example, the question of unfaithfulness in tithe payment may arise in the consideration of a name for office. It is in just such cases that the pastor is there as an adviser. Another reason why the minister should sit with the nominating committee is that he is directly responsible to the conference committee for the churches under his charge. If he is willing to accept that responsibility for failure or success, it is only right that he should be present at the discussions of the nominating committee, whose duty it is to select the best leadership to cooperate with him for success.
The recommended time for church elections is not later than December first. This is necessary to allow ample time for the ordination of new elders or deacons, and that other new officers may be ready for their new responsibilities by the first of the new year. The pastor will wish to call together the new board of deacons and assign to each his particular duties, which begin the first Sabbath in January. He will likewise call the deaconesses together, in order that each may know her part in baptisms, the Lord's supper, and visitation among the sick and shut-in members.
The "Church Manual" provides for church elections to be held either on the Sabbath or at any time when the majority of the church members may be present. There should be as near a full attendance of the membership as possible when the nominating committee presents its list of officers for election. The nominating committee has no power to elect any officer. It requires the majority vote of the church to elect church officers. Since these officers perform their duties on every Sabbath day of the year, what more appropriate time could there be for their election than at the Sabbath service when a large attendance of members is present ? It is necessary that the whole church approve or disapprove the report of the nominating committee. To my mind it is inappropriate to hold a church election on a prayer-meeting night, when just a few members practically elect themselves to office.
If any member feels that objection should be made to any name presented for office, it is within his right to ask that the whole report be referred back to the committee. He may then present his objections to the committee, rather than to the entire church, thus showing consideration for the feelings of others, and for guests who may be present. If such objections are raised, the committee, after hearing them, will either consider them of sufficient importance to alter their report, or as inconsequential, in which case they will present the same report at the next meeting of the church. However, if the nominating committee has sought to preserve unity and harmony in its work, gained the consent of all nominees, and considered every aspect of the full report, this will not happen. A wise chairman never allows a report that would provoke such a situation to go before the body of believers. This emphasizes the need for a nominating committee which will do thorough and careful work.
All elective offices in the church are effective for one year. When these have been filled and the final vote is taken, the officers are set apart for the service of God in the offices named. The work of the nominating committee is finished, and with a corps of efficient and consecrated officers, the church of God may go forward, conquering and to conquer.