Adventist Concepts of Church Management

PASTOR: Adventist Concepts of Church Management

Part II

Associate Professor of History and Religion Southern Missionary College

[EDITORIAL NOTE. These articles by Professor Tobiassen might well be somewhat of an answer to the question raised on page 2. EDITORS.]

The Principle of Multiplicity of Counsel

It may be natural for a minister who has a good education and considerable experience in administration of denominational activity to be tempted to handle the management of church affairs largely alone. Many plans may seem more quickly and smoothly formulated in the quiet of the pastor's own study than at a church board meeting, where there may be ten or twenty inadequately experienced members with the power to vote the pastor down. The temptation to make decisions and initiate actions without too much consideration for the formal rights of the church officers is sometimes strong.

Also, the pastor may have found that church officers feel they do not have time enough to spend in any thorough study of detailed plans and procedures. Often they gladly leave these matters with the pastor, because he seems to know best; at least, they think he has the time to plan and execute the projects. In this way the pastor is almost forced, he feels, to act as a benevolent dictator, doing things in his own way with the passive consent of the church officers. It often seems to be the most efficient method of procedure.

This temptation should be vigorously resisted. It is a question not of convenience but of policy. The New Testament indicates that the early apostles took counsel with lay brethren in the direction of church affairs; the Spirit of prophecy supports this practice. No individual pastor should allow himself to be so pressed for time that he changes a cardinal principle of Adventist church management the principle of multiplicity of counsel. The General Conference president works within the frame work of multiplicity of counsel. So do the presidents of divisions, unions, and conferences. There is no legitimate room within the Adventist concept of church government for any method by which individual men make decisions and formulate plans singlehandedly. Our whole denomination has been built up and built up solidly and with considerable success, under God, by committee practice, representing the principle of multiplicity of counsel. This principle should be adhered to in the local church as well. God can bless no other practice.

The local elders should be given explicitly designated responsibility, each for some carefully outlined phase of church management. One should be missionary leader, another the MV sponsor, a third should look after .the budget, and a fourth in a large church may well be general superintendent of the Sabbath school. In large congregations one elder should be in charge of the platform for church services, another should organize the weekly prayer meetings, a third may edit the bulletin and, perhaps, the monthly pastoral letter. The elders may rotate as chairman of the church board. Certain elders may keep in contact with the Dorcas Society and the Home and School Association or other organizations that sometimes are not strongly represented on the church board. One elder may act as chairman of the church school board. Another may be the coordinator of the musical ministry in the church. In very large churches one or two more elders should function as associate missionary leaders. No elder should be left without some particular responsibility; each elder should be given not only reasonable prominence but definite duties.

What Should the Pastor Do?

But if the elders do all this, and perhaps take part in the preaching, is the pastor really necessary? If the pastor does his full duty in a church, he will educate the elders and the other officers so that he can devote almost his full time and energy to promoting the gospel among non-Adventists. Is not this the Seventh-day Adventist ideal?

An elders' conference should be held each week or each month; if monthly, it should precede the board meeting by two or three days or a week. When the distribution of duties among the elders has been agreed upon, the pastor should take time to talk over with each elder individually the scope as well as the de tails of his work. Each elder should be asked to report briefly at the next elders' conference.

It would be an advantage if the full agenda for the board meeting could be considered in the elders' conference first. Each item on the agenda should be assigned to one of the elders for study, for formulation in writing of a pertinent recommendation, and for presentation to the board. Thus the pastor need not talk all the time; the group of elders appears as the pastor's well-directed team of intimate associates. If the pastor plans to invite guest speakers, their names might be submitted to the elders. The pastor should also invite the elders to provide suggestions for sermon topics, so that all spiritual interests are properly cared for in the pastor's series of Sabbath messages.

Especially should the pastor take the elders into his confidence in regard to new members whom he plans to baptize. Although an ordained minister may feel he has the right to baptize whomever he deems worthy of the sacred rite, the church as a whole makes the decision as to admission into membership. The elders should be personally acquainted with those seeking membership, and the pastor does well in providing opportunities for getting acquainted.

In connection with the local work of the church, among the elders the pastor is the first among equals. He is neither their lord nor their servant; he is the organizer of their mutual teamwork.

Re-emphasizing the Reality of the Deaconate

The deaconate in our churches is a great reservoir of spiritual and missionary strength to the Advent Movement, a reservoir largely untapped, especially in our larger congregations. In many places the deacons act merely as ushers. This may be proper in some of the Protestant churches of today, but it does not match the urgent world mission divinely en trusted to Seventh-day Adventists. The pastor who can inspire the deacons with a wider vision of their opportunities and organize them into broader action will render a mighty service to denominational progress.

Immediately upon election each deacon should be given (by the head deacon) a list of ten to twenty church members with whom he should keep in contact. Associated with the deacon in the spiritual and practical care for this group should be a deaconess (designated by the head deaconess in consultation with the head deacon). These two, the deacon and the deaconess, should be for their group what the pastor and elder are for the whole congregation. If any of the group members is absent from church, the deacon or the deaconess should know it and learn the reason. If the members are sick or otherwise needy, the deacon and the deaconess should direct in organizing immediate help. Spiritual decline should be detected and remedial steps taken with dispatch.

The head deacon, with the head deaconess, is the chief personnel officer of the church. The clerk should pass on to them the name and address of each new member and keep them regularly informed of transfers. A special arrangement should be made for such church members as live away from the city in which the church is located; one or two pairs of alert deacons and deaconesses should be assigned to keep up personal contact with them.

Widening the Vision of the Deacons and Deaconesses

One of the difficult problems in many large churches is to keep in touch with members who move to other places; this can be done effectively only if each deacon keeps in personal contact with all his ten or twenty group members. He should report immediately any movements in his group; the head deacon and the clerk should initiate the consideration of transfers without delay.

In order to perform their duties with skill and good results, the deacons and deaconesses need instruction in the details of their duties. The pastor should conduct a deaconate work shop sometime between the day of election and the beginning of the new term. If new deacons or deaconesses are elected during the year, they should not be expected to take up their work until properly instructed as to details.

The head deacon and, preferably, the head deaconess should attend the elders' conference and be fully informed of all plans under consideration. After each board meeting these two chief officers should pass on all necessary information and instruction to their deacons and deaconesses.

An associate head deacon may be designated to organize the deacons for ushering at the regular services of the church, including the prayer meetings and business meetings as well as board gatherings. However efficient the janitor may be (if the church has one), the associate head deacon in charge of ushering (or possibly, by deputy, one of the deacons) should inspect the church and its approaches, including the minister's room and the choir room, at the latest twenty minutes before the scheduled time. The supplies cabinet and the inside of the pulpit should be critically inspected at least once a week.

The Deaconate Sponsoring Our Campaigns

The greatest opportunity for the deacon and the deaconess to serve the spiritual interests of the church comes when a campaign or a project is being organized and executed. Each deacon should promote each project within his group of ten or twenty members. The Ingathering bands should closely follow the group structure under the leadership of the deaconate. Promotion of financial drives should be through the deacons and deaconesses within their regular groups.

Almost ninety per cent of the eloquent but not too effective promotion of campaigns done by the pastor in the pulpit can well be eliminated if the pastor understands how to organize the deacons into this type of concerted action. The time in the pulpit can be reserved largely for worship and preaching; the promotion of projects can be done more effectively by having each deacon and deaconess talk things over quietly with their ten or twenty group members in the homes during the week. Of course, a system of weekly reporting must be organized and strictly maintained in order to ensure full efficiency. By utilizing the deaconate and the group system, most of the pastor's (and the listeners') headaches arising from appeals for money or effort during the Sabbath worship service can be eliminated.

God's ideal for the Seventh-day Adventist Church is that each member should be an active worker. This ideal can most surely be reached by the pastor if he takes pains to educate the deacons and deaconesses to enlarge their vision of the significance of the part they should take in the spiritual and missionary management of the remnant church.

[End of Series]



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Associate Professor of History and Religion Southern Missionary College

November 1952

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