1990 -- Following a series of events and speakers, the elders publicly repented for being controlling. For several months of meetings in that fall, we were full Sunday after Sunday at around 4oo people. Somewhere in this history, we went to two services and more home groups. We felt a joy-filled momentum heading into the new decade. In January of 1991,the elders were at a semi-annual retreat together over a weekend. These retreats served as praying and planning over direction. I had reflected inwardly the control had not simply affected those who followed but had impacted our communion as elders, as well. I felt to encourage something among us and took the opportunity of that meeting to speak out.
I noted to the brothers, the public repentance and break with our past "controlling spirit" as elders was an opportunity we might maximize. I asked that we devote a discussion to our views of leadership. I believed we viewed elders differently. We should openly place our thoughts on leadership in view and discover differences that might hinder and insights in support of our team growth. Specifically, I felt the Lord would reveal His direction for a better team of leaders. Acknowledging our agenda for the rest of the retreat was full, I asked for such discussion to be soon. Each man quietly looked back at me and nodded his head thoughtfully. The discussion never happened. I did not know it, but this meeting was the germination of my awareness of and focus on the dynamics of authority within a group of believers, and the beginning of the events that would lead me and my family from the church.
(Back ground info: our basic approach to governing had always been the elders discussed issues until decision by consensus was made; the head pastor, however, was ultimately responsible before God for the direction of the church. Therefore if a decision had to be made and a consensus could not be reached, it was the head-pastor's call. Further, in application of this principle, head-pastor initiatives based on him stating he sensed God's leading carried significant weight and usually gained plural approval. Within this principle, I understood through teaching and practice my role was a support to the head-pastor, helping him lead the church. Personally, I trusted God would verify by the Holy Spirit any elder's initiative which was His plan in the hearts of enough other elders to cause His will to be achieved. When something I said did not win the favor of anyone else, discussion over leadership perspectives for example, I determined I had not heard God.)
1994 -- A guest speaker with wisdom and experience in building local bodies becomes involved in our church family. He visits several times and eventually relocates to our town. He comes to be understood though never officially ordained as an apostle to our group. He travels the world to meet with many churches he helps guide and is at "home" with us. A euphemism that has been used publicly since 1991, "killing the pastor-centered church" which meant the focus was off one man and on all members being equipped for ministry is still used, but behind the scenes I note a shift back to "strong" leadership particularly on the part of the head-pastor. The counsel and guidance of our apostle has become something that guides our decisions sometimes even in his absence. Some topics are tabled until his opinion can be heard. This strikes me as a move from pluralistic review by the elder brothers to a need for one man's view. Head-pastor autonomy now appears to have strengthened but is dually shared in an undefined way.
1995 -- A discussion in an elders' meeting concerned our youth. The topic: hiring a college-age man to lead a youth group. The candidate was a trusted member of our college group, a high priority ministry of our church. I felt we missed the step of seeking God's direction to even have a youth group. I stated I felt this group would pull young teens from the home's influence when such time together was essential and powerful in the development of relationship between parents and teens. I asked if we could pray for a week or so and return to the topic. I got concerned looks, and the decision went forward without a designated time of prayer to seek God. (I think the elders were so conditioned by my supportive nature, that my words neither struck them as disagreement nor even a difference of opinion. For whatever reason, my voice carried no weight. I was left scratching my head, doubting myself as little more than a yes-man, and scrutinizing deeply the interactions/influences of various leaders within our "power" structure.) My wife and I would not let our eldest attend youth group meetings when he turned 13 later that year, creating dissension between parents and child. We relented after a few months time.
(Background info: We had on-staff elders, four including me for several years, and multiple self-supporting elders. I fell into a unique spot. On-staff elders met ad hoc at work and discussed much. Self-supporting elders were involved at designated meetings. My Christian school principal/teaching duties meant staff elder discussions excluded me. Digest versions were often relayed separately, therefore I had more access to these discussions than self-supporting elders. This dynamic and its ramifications could not be avoided, and it often seemed counter-productive to leader-group cohesion. The youth group initiative described above was likely spawned in discussions among on-staff elders. In 1995, the school had relocated to its own building, and I now was understanding first hand what self-supporting elders experienced.)
The rest of these events tomorrow.