First Mennonite Church of Morton

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    Clarifying Authority

    September 12, 2018 Aaron Yoder
    Filed Under:
    Commune Together, Leadership

    Last week, our oldest son and I journeyed down into Southern Illinois to camp and hike in the Shawnee National Forest.  The lush forests, sandstone cliffs, and abundant riverbeds provide a terrific setting for memorable adventures and terrain navigation.  But phone reception is scarce in this area, so forget about GPS or assistance from Siri!  Deep in Jackson Falls, for example, it’s wise to have a map and a compass in hand.  At one point, we actually needed further help with map reading since some of the riverbeds were either dry or overgrown.  Fortunately, we ran into other hikers who served as an additional authority to point us in the right direction.

    Often times, life among a growing church body can feel like hiking.  We have the Bible and the Holy Spirit to serve as our GPS and policies and constitutions which serve as our map.  But as the landscape changes, we sometimes need additional guidance.  In my opinion, this is where we are at as a congregation.  Over the past three years, our church body has changed substantially!  Many long-standing members have either passed away, moved away or joined other congregations.  During this time, an almost equivalent number of newer families and individuals have joined our church and become part of leadership.  Throughout this time, some conflict spiraled due to confusion over interpreting our map, the FMC Constitution, and clarifying our authority structure.

    If you grew up in an Episcopal, Methodist or Catholic congregation, you may be used to a bishop or overseer exercising authority over a church.  They were your field guide, so to speak.  If you were part of a Presbyterian congregation, a group of regional Elders likely gave direction.  If you were connected to an independent church, a group of Elders or board probably led the way.  However, our map is none of the above. We are an Elder-led, congregational church.  This means that leadership is shared between your Elders, Church Board (or Deacons) and the collective group of covenant members.  It’s very Biblical…but complicated.  Since our map can be hard to read, you have been encouraged by your Elders to look into Understanding the Congregation’s Authority by Jonathan Leeman.  Your Church Board received copies on Monday night.  This book serves as a tremendous resource to understand our congregational structure.

    An excellent question is, “Isn’t our current Constitution a sufficient map?”  Unfortunately, the answer which has become clear to your Elders and Moderators over the past years is “not quite.”   It doesn’t need revision, but it does clarity.  For example, how is the Constitution to be read?  Is it a mere suggestion for how FMC ought to function or is it a rule-book for church polity?  The Constitution does not say how it should be used.  Likewise, whose responsibility is it to equip new commission leaders?  What kind of decisions, if any, can a commission leader make on their own between meetings?  For each of these questions, and many others, the Constitution is either silent or unclear. 

    Therefore, over the next year Michael Yordy, our Church Board Moderator, will be leading the Board through brief conversations at each meeting to bring clarity to our constitutional “map.”  Since my role is to equip the saints for ministry, I’ve provided additional reading materials to aid in these conversations.  If you are interested in this process, you are welcome!  You may either sit in on the Board meetings (as they are open meetings), or talk to Michael about this process.  If you’d like copies of the questions or equipping material, I would be happy to share them with you. 

    For some, all of this is drudgery.  If that’s your perspective, then I simply invite you to pray.  But our congregational map does matter since we are a congregational church.  Let’s continue to enjoy the adventure of church life together as we navigate the changing landscape with prayer and thanksgiving! 

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