Jul3WedJuly 3, 2019
If someone were to ask you, “What is the leadership structure of your church?” What would you say? Perhaps you’d respond with, “What a weird question!” or “I simply don’t care!” Both would be natural thoughts. However, your perspective deeply affects your involvement in the local congregation.
The answer for First Mennonite Church is that we are an Elder-led, Congregational church. (At least that is the title often associated with our structure). The name emphasizes that two stated groups, the Board of Elders and the Congregational body, both hold crucial positions of leadership. In addition at FMC, there is a third crucial group, the Church Board, which serves as an intermediate group comprised of active ministry leaders.
Now each group needs a well-defined purpose in order function properly.
Practically speaking, the Elders typically cast spiritual vision, oversee the theology, offer insight to various ministries and attend to the well-being of every covenant member.
The Church Board members, or ‘deacons’ as described in Scripture, typically serve the body with various ministries such as stewardship, fellowship, etc.
Last, but not least, the congregational members (as a whole) typically hold the final authority to affirm or not affirm things like the church’s vision, leadership and finances.
When each group works diligently and prayerfully to fulfill their area of ministry, the congregation thrives. (But if one area is weak, the whole body suffers.) This may sound complicated, but I believe that our structure is both good and Biblically sound. If you want to learn more about its Biblical basis, I encourage you to read booklet entitled “Understanding the Congregation’s Authority” by Jonathan Leeman which can be found on the table in our church Library.
But the reason that I bring this to your attention now is to help you understand what is happening this week during at the MC USA Delegate Assembly. Delegates (a.k.a. people sent from Mennonite congregations) are like the congregational members in the local church. Collective, they have the final authority on important matters like vision, leadership and finances. In addition, many ‘deacon-like’ ministries such as Mennonite Central Committee, Everence, etc. will be sharing stories of what God is doing through their work.
However, the missing body of leadership in our denomination is the function of ‘Elders.’ Technically, the collective body of Conference Ministers and other appointed leaders (called the Constituency Leadership Council, CLC) are charged with this task. However, there has been much disagreement regarding how such a group exercises authority. This tension has been further aggravated by pastors, teachers and groups which have actively taught theologies which are contrary to our Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective. Therefore, the CLC hasn’t exercised its function of spiritual oversight.
Fortunately, from my perspective, there is a small glimmer of hope. The new moderator of the Delegate Assembly, David Boshart, and Executive Director, Glen Guyton, have announced that the meetings this week will include a Biblical study on church life. The apparent goal is to equip the Delegates with Scriptural theology before beginning a two-year process of discerning the membership guidelines of MC USA and the role of the CLC. Personally, I have been hoping and praying for such an action for years! Now, this may not restore the function of “elders” in our denomination. If not, MC USA will likely continue to fracture. But for now, I believe it is a step in the right direction.
Would you please pray for myself, Scott Largent and Lavonne McGuire as we serve the Lord and FMC as delegates in Kansas City?
May our denomination renew its Biblical foundation, rediscover a healthy structure and grow in faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.