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When A Church Has No Elders

Men’s Business Meetings or Elderships?

A very young minister, who has only been serving in this capacity for about three years, wrote to me this past spring with this plea, “I realize you have a lot of readers and probably have a lot of requests, but I would really like your objective viewpoint on a congregation functioning through a regular Men’s Business Meeting. We have had a lot of trouble in our church lately based on functioning this way, and we have another such meeting coming up this Sunday that I am dreading. You are a great teacher and I would appreciate your thoughts on this situation.” I assured him that following my upcoming annual vacation (which took place in June), and after doing a bit of research and reflection, I would tackle this subject. As part of that reflective process, on Sunday, July 2, I sent an email to each of my subscribers in which I requested input on this matter. As usual, the insights provided were quite valuable to me in my own analysis and conclusions. This current issue of my weekly Reflections is the result of that analytical effort.

Let me begin this reflective analysis by saying that I firmly believe the ideal is for each congregation to have strong, Spirit-led shepherds to guide the flock. Many of the problems that we will discuss in the course of this study could have been avoided had the congregations in question been led by godly shepherds who genuinely perceived their function among the sheep. The painful reality, however, is that not all congregations have such men serving as pastors. Indeed, more don’t than do, and many of these don’t even have any viable prospects for such in the foreseeable future. The primary goal of such groups should be to “set in order that which is lacking” [Titus 1:5] just as quickly as possible. This should be done very cautiously and prayerfully, however, as I discuss in Reflections #203 — Shepherdless Sheep Folds and in Reflections #221 — Shepherd Selection. In the latter of these two articles, while engaged in discussing various methodologies for putting shepherds in place, I made this comment, “A reader in the state of Indiana says that the Men’s Business Meeting is the group that is given the responsibility of choosing those individuals from among them to place before the congregation. In effect, then, this regular gathering together of the men is viewed as ‘the accepted source for governing in the absence of elders,’ declares this reader. I’ll reserve comment on Men’s Business Meetings for a future Reflections, but suffice it to say we are all familiar with this arrangement. Frankly, I’m not overly fond of it. It has some inherent dangers. But, that’s another article!” Well, the time has now come for that previously promised article.

As is the case with just about any kingdom concern, and any subsequent investigative effort to ascertain a reasonable biblical response, some simply don’t see the point. “So what?!” … “Who cares?!” … “Let it go!” are frequently heard comments from those who would prefer not to be troubled by such matters. I received such statements from a handful of readers after sending out my special request asking for input regarding this topic. One lady wrote, “This request you made for comments on the ‘men’s business meeting’ is the first time I have had a negative response to your writing. I am amazed that a forward-thinking person like yourself even opens up such a conversation.” Although hiding one’s head in the sand is admittedly tempting at times, especially when confronted with the pressing need to address a difficult situation facing the church, nevertheless it is never, in my opinion, the responsible response. Whether we like it or not, this matter has at one time or another come before virtually every congregation. Therefore, it needs to be examined rationally and biblically.

The Challenge

When groups of people grow to a certain point numerically, and especially when group goals are established and assets acquired to help facilitate the accomplishing of these group goals, some level of leadership and organizational structure, and accountability to the group, will become necessary. This is true even in a local assembly of believers. As previously noted, God’s ideal, in my view, is Spirit-led shepherds to guide, feed and protect the flock, and responsible servants (deacons) to facilitate the practical works of the group on a daily basis. Not every congregation has the luxury of such leadership in place, however. And, as noted, some don’t even have the prospect of such, at least not anytime soon. This is a huge challenge that smaller congregations, typically, face (although some larger ones do as well). How does such a group function? How do they get the work done that needs to be accomplished?

As a minister in Kentucky correctly observed, “Without elders, you have to have some way to handle things!” A minister in Colorado phrased it similarly: “Where there are no elders, something needs to be done!” A reader in Virginia stated, “When elders and deacons are not present, the church needs some method of making decisions.” Most everyone in the Lord’s church recognizes the challenge — in the absence of the type of leadership desired by God for His people in a specific geographical area, something must be done in the interim until that specified leadership is developed and put into place. The problem lies in determining exactly what works best, generating the fewest problems and accomplishing the most good, in the interim. As one might expect, many models have been proffered, but the one most frequently adopted by Churches of Christ is known as the Men’s Business Meeting. Essentially, this involves regular meetings (usually once a month) of the men of the congregation (any and all who desire to attend … which typically is only a fraction of the whole) to discuss operational matters of the congregation and make decisions (usually by majority vote) affecting the present and future work and direction of the group. “Congregations without elders must function through the general business meeting. Here the faithful men of the church come together to plan the local work” [Billy Watkins, Gospel Advocate, “Carrying on the Lord’s Work Without Elders,” Dec. 17, 1981].

MBM — Advantages

This section will be rather brief. The reason? Frankly, because very few people truly find much to commend with respect to this congregational leadership model. Out of the hundreds of responses I received from readers, I could count the positive ones on my ten fingers! It is a model that members seem to have “inherited,” and thus simply “tolerate” because they don’t know of any other viable option. One reader lamented, “I am not convinced that men’s business meetings are the best way to handle things, but what other alternative is there?” Therefore, it is perpetuated almost as a “necessary evil.” Nevertheless, some among us have sought to make the best of it, and have even suggested some positive aspects of this model.

For example, a reader in the state of Tennessee wrote, “I think in the book of Proverbs it speaks of wisdom being found in the counsel of many. So, what’s wrong with men getting together?” In Prov. 11:14 we are told, “in abundance of counselors there is victory” (see also Prov. 24:6). “Without counsel, plans go awry. But in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Prov. 15:22). Some see this as a positive aspect of the men of a congregation regularly assembling to “counsel together” as to the best means of accomplishing the daily work set before them in the local area. It is certainly hard to argue against such a meeting if indeed that is what is happening in these meetings. Devoted disciples should “counsel together” concerning their mission, and how best to accomplish it.

An elder in Michigan noted that prior to their congregation having an eldership, “the men’s meeting was a reasonable approach in so far as it organized the decision making, and it gave people a forum to discuss important issues.” Decisions do need to be made, and they must be made by someone. Before decisions can be responsibly made, they must be discussed. “Improving the work of a congregation demands discussion” [David Paul Smith, Gospel Advocate, “Business Meetings in Small Churches,” Aug. 16, 1984]. In the absence of recognized leadership of a group, such responsibility often falls back on the group. Thus, the MBM is clearly one option for addressing this matter, and it does provide the necessary outlet for discussion and decision making. It certainly is not the only method for doing so, but it is indeed one method.

Some readers felt the MBM had the advantage of keeping more of the members in the “informational loop” than in settings where elders and deacons were the norm. It is true that sometimes elders and deacons (especially the former) tend to develop a Board of Directors mentality, meeting behind closed doors and handing down decrees to the congregation. One of the most frequent complaints against elders by members is that they don’t communicate adequately to the congregation. I think that is a legitimate complaint in too many congregations. With a MBM arrangement, where any and all of the men may participate, the lines of communication seem to be more open (at least there seems to be the greater potential for such in the minds of many). A reader in Hawaii, the beautiful Aloha state, wrote, “There seemed to be more information shared with the members, information that needed to be shared, when we had the Men’s Business Meeting arrangement than there is now with elders in place.”

Another positive feature that is perceived, according to a reader in Oklahoma, is that “more people are given opportunity to participate in the affairs of the congregation.” A minister in California writes, “One of the pros to having them is involving more men in decision making processes.” An elder in South Carolina concurs: “The advantage of the MBM is that all the men are encouraged to be involved.” It is certainly true, in far too many instances where elders and deacons are established, that the members can grow apathetic and become content to let these men take care of virtually everything. Participation by all the members, therefore, frequently suffers when others are appointed to “do church” for them. It doesn’t have to be that way in congregations where leadership is already in place, and it shouldn’t be that way, but, sadly, it is an ever present danger regarding which the members and leaders must be ever alert.

MBM — Disadvantages

Bro. Robert K. Oglesby, who at the time was the minister of the Waterview Church of Christ in Richardson, Texas, in an article titled “Taking the Muddle out of the Meetings,” wrote: “Ask almost any minister to ‘name three things that drive you to distraction in the church,’ and one of the three will likely be something about meetings. Every minister seems to have a story of a church meeting that lasted till 2 a.m. and almost split the church … or a meeting in which the sole accomplishment was to set the time for the next meeting” [Leadership, Spring, 1991]. Bro. John Waddey, a gospel minister in my neighbor state of Arizona, and a subscriber to these Reflections, with whom I have some degree of dialogue, stated, “Few who have been in the kingdom very long have been fortunate enough to escape the trauma of a church business meeting where chaos reigned and the general atmosphere was a lack of order. The results are tragic and widespread” [Firm Foundation, “What a Church Business Meeting Is and Is Not,” March 21, 1978]. “Today there are literally hundreds of small congregations that are struggling with internal strife under the men’s business meeting leadership concept” [Wilbur E. Albright, Gospel Advocate, “The Use and Misuse of the Church Men’s Business Meeting,” Nov. 1, 1984].

As one can see from the above, and a great many more quotes could be given, congregations have experienced problems for generations from the MBM model. It is despised by just about everyone, and yet is still employed by most. A reader in North Carolina wrote, “I grew up as a young man in the church with ‘men’s meetings,’ and I hated them!” This was the sentiment of most readers who responded to my special request. A young man who was serving as a youth minister in South Carolina at the time said, “I had a terrible experience with the MBM idea. I actually resigned because of it and have not returned to church work.” A reader in Delaware declared he finds “such an approach highly offensive,” and a brother in Texas says, “While we may have survived, we certainly have not thrived under this scenario.” A minister in California wrote, “I’ve thought for years that such meetings were a huge waste of time.” A preacher in Florida stated, “For years I have questioned the Scripturalness of men’s business meetings, and in my opinion these meetings are one of the most divisive practices among brethren.” A minister in Alabama described this common leadership model this way: “It is at best a great irony, at worst pure hypocrisy.” A preacher in Colorado wrote, “The men’s business meeting is one of the more perplexing inconsistencies in our fellowship.” He later in his email added, “It is the worst sort of insult” to the leadership of the church; “it flounders in mediocrity.”

An elder in the great state of North Carolina declared, “I don’t believe there can be a more detrimental situation in a congregation than the rule of the MBM.” A dear brother in Oregon, with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, stated that “by using CENI we can recognize the biblical ‘authority’ for the men’s business meeting. Our great binding example is Acts 19:32.” In this passage he stated we clearly see a depiction of a typical men’s business meeting — “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” [NIV]. Perhaps a preacher in Oklahoma summed it up best when he wrote, “Most business meetings have no business meeting!”

Why is there such widespread discontent over this model for conducting the business of the local assembly? Why is it hated so? The reasons are legion, frankly, and they range from minor frustrations to major flaws that can literally leave a congregation in absolute chaos. Although countless concerns could be listed here, I will limit myself to those most commonly expressed by brethren who have suffered under this system. After reviewing them I think you will have to agree with me that there simply must be a better way!

FIRST: It Is Non-Biblical

It should be noted initially that there is no example of a “Men’s Business Meeting” arrangement in the New Covenant writings. It simply is not there. That is not a judgment as to whether it is right or wrong, it is simply a statement of fact. Such a model does not come from the Bible, but rather from the reasoning of men. Thus, to have a MBM is an “innovation,” and contrary to the “pattern.” Oddly, however, most patternistic congregations, since they tend to be rather small, choose to employ this model. A reader in Texas wrote, “I find it curious that those of the pattern philosophy become very inconsistent in this area (as I believe they actually are in many areas). They adamantly espouse that every congregation must follow the NT pattern exactly in order to be deemed a saved group of God’s people. However, an exception is made for those congregations which have no qualified men to serve as elders. When this occurs, it then becomes acceptable to alter the biblical pattern to allow for something never truly ‘authorized’ by Scripture.” This also comes from a reader in Texas: “I cannot find any support whatsoever in the NT for the men’s meeting concept.”

Another reader from the state of Texas wrote, “Our little church of 50-60 members is Non-Institutional in name only, for we currently operate by a MBM, and have done so for six years. I am opposed to the MBM concept, however, because I see no Scriptural authority to conduct such a meeting.” A reader in Oklahoma stated, “It is my opinion that the MBM is not consistent with Scripture.” A reader in Florida agrees: “For years I have questioned the Scripturalness of men’s business meetings.” Yet another reader in Florida stated it more strongly: “It’s a digression! Men’s business meetings ought to be abolished. There ought to be a law against this corrupt practice in the Churches of Christ.” A minister and counselor from Mississippi wrote, “We need to admit that ‘business meetings’ fall under the heading of non-biblical, or un-biblical, practices. That does not make them good or bad, but it does provide an important starting point. Whatever you call them, they do not appear to me to have any biblical basis.” This is indeed a good place to start. We are not making a judgment at this point … merely acknowledging a fact: such a model is not found in the NT writings. It is also a fact worth noting that most of those who proclaim biblical “silence” to be prohibitive in nature violate their own patternistic “law” in this matter.

SECOND: It Excludes Women

If something is Non-Biblical, then it is neutral (neither good nor bad in and of itself). It is simply not in the Bible. Some things, however, are clearly Anti-Biblical, which means that they are in apparent conflict with biblical commands, guiding principles and/or normative examples [I would refer the reader to: Reflections #126 — Suggesting Another Hermeneutic: Inquiry into an Interpretive Methodology]. Many readers felt this to be the case with the MBM. The conflict is that the NT writings portray the members of a congregation, both men and women, meeting on certain occasions to discuss some matter and to come to some agreement on what course to follow. Thus, congregational meetings, NOT men’s meetings, seem to be the biblical “pattern” (if we may use that term). The latter model, therefore, excludes a segment of the congregation (the women) that was clearly not excluded in the biblical model. This fact was pointed out time and again by those Reflections readers who responded to my request, and was one of the major criticisms given of the MBM model.

A reader in Arizona wrote, “I have no objections to business meetings as long as the entire flock is invited to participate. The entire flock should play a role in the decision-making process.” A noted author and church leader in Texas wrote, “The ‘men’s business meeting’ is a relic of a male-dominated culture that totally ignores the NT picture. The early church conducted their ‘business’ with the whole church, including men and women alike.” A minister in Mississippi wrote, “I don’t understand why these meetings, if necessary, wouldn’t include all the adult members of the congregation!” Another reader asks, “Why could not the women just be a part of the meeting? Where is there Scripture that condemns such participation? Women are not teaching men, for Pete’s sake … it’s just a business meeting! Are women to ‘be silent’ when it comes to the color of paint for the class rooms, the best date for a VBS, or who should be hired to repair a gutter? So why can’t ALL of God’s family be involved in the business of the local congregation of believers? No other reason save for ‘handed-down tradition’ that has been taught as though it were gospel.”

A minister in the state of California wrote, “I would opt to simply have a church business meeting that’s open to any and all interested parties in the congregation, with some well-defined and well-stated rules of order and a chairperson.” A reader in Florida wrote, “Where are men’s meetings even inferred in the early church? What we do have examples of, however, is the whole church coming together to decide matters of importance. I believe this to be the biblical pattern for the church.” A reader in Oregon declares, “If the work of the church (and I suspect many do not even know what that really entails) is to be discussed, then the church should be discussing it … including the women!” A minister from Alabama said, “Those who claim to follow the ‘NT pattern’ will blatantly ignore the obvious examples in Acts where meetings were held and men & women were involved in the decision making process. Attempts to circumvent these examples sadly unveil the cultural bias inherent in those who defend the men’s business meetings.” Another leader in the state of Alabama wrote: “The fact is that in nearly all churches women do far more than half the ministry and therefore know much more about much of the church’s work than the men. Why, then, would the men want to meet, discuss, and vote in ignorance?”

In the book of Acts alone, one can find numerous accounts of the disciples of Christ coming together in a local area to discuss the “business” of the church — Acts 6:1-6; 11:2-18, 22, 27-30; 14:27; 15:2-4, 12, 22-30, 40; 17:14; 18:22 … and far more could be listed (not to mention examples from the epistles). One fact that will become quickly apparent when these passages are examined is that these were cases, regardless of the circumstances involved, where the church came together, not just the men alone. Today’s MBM model, however, excludes a significant portion of the church. Ironically, however, most women have found a way to “manipulate the system” and still “have their say.” One reader pointed out that by the time the regular MBM was held, the men had already been “lobbied by the women” so that their views would be known. A reader from the state of Virginia said, “In my experience the women are the ones who truly shape the MBM by sending their ideas with their husbands!” A reader from Texas observed, “In every MBM that I have ever been involved with, the men did not really have the final decision; when they got home, the women altered – changed – added to – overturned the decisions the men had made.” One reader wrote that in their congregation it was not uncommon for several of the men to “abstain from decision-making votes until they could go home and confer with their wives.” In effect, the women determined the outcome of the meeting without having to actually sit through the thing! I had a woman actually tell me, “Why should we (the women) waste our time attending some boring meeting, when after all is said and done we’re the ones who get our way anyway?!” Maybe the Scriptures know best after all, which is why the meetings mentioned in the NT were of the whole church. This far more biblical model would certainly eliminate the need for such “creative manipulation!”

THIRD: It Can Become A Pseudo-Eldership

Unfortunately, there are those within the church who are hungry for power. They have an overwhelming lust to be preeminent among the brethren, and yet, by their very nature, are clearly unfit to serve a flock as shepherds. Such men, therefore, seek an avenue whereby they may assert themselves over a congregation. The MBM meets that need perfectly, and they will soon rise to power within it. They will also stand firmly in the pathway of a congregation’s efforts to install godly men as shepherds, for when that happens they perceive their own power to be at an end, or at least greatly diminished. Even in congregations where such dominant personalities may not exist, otherwise well-intentioned men of a congregation can still rather quickly fall into the trap of allowing the MBM to become a replacement for an eldership. This is a very real danger of this leadership model, and not a few congregations have paid a heavy price for tolerating such pseudo-elderships.

An elder in North Carolina made this very pointed observation: “We are so quick to quote the passages about adding to the Scriptures, and yet never stop to count the many times we do just that as a fellowship in our quasi-dogma. The added verse on men’s business meetings is the arch example of our adding to the Scriptures. It is quoted thusly: ‘If thou dost not have men qualified to serve as elders, use any and all unqualified men in the assembly to act as elders and call them a Men’s Business Meeting. Let the one with the least knowledge rule the rest’ (1 CofC. 1:1).”

A preacher in Oregon observed, “Not all men were meant to lead the church. There is a reason some were never selected to serve as elders or deacons! So, why would we allow them by default, in a MBM, to become the deciders of the business of the church?! It seems like an oxymoron: putting those men whom we don’t trust enough to be elders, or who are not qualified, into a setting where they will naturally ‘take charge’ with their type A personalities!” A minister in Kentucky wrote, “I have been involved in many men’s business meetings where just one person ended up running the entire congregation.” I too have seen this, and know of several congregations where this is the case. It is pitiful. A fellow elder here in New Mexico stated he does not particularly care for the MBM model — “Here is why: There will typically be one or two very vocal men who will try to control the meeting to further their own agenda.” As an elder in Michigan correctly observed: “This structure brings into the leadership of the church men who are not equipped for leadership.” This can be deadly! A reader in Virginia stated it well — “Men’s business meetings are fertile ground for power and control moves which can divide or destroy a church. I think this comes from Satan!”

A reader from the state of Delaware wrote, “A MBM cannot function as a substitute eldership because it would presumably include individuals who are not biblically eligible to serve as overseers. I cannot conceive of any justification for allowing one group of believers (the MBM), who are ineligible to act as overseers, to make decisions for the rest of the group!” A reader in Florida stated, “Some congregations do not have elders because they say they do not have any qualified men, and yet they turn right around and give decision making power into the hands of these very same men … men, who in their opinion, are not even qualified to lead. Seems to me there is something wrong with this picture!” A reader in Vancouver wrote, “The MBM places congregational direction in the hands of unqualified people. It is a vehicle for rule by the popular and those with a desire for power.” A minister in Indiana says that he confronted the MBM where he was preaching, asking them what they considered their function and purpose to be as a group. “They answered that they were a substitute for the eldership, preferring to think of their work as a sort of ‘unappointed eldership-by-proxy.'” This minister wrote, “I offered them my resignation if they should choose to continue to substitute their plan for God’s plan.” It was a bold move, but, after reflection, they dissolved the MBM, called a congregational meeting, and the group pledged to immediately begin moving toward developing an eldership. “The congregation accepted the dissolution and asked me to remain with them.” You have to admire this guy!

A preacher in West Virginia wrote, “A church that refuses to move beyond a men’s business meeting must take a hard look at the character and motivations of the men. Often there can be a problem with authority, a matter that must be addressed for a group of men to move from mere ‘deciders’ to true shepherds. The vision of some men is no higher than to be a decider of business meeting questions. That is too bad. Worse is when some like to keep it that way due to control concerns.” This brother concludes: “If a church is not under elders, it needs to get there!” Unfortunately, some don’t desire this, and thus fight to maintain the MBM. An elder in South Carolina writes, “It may be that a powerful figure in the congregation does not meet the Scriptural qualifications, and thus pushes not to have elders or deacons because of his desire to maintain control.”

“Most of the problems resulting from the misuse of the men’s business meetings are within the non-elder congregations. Today there are hundreds of small congregations struggling with internal strife under the men’s business meeting leadership concept. A common expression heard at the business meeting is, ‘Now that we have no elders, we are in charge.’ To this one may ask, ‘By whose authority are they in charge?’ The church frowns upon unqualified elders, and well she should. Why then should a group of men who are not qualified to serve as elders become a policy making group who assume the authority of elders under the guise of a men’s business meeting? … This group of men frequently become an unselected, unapproved, unappointed and unqualified eldership. For some reason they seem to feel that being men and attending the business meeting gives them policy making authority over the congregation. Such thinking generates problems. … Attending the business meeting does not make one an elder and neither does it authorize a group of men to function as an eldership” [Wilbur E. Albright, Gospel Advocate, “The Use and Misuse of the Church Men’s Business Meeting,” Nov. 1, 1984].

FOURTH: It Constitutes A Democratic Model

“What?! Bro. Maxey, why are you listing as a disadvantage the fact that a MBM might constitute a democratic model?” Well, for the simple fact that the Lord’s church is NOT a democracy! That may come as a surprise to some people, but it is a fact. There is nothing wrong with the church [all of it] coming together and seeking to reach a consensus of understanding in matters not specified in Scripture. Indeed, the unity, harmony and effective functioning of the group demands such. But this is a far cry from a small portion of the whole assembling for the purpose of establishing policy and formulating law to be handed down to the congregation. If it was only such matters as choice of paint color, paying bills, fixing leaky roofs, and the like, then that’s a different matter. But, most men’s business meetings very quickly become forums for determining the will of God (usually as perceived by the most vocal and demanding of the group). This leads very quickly and inevitably to confrontation between those of differing theological perspectives and preferences, with the faction having the most votes setting policy for the entire congregation. Such a democratic model — one man, one vote, majority rule — can destroy a congregation in short order.

It also raises some legitimate concerns. Votes can be bought, and thus the direction of a congregation can be determined by those with the finances to “purchase their preference.” A reader in Louisiana lamented, “Sadly, my experiences have been of the ‘golden rule’ variety: He that has the gold rules.” A reader in North Carolina concurs — “If a man is wealthy and contributes a lot to the church, that man thinks his voice is bigger and should be heard above that of others. He has a lot of power over the other men of the church, and he can use this power to sway their opinions and votes.” A reader in Texas wrote, “The dangers of a pure democracy are that a few may sway a majority with slick oratory. I saw a church run like this once, with a cabal scheming behind the scenes to take control.” A church leader in Mississippi writes, “Business meetings generally operate under democratic principles. While this may be favorable in western politics, it’s not particularly spiritual. The idea that ‘group think’ and ‘group vote’ equates to something pleasing to God can only be held by someone who hasn’t sat through a few business meetings!”

Another concern is over those who are allowed to vote, and those who are refused a vote. Women are generally refused a vote in a men’s business meeting arrangement. In most cases, they are not even allowed in the meeting room. Most Christians I know have a real problem with this! So do I. But there is an additional concern — look at those who ARE allowed to vote in such meetings!! What qualifies them? One reader phrased it this way: “I have a concern with the MBM arrangement that I’ve rarely heard addressed — there is no standard of Christian character required for a man to have an ‘equal’ vote with the others present.” In other words, a 10-year-old boy, if he is a baptized believer, has an equal vote with an aged saint who may have been preaching the gospel for 50 years, thus potentially giving the former veto power over the latter when determining the direction of the congregation. A minister in Kentucky wrote, “Is it logical to believe that the new Christian’s opinion in the meeting, or his vote, should carry as much weight as that of an older (and hopefully wiser) Christian?” Good question. Under the rule of a democratic model the answer is YES. I have a problem with that, frankly!!

An elder in Missouri wrote, “This pattern of leadership places majority rule as the standard. I know of a congregation where the men’s business meeting was having difficulty in making a certain decision. One ‘faction’ actually brought their young baptized sons (some as young as 12) into the meeting and the outcome was swung to their favor by the vote of these children.” A reader in Texas stated, “I am in my 49th year of preaching, and have wondered why we allow every male member to attend and vote regardless of their age, experience or qualifications, and yet have never allowed any woman to be present regardless of her age or experience.” A preacher in Colorado (the state where my wife & middle son were born, where I began preaching 30 years ago, and where my parents live) wrote, “In the men’s business meeting, our newest members, our most selfish members, our least attentive members have the same voice as those deeply committed to serving the Gospel. How is this consistent with the intent of the New Testament? Simply put, it isn’t. The church isn’t a democracy!”

A dear friend, who is preaching in Arizona, wrote, “The MBM is a bad idea, in my opinion, because the wayward member or the half-hearted member, who might be absent from the assembly forever, can still show up at the meeting to vote and make decisions for the rest of the church. This does not seem right to me.” A missionary in Fiji perceived the same flaw in this model — “Any man, regardless of his spiritual, emotional, or family maturity level can give input and direction, and have an equal vote about important matters. Hopefully, other more mature men will direct the meeting in the right way, but it is not always so.” This brother told me that in Fiji “we are seeking a better method.” As they should. A preacher in Mississippi observed, “While we might like to believe the most spiritual voice would win any discussion in these meetings, experience says this isn’t always so!” And therein lies one of the great dangers of this democratic model. I have a cartoon in my file cabinet at the office (I have for years collected religious cartoons) showing the men of a local church sitting around the table at one of their meetings. One man, presumably the Chairman, is addressing the others, saying, “So, we’re agreed? The will of God cannot be overturned except by a two-thirds majority vote?!” I fear there may be more truth than humor here!

The great Restoration Movement leader J. W. McGarvey once lamented that in such a meeting the voice of a 16 year old youth had carried as much weight in determining direction as that of a man who had been a faithful saint for more than fifty years! Thus, this dilemma is really nothing new. It has troubled the church for generations! A church leader in California wrote, “A flaw in this model is that the young 14 year old new disciple may have just as much of a vote and voice as the man who has been a soldier in God’s Kingdom for 50+ years.”

FIFTH: It Can Generate Strife & Schism

A reader in Florida wrote, “It is my opinion that a sure fire way to split a church is to gather the men in the church together to have a business meeting.” He went on: “Whenever I have attended any business meetings of the church, the brethren usually were quite contentious over petty matters. They argued a lot about whether or not to pad the pews and what color the pew pads should be. Another congregation I attended had a huge debate over whether or not to put the Lord’s money into an interest bearing checking account. They finally decided not to. Thank God they worked that one out!!” It can get ridiculous, can’t it? Sadly, such can also quickly lead to division in the church. I have personally witnessed in a MBM one man becoming so angry that he began cursing another (using some language I hadn’t heard since my Navy days). In another congregation, I witnessed a man grab another by the shirt and slam him against a wall. Several men pulled him away before he could punch the guy. And all over petty particulars of personal preference! And then we men have the nerve to get upset over the ladies of the church singing and praying together up in the mountains [Issue #257]?!! God help us!!! Maybe they ought to be the ones holding the business meetings and we ought to be up in the mountains praying!!

A reader in North Carolina wrote, “I grew up as a young man in the church with men’s meetings, and I hated them. Mainly because there were always men in the meeting that acted like children! When they didn’t get what they wanted, they fussed, got mad, and literally stormed out on many occasions. Invariably, one or two men in the group took over the meetings and ‘strong armed’ the other men into agreeing with their proposals for the church.” A reader in Texas observed, “Often the loudest voice dominated the decisions.” A preacher in Oklahoma said that in his experience “little was done at these meetings except listen to the most vocal brother dispense his ideas of ‘how we ought to do things.'” He continued, “I have seen good preachers literally run off because of the more vocal men being given a platform in these meetings, and no one feeling sufficient empowerment to challenge or correct them.” On the other hand, a preacher in Arkansas said, “The MBM did not often lend itself to getting things done. My most famous MBM story was when we were trying to decide whether or not to use trash cans in the back of the building. It took us three months to decide whether to rent a trash can or buy one … I’m not exaggerating. Thus, I was never worried about being fired from that congregation; I knew it would have taken them 6-7 months to decide whether or not to do it. By the way, your Reflections are one of the things that has encouraged me and kept me in the ministry in the face of such nonsense!”

A minister from Mississippi wrote, “I could write a book on wacky business meeting experiences. A couple will suffice. I preached for a church where we had business meetings before we appointed elders. It was not uncommon for us to have one group of men meet, make decisions, and implement ideas, and then the next month those who didn’t like those things would attend the meeting and ‘unvote’ the previous month’s actions. Can I tell you that was frustrating?! I have also been in business meetings where men got angry with one another because their pet project was not viewed enthusiastically by others. I have seen otherwise good men reduced to seriously ungodly behavior toward others. I have further witnessed business meetings used as opportunities to attack preachers, or other members of the congregation.” A leader in California stated it this way: “Where things go wrong with this model is when men are petty, divisive, and unloving. Unfortunately, this is all too often the case!”

A Proposed Alternative

Brethren, there just has to be a better way! And I believe there is. The key is returning to God’s will, not deferring to man’s. I’m convinced the Scriptures have not left us without guidance in this matter. We simply need to seek it, and this will require setting aside our precious preconceptions, our personal preferences, and the party patterns of our predecessors. It will require responsible change, something greatly feared by many in our faith-heritage, yet without it we will merely perpetuate the failings of the present system. It takes courage and vision to effect responsible change. You will be opposed. The end result, however, is well worth the effort.

We have got to face the reality, first of all, that the Lord’s church was never designed to be a democracy. I know, I know … that doesn’t “preach well” in our present society, but it is the truth! The concept of one man, one vote, majority rule in matters pertaining to the work, worship and direction of the church is not the teaching of God’s Word. We are a Theocracy, guided by the inspired Word and led by Spirited-created shepherds. Additional servants are appointed, where needed, to attend to daily ministry matters. The congregation (every member: young and old, male and female, rich and poor) is kept continually informed and kept daily involved in the work and direction of the church, and their input is frequently and visibly sought and considered by responsible leaders.

“Okay, Al, we agree with you that this is the ideal. But, Bro. Maxey, not every congregation has such leadership in place. We don’t have men who are qualified to be shepherds. We are just a small, struggling group who wants to do God’s will and be effective in our community, but we have not yet attained to that ideal; to that level of congregational maturity. What do we do in the interim? All we’ve ever known is a men’s business meeting arrangement. We agree it is not the best way to do things, and there are certainly problems associated with it, but what else is there?! What alternative do we have?” Brethren, let me offer the following for your consideration:

FIRST — As a first step, I would urge you to set aside an evening, even a Sunday evening, and encourage every member to come together for the express purpose of an evening of fervent prayer. Announce to the congregation well in advance, at least a couple of weeks ahead, that this will be an evening of prayer (and even a day of fasting, if you are so inclined). The prayers will be for one purpose: to ask for God’s guidance and assistance in bringing the congregation to the point where it may have shepherds. The congregation may not be at that point yet, and it may even be a while, but it is imperative that the congregation be ever focused on this goal. It must be kept before them, and it must be viewed with great seriousness. That mindset is critical. As the following steps are followed, this ultimate goal must never be forgotten. If the congregation has a minister, he must step up to the challenge of setting in order that which is lacking and beginning a process of teaching, encouraging and maturing that will eventually result in certain men being selected as shepherds.

SECOND — The congregation should then consider that in the interim they need to entrust certain persons, who have the confidence of the body of believers in that location, with the responsibility of handling certain matters pertaining to the group. For example, there may be the need for a secretary to simply keep up with phone messages, putting out a bulletin, ordering materials, etc. There will be the need for some to look after the contribution (counting it, making the deposit, check signing responsibilities, etc.), and it is critical that this not be put into the hands of just one person. Indeed, make sure that every check has to have two signatures on it. The preacher should never be a check signer, in my view. It’s just asking for problems that he doesn’t need. Someone will need to look after the maintenance of the building. In short, identify the necessary areas where action must be regularly taken to function as a body, and appoint individuals (male or female, depending on the area of responsibility) who will see that these matters are looked after.

I believe Acts 6:1-6 is an example of this very thing. A need was identified and the congregation selected trusted men to look after that need. Whether one chooses to call these persons “deacons” or not is irrelevant. The fact is: they are servants. They don’t need a title. Just put them to work serving. Too many people desire to be “lords” [Matt. 20:25], and too few simply seek to be “servants.” Jesus told His followers that He came “to serve” (Matt. 20:28], and so if we desire to lead, we must first learn to serve [Matt. 20:26-27]. Phoebe, declares the apostle Paul, was “a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” [Rom. 16:1]. Again, we’re not looking at titles or offices, merely servants serving. Put good men and women to work; empower them to perform their functions for the good of the body. In so doing, the work of the local group will continue to be accomplished, and it will be looked after by godly men and women who have the trust of the congregation. These are not spiritual leaders, and should not be regarded as such; they are not elders. They are simply servants of the Lord who are serving their brethren by ensuring certain matters get looked after in a timely and efficient manner. It is also important that these individuals regard their role more as facilitators of the particular work entrusted to them, rather than sole proprietors. They should seek to involve other members, where feasible and when possible. The more who are involved, the better.

THIRD — Make sure that these individuals, especially those who have responsibility for handling the church finances, are accountable. This is critical. I would suggest monthly congregational meetings, where every member is present. At these meetings the persons entrusted by the congregation for looking after each of these ministry areas will make a detailed report to the congregation and field any questions they may have. It will also be an opportunity for any member to offer advice and make recommendations as to areas in which something might be improved. Thus, the congregation stays intimately involved in all aspects of the work, and those entrusted with administering these various areas are kept accountable. These servants should also be regularly placed before the group for affirmation.

FOURTH — As for spiritual matters in congregations without shepherds, much of this is going to fall upon the minister. Let’s face it, Scripture does empower ministers and evangelists with some level of leadership within the body. That does not make them shepherds, but they can, if they are truly Spirit-led men, provide spiritual guidance and insight that may be valuable to the congregation. There will also be, in most congregations, individuals who will, by virtue of their age and experience and wisdom, be capable of providing a level of additional spiritual guidance to the body of believers. The Scriptures speak of these persons also. “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas — Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren” [Acts 15:22].

This is the Greek word hegeomai, which is used four times with reference to leaders in the church [Acts 15:22; Heb. 13:7, 17, 24]. They were not apostles, they were not elders, but they were “leading men.” This refers to a “mental process,” or a state of mind, according to Dr. Jack P. Lewis [Leadership Questions Confronting the Church]. W. E. Vine, in his classic Expository Dictionary of NT Words, characterizes it as a mind-set that motivates one to leadership. This is a leadership not of rule, but of practical daily service. These were people who could always be counted on to “get things done,” even if not specifically asked. They are workers and servants by nature, and are motivated to make sure the work of the church is accomplished. They are men willing to step up to the plate whatever the task. They may not yet be elders, but when elders are set in place one day, these men will likely be the “leading men among the brethren” for that function. Notice that when Silas (one of these “leading men”) arrived in Antioch, he “strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message” (Acts 15:32). In fact, that same verse characterizes him as “a prophet” (in other words, he spoke forth God’s Word). When Paul later had a falling out with Barnabas, and left for his second missionary journey, he took Silas with him. Yes, these are men who can have a spiritual impact upon a group for good.

FIFTH — Above all, and through it all, maintain a strong, fervent, genuine LOVE for one another. Promote harmony with one another; enjoy meals together; stay involved in the lives of one another; Be Family. Avoid at all costs petty squabbles over personal preferences. They will quickly get out of hand, and without strong leadership in place, they can destroy all your good work before you know what hit you. Grow in faith, grow in maturity, and grow toward achieving your full potential as a body of devoted disciples. God will bring you to that point of realization and actualization, if you will simply rely upon Him, maintain your love, and stay focused on your mission. In such a congregation, if the above steps are being taken, there is no need for a “men’s business meeting” arrangement; indeed, it would be completely counter-productive. Is the above plan perfect? No, it isn’t … because it will be worked by imperfect people. But, brethren, I’m convinced it is miles ahead of the MBM. I have been in congregations where the above model was employed, and it was a vast improvement. Peace was maintained, the work was accomplished, and elders were in time put in place. It’s worth a try!

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