In the April 21st, 2008 edition of The Alban Institute’s weekly newsletter, Dan Hotchkiss asks the question “Who owns a congregation?” The answer seems simple. We all want to say something like “God” or “Jesus”, and from a theological perspective we would be right. But what about the way we act? How about the way churches carry on business? If a secular business person observed the way we do things, who would they say owned our congregations.
Hotchkiss takes a strictly denominational view point toward the question. Some of what he says doesn’t really apply to what we in Churches of Christ deal with. What is clear is that even within our own congregations there are different opinions about who is in charge.
Actually asking the question has been sort of taboo and any dialog around the topic is short lived. Traditionally the answer is “The elders.” If pressed for further reasoning, most people have trouble coming up with any real, solid reasoning. It sort of reminds me of the discussions about instrumental music and dancing that I had with adults when I was a kid.
I may be way off base, which wouldn’t be strange for me, but I have this weird feeling that answering the question about who is in charge is the key to solving a lot of the troubles that our churches are experiencing. What do I mean?
Within the last year or so I had a conversation with an elder at a church that was clearly suffering from the long term effects of poor leadership. The elders had the final say in all matters but unfortunately didn’t leadership ability to carry the burden. When questioning a decision one elder had made and why he chose to make it without consulting the ministry leaders responsible for the fallout from the decision he responded, “I have the authority to make the decision because I’m appointed by God to do so.” When he saw the empty look on my face he added, “And I have the authority from the state because I’m a trustee of the church.”
Are you kidding me? Is it not obvious that there are ownership issues when our leaders are appealing to a recognized position with the state instead of appealing to core spiritual leadership principles? It’s really scary.
The next few days I want to talk more about church ownership. Before we get to that, tell me what your initial thoughts on church ownership are.