Feedback from Church Forum

Our church is in the process of changing our leadership structure to include Elders.  Although the process has been slow, I wanted to ensure that matters were covered thoroughly and that all church members had opportunity for input, questions and reflection.

One of the outcomes of the January 2017 church meeting was to put the feedback from the two church discussion forums into the hands of the congregation.  This Challenge article is a combination of three people’s (Anne Snyders, Linda Harrower, Grant Peers) summary of the content of the discussion.

At both meetings, an overview of the two basis positions was given.  Some felt that they still did not have a grasp of the terms Complementarian and Egalitarian and so we spent some time understanding the terms again.  For the sake of clarity here are the two positions:

  • Complementarian: The belief that men and women were created equal in dignity, value and worth by God.  Further, the bible teaches that there are role distinctions between men and women in marriage and the church (some would say only the church).  The bible teaches that the role of elder is for qualified men.
  • Egalitarian: The belief that men and women were created equal in dignity, value and worth by God.   Further, the Bible teaches that there is no distinction in role in marriage or the church.  The Bible teaches that the role of elder is open to both men and women.

[for more information see the sermons preach at ECCC in the “Covenant Church” series]

Grant cautioned that it is possible to hold either of these positions from with a prejudicial attitude and NOT biblical understanding.  In other words, for example, it is possible to say, “it makes no sense to me that women can’t be elders because they have access to every other job in the world”; or to say, “I was bought up in a society where men were always in control and I see no reason to change that.”  We MUST avoid these kinds of prejudicial cultural arguments.  Our conclusion must be based firmly on the Bible and biblical reasoning.

Gratitude was expressed for the various gifting of all Deacons.  There was a concern that Deacons may feel uncomfortable with Elders holding a different “portfolio” but there was reassurance that in the unlikely event of this happening such issue should be dealt with one on one.  We were also reminded that, in the Congregational Church, the members are the highest human authority in make decisions, not the Minister, elders, deacons.

There was wholehearted agreement that there is a need for a team of spiritual people to work alongside the Minister.  It was also noted that we should not to rush the process of appointing elders, but that at the same time drawing it out could also be harmful.

Several people shared that they were really conflicted within themselves: what they would feel naturally (apart from the Word of God) versus what they feel compelled to hold because of the teaching of Scriptures. Someone even said that they had come to the meeting with one opinion and after listening to discussions had changed their mind (the value of teaching and discussion).

Grant said that, although he holds a “soft complementarian” position, he too feels the tension.  He shared that he read many book chapters and articles trying to find that teaching that would convince him to change from his complementarian position, but was not convinced by the arguments.

The meeting was confronted by the fact that there is not real middle ground if we are to make a principle decision.  We discussed various options but none seem suitable.  At the end of each of the two meetings we took a straw poll and the forum was divided 50/50 on either side of the issue (with a couple of abstentions).

Some felt that this was the way God was directing us: we are split 50/50 on a principle decision and therefore we should not make a principle decision.  Rather, the church should go ahead with the appointment of elders and allow the congregation to decide when the actual candidates are put to the church meeting.  In other words, we would not be making a principle decision (male and female or just male) but would decide on at the candidate level as their names come before the congregation.

It was noted that the weakness of this path is that decisions will be personal (i.e. about an individual) and therefore may cause hurt.  If we did follow this course Grant felt strongly that the church meeting must recognised this possibility, and that any person putting themselves forward must do so in the full knowledge that the congregation is divided on this issue.

Decision of the January Church meeting

The church meeting decided to:

  1. Proceed with the appointment elders.  The Deacons to bring a recommended process to the next church meeting
  2. The decision about male or male and female will happen are candidate level
  3. The church should continue with a process of further instruction and education around the issue where we did not reach consensus.
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