An Open Letter to Churches Who Vote…Repeat

Posted: August 25, 2010 in Church, Leadership, vision
Tags: , , ,

I wrote this in February of 2007.  It was only two months into my blog.  I tease my fellow Pastors often when they have to deal with the issue of voting…and it’s subsequent fallout! 🙂  So…I thought I would share once again – my humble opinions on this matter 🙂

[First, let me say that I don’t believe that there is one congregational structure that the Bible mandates that everyone has to follow.  Having said that, I can at least say that the Democratic / Congregational model has the least amount of support within the Scriptures.  But, I think it is no sin for churches to opt for such a structure.  Second, we at the Living Stones Church do not have the perfect structure and we are continually re-thinking through issues of polity and congregational decision making (read…”this is my qualifier to say I know I don’t know everything”no reallyI really do believe that!…why do you keep looking at me like that?)]

…BUT… (you knew that had to be coming)

I have a lot of pastor friends who serve in churches that have as a part of their constitutions and by-laws the mandate to approve or affirm leaders based on a congregational majority vote (or some agreed upon percentage set up by the by-laws).  In my conversations with these pastors, and hearing all of the stories that come out of such a process, let me share with you some things that I have NEVER heard them say after a congregational vote:

  • “I have never been more encouraged about our future as a church than I was after we voted last night.”
  • “I think those who lost the vote last night will get over it in no time.”
  • “I don’t think Joe’s [insert name] feelings were hurt at all last night by being rejected by the majority of the church.”
  • “I think politicking before the vote was a really healthy thing for our church.”
  • “I can’t wait for next year’s vote.”
  • “I think it’s wonderful that these congregational votes bring ‘members’ out of the wood-work that we haven’t seen in months.”
  • “The Spirit of God was really at work when Deloris [wife of ex-elder who was voted out at last year’s vote] stood up to speak.”

I totally get the motive behind the whole voting thing.  Really, churches are trying to do one of two things with the whole voting thing:  1)  Avoid the – “once appointed – you are there for life!” proposition. Who hasn’t experienced a leader who was effective two decades ago, but now…not so much?  And I understand that voting to affirm leaders gives a church an opportunity to say, “we no longer recognize that individual as a leader.”  2)  Voting also deals with leaders who have become abusive or mean.  Is it uncommon for churches to ask “so-and-so” who is so kind and compassionate to serve as a leader and once they get the official title all of a sudden people are heard saying, “He/She wasn’t like that before we asked them to…”

But my question is – Aren’t there more effective ways to deal with those two situations than a congregational vote?

Voting, in my always humble opinion, is a bad idea because:

  1. In all voting, you have “winners” and “losers.” Do you want “losers” in the church?  And how do the “losers” respond within the congregational system after losing?  What if they seem to perpetually lose?
  2. In spite of everyone’s best intentions, natural voting blocks and politicking always precedes congregational votes.  If your able to, try to secure phone records of your members and see who is calling who and measure that up to the voting results.  I think you’ll be surprised!
  3. It gives an equal say to every person in the church no matter their involvement or character.  Do you really want someone who has the most nominal investment in your church to have an equal say in direction and vision as someone who is “full of the Spirit” and has committed their whole life to the church?  I don’t know about you, but it was always interesting that some of the most vocal members during a vote are the ones who have the least investment in the life and work of the church (except for their participation in those basement meetings that began when they heard there was going to be a vote).
  4. It rarely is effective in dealing with the above two problems.  Most people (especially church people) just want to be nice and wouldn’t dare vote against a leader if 1) it will hurt someone’s feelings or 2) [and most probable] the negative vote only counts if they attach their name to the objection.  Anyone out there…?  Hello!  Sound familiar?  How many “no” votes get thrown away because it was “anonymous” (see by-laws).  Doesn’t that just set up conflict after conflict?  “I don’t like you”…”well I don’t like you”…”please pass the communion.”
  5. Even if the vote is quite impressively in favor, say – 85% – yes; 15% no – what does the newly elected, or affirmed leader leave thinking?  [Try…”I wonder who the other 15% is?”  Now watch theparanoia set in by next Sunday.
  6. One of two things almost always happens in these votes:  1) a record number of individuals show up to see the “brew-ha-ha” to follow; or 2) only a handful of people who wants to make sure “so-and-so” doesn’t get reelected shows up and they become the majority that night, but hardly represent the wishes of the majority of the church.
  7. Can we say…congregational humiliation and embarrassment possibilities galore that leave no recourse but trying to find another community of faith to participate in.
  8. Is popular vote the best way to identify leaders?  Maybe in America, but isn’t there another New Testament process that is somewhat mentioned in the book of Acts?  (e.g., prayer and fasting).
  9. What happens to a leadership that is annually (if not more frequently) shifting?  Even if additions or subtractions are viewed as largely positive, with every new change in the leadership comes a change in its dynamic and the group has to start all over again knowing how to relate to one another given the new dynamic.  Sometimes this could take months.  Or worse, what if because of self-imposed term limits – the church’s most effective and pastoral leader has to step down?
  10. Voting, while maybe being great American democracy in action, can serve as as institutational method that enables churches to never deal with individual difficulties according to Matthew 18 or Matthew 5.  Where do you even find voting in the Bible as the paradigm for selecting leaders?

If someone is ineffective as a leader, or has become abusive or mean-spirited, are they the only leader?  Are there not other leaders around them…other elders/shepherds, staff, deacons, ministry leaders, small group leaders, pastors, etc.  who can open an honest but gentle conversation about how they are serving?  Can a leadership team/body not be accountable to each other for how they are leading?  Do we believe that Matthew 18 & Matthew 5 (going to an individually one-on-one and, if not successful, followed by 2-3 others) can’t work within leadership?  I believe there are more effective, and MORE BIBLICAL ways to deal with poor leadership than the process of voting.

I never hear the success stories of voting.  Maybe they are out there.  If you have one, feel free to share it.  But over and over, what I hear is story after story of hurt feelings, terrible processes, and a trail of destruction by allowing by-laws to trump what spiritually-minded individuals (in and out of leadership) know to be best for the church.

While I’m afraid this little blog falls short of providing THE congregational answer, I hope that those churches who keep voting would reconsider and begin to adopt more biblical alternatives.  In other words, (in once again my most humble of voice)…STOP VOTING!

P.S.  If you do vote, make sure you know the congregation well enough that the result of any vote would not be a surprise.  Second, if you need more time to communicate, don’t hesitate to postpone a vote.

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Comments
  1. Ryan Yazel says:

    You should be required by church law (voted into action, of course) to repost this once monthly 🙂

    I especially like point #10, and feel that applies to things like term limits too. We often put policies into place to keep us from having to have real conversations about things going right or wrong.

    I love the LSC vision!

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