As a pastor, I always felt that the holy grail of church leadership was to develop a staff-led church. (I give a full analysis and review of the model here.) In this model, the pastor is essentially a CEO. I’ve heard of churches that have changed huge systems in their church as a result of an edict from their CEO-type pastor. No oversight. No discussion. Only implementation. I’ve done quite a bit of research on this model and was convinced that this was the way to go.
I also assumed that any large church used this model. I thought this was the only way to lead a large church.
As I accepted the call to come to Pioneer Memorial Church in 2011, a church with over 3,800 members, I was keenly interested to learn how things work at this level.
So how are decisions made at PMC?
1. Staff Level
Our senior pastor is Dwight Nelson.
There are 8 senior leaders who sit around the table our weekly staff meetings, and also the executive secretary of the church.
Ideas may be brought to the table through the senior pastor or one of the staff members where they are discussed thoroughly. Some issues may be brought to an informal vote among the staff, or pastor Dwight might make a decision himself on some issues after they’ve been discussed. Some operational decisions are decided and implemented at this level.
If it is a large decision, it is brought to the next level.
2. Elder Level
In 2012 we had been discussing moving to a new small group structure. As a staff, we had read some books and discussed them at length, but now felt we needed more perspective. So we invited our head elder to read one of the books and to join us at the next staff meeting. This gave him an opportunity to hear our hearts and to ask questions. Our head elder thoroughly endorsed the new direction, and so we decided to bring this to a meeting of all the elders of the church for a vote.
The ideas were presented and they had an opportunity to ask questions and get more information.
By the end of this evening meeting, it was recommended we take this to the next level.
3. Church Board Level
We facilitated a similar process as before with the elders.
And a recommendation to move to the final level.
4. Church Business Meeting Level
In terms of polity, a church business session is the highest administrative level in a local Seventh-day Adventist Church. Here, all members of the church can attend, have a say, and vote on a particular issue.
Again, a similar process as before was facilitated–information, discussion, and an opportunity to vote on this new direction.
So is there anything surprising about this process?
If you’re a leader in a Seventh-day Adventist church, you’ll recognize this process as the way large decisions are usually processed in a local church.
What was surprising was seeing something like this done, even in a large church. I had assumed that a large church like this was basically staff led and decisions didn’t need to involve other leadership levels of the church. Wisely, though, they do.
Allow me to give a little more perspective.
This church trusts and loves its senior pastor. Trust takes time to develop. This makes a good case as to why pastors should stay in their churches longer than just a few years. After you’ve been in a church for some good years, you earn the respect and trust.
This church trusts and loves the church staff. If a decision is made at this level, they trust and believe that we’ve spent a lot of time praying and analyzing the situation at hand. The church knows that it’s not a recommendation we’re making lightly.
And if the decision has the blessing of the elders of the church, I’ve only seen the decisions pass easily through the other levels.
By the way, we recently went through this process as we analyzed and voted through a “new member orientation process.”
I confess that seeing this process being used in a church like this has given me a greater amount of respect for church administrative structures and polity. I think there is a lot of wisdom in having a system through which buy-in can be created and space allowed for discussion and discernment.
Like I said earlier, not every decision is brought through a process like this, but we certainly follow this process for any large decision.
So what do you think? How are decisions made in your church? To leave a comment click here.
[image by wafer board]