In January of this year Jeff, Charles and I began teaching on issues related to church polity- how a church structures itself for ministry. Our messages originated from 1 Timothy 4 and centered on the word overseer, a church office also referred to as elder or pastor elsewhere in the NT. We taught that though there are several models of church polity today, one seems to stand above the rest: the elder led model. Being a Congregationalist church however, the decision for this polity change rested solely in the hands of the MV congregation. After nine months of discussion and debate on whether Jesus was leading us to become an elder led church, the vote is in. On October 8, 130 followers of Jesus gathered for our monthly Members Meeting to express their conviction on the matter. To say the final count was a surprise would be an understatement! Surprisingly, exactly 65 favored the move to elder polity and exactly 65 voted against it. Since the motion required 75% approval to pass, the motion failed. What is intriguing to many of us however is not so much that it failed but how it failed-exactly 65 for and exactly 65 against. Several have approached us since that Sunday night asking for our interpretation of the vote. Even though we are still processing what it all means, several thoughts come to our minds:
1) The very first thing we want to say is thank you to the 130 members who attended the October 8th meeting and voted. Though not all may have been able to attend who wanted to, the turnout was much more reflective of our congregation’s makeup than the usual number of members who attend any given Member’s Meeting. That there were so many members present for such an important decision says a lot about the status of congregationalism at MV. We also want to thank everyone who read the books, articles and pamphlets in preparation for the October 8th vote. From the very beginning, we believed the decision to change church polity rested with the church, not the pastors, and that is what we saw in action on October 8th.
2) Based upon the final count, there seems to be at least two (possibly more?) passionate convictions about what church life should look like at Mountain View. Though we do not have any hard evidence, we suspect there are varying opinions about other ministries as well. After almost 10 years of serving at Mountain View, I’m (Darrell) not convinced many of us are in disagreement on polity matters alone. There are strong varying opinions about music, missions, and money as well. In reality, we wonder if the polity discussion has revealed more at Mountain View than it has created, but that is not necessarily a bad thing! We can now know with greater clarity who we are and where we are as a church. Hopefully, this can open more dialogue between members who have differing expectations of what church life should look like at MV.
3) Believing that God sovereignly orchestrated the vote to reveal where we are as a church, we must now look for ways to strengthen unity in the midst of great diversity. The “vote” has reminded us of our desperate need for Christ’s unity in ways we may have forgotten. We are an eclectic congregation with varying church backgrounds and visions of church life, yet each member is called to submit those backgrounds and visions to the Lordship of King Jesus. Remember, we are not consumers who have joined a club but citizens born (again) into a Kingdom. Each of us play an important role at Mountain View as we look to King Jesus for direction and strength. What unites us is the supremacy of Jesus Christ and His gospel. If we look to other issues besides Jesus for our life (issues like polity, music, missions and money) we will never experience the kind of unity our King designed for us. However, if we look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, our diversity can actually make us even more useful to the King. This doesn’t mean we will agree about everything in church life but we can agree on the most important things-Jesus and the gospel. As the 4th Century theologian Augustine said, “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty; in all things charity.”
4) Since most of what happens in a church rises and falls with leadership, the other pastors and I are reevaluating our contribution to the church polity discussions from the last nine months. Though our motives were sincere, (a desire to be faithful to what God’s Word teaches about polity) our methods have unwittingly offended several in our congregation. It grieves our hearts to know this has happened. For unity to thrive at Mountain View, all of us must work ever harder to overcome the unavoidable moments of miscommunication and misjudged motives between pastors and congregation. As senior pastor, I must do a better job of listening to the other members of His flock at MV. Together we must work harder at listening to our Shepherd’s voice. In the meantime, we are praying that no scheme of Satan will keep us from moving forward with a common goal of loving God, linking together and laboring well in northern Utah. Which leads to a 5th and final thought…
5) Recognizing that Jesus has shown us things about ourselves we might not have wanted to see, we must humble ourselves before our King, repent of any sin keeping us from being unified and look for ways to serve each other. As James 4:6 tells us, “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” As we humble ourselves before Jesus, repenting of attitudes and actions that contribute towards division, we can look for ways to serve one another with genuine concern. Paul says it best in Colossians 3:12-14,
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (NASB)
The most important thing is our individual relationship with Jesus. Loving others just as Jesus has loved us means making Jesus a daily priority. Making Jesus our first love will be essential for linking arms and moving forward together. We believe the best years of MV can be the years ahead. God has given us a great foundation through those who have gone before us; the baton is now in our hands. Let’s look to King Jesus to help us run this, His race, for His glory.