Saturday, October 26, 2013

“Culturally-Correct” or Called Church Lay Leaders

There is much written about leadership from both secular and religious viewpoints. Of what I have read, most of these books focus on the qualities of a leader, developing leaders, etc. Such books are certainly needed. However, I have not found much written about situations where it is wise not to choose a leader, especially lay leaders in churches.

Let's say there is a position open in your church for an elder or deacon. How often does that position go unfulfilled when you know of individuals in the church who could be elected or appointed to such a position? In my memory, I cannot remember a time in any church I have attended when such a position went unfilled.

This raises a significant issue: are such positions filled because the individual is spiritually qualified (see I Timothy 3:1-13), or are such positions filled because of culturally based qualifications (e.g. having the right social standing, the right occupation, influence, etc.), or because the individual is simply willing and available?

In my profession, university departments often conduct searches for qualified faculty. These credentials include having the appropriate degree and field specialty, ability to conduct research, ability to teach, and collegiality. Often a person with excellent credentials may apply for such a position, but not have the field specialty we need (for example, we need someone whose specialty is in Public Policy, but a candidate's specialty is in American Government). Other times, an individual may apply who lacks other qualities (e.g. ability to teach university students), thus indicating this candidate may not be successful if appointed to the faculty position. I have seen such cases where the department decided not to hire anyone because of such concerns. Usually, the faculty position is advertised again in the future.

This is critical because if someone is hired to a faculty position who is not qualified, he may not only lose his job in the future, but also cause the department to suffer in the meantime.

What about churches? The process for finding and appointing a pastor is different from identifying and appointing a lay leader in a church. Pastors can be called from within a congregation, or promoted from within a church. However, pastors are often called outside the church, while lay leaders are recruited from within the church body.

Therefore, unqualified pastors are often more obvious to the church because they stand out during the interview process, and thus are not hired to begin with, or can be removed after some time if appointed. Likewise, if a person is elected or appointed to a lay leader position and subsequently violates ethical standards, such individuals can be removed or disciplined. There are usually provisions for such situations.

However, what about a person who is elected or appointed to a lay leader position who is spiritually unqualified, and yet in all other ways is ethical and competent from a cultural standpoint (for example, he is a successful businessman, breaks no laws, does not cause problems in the church, etc.)? How often are such people removed from church leadership because they lack spiritual calling?

Spiritual leaders who take their spiritual calling seriously make mistakes and fail, but their direction in leadership continues towards the goal: Jesus Christ. To be like Him is their calling, and they take it seriously. It brings a sense of humility individually to all leaders who have this goal because they realize that all Christians fail daily in this calling. Therefore, such Christians find that they must live by grace (Galatians 3: 1-6).

Yet, lay leaders who are appointed based on culturally based criteria have no need for humility because they already fulfill the cultural standards daily. Therefore, on what basis would such a person be removed or disciplined? After all, these people are ethical and successful.

The point here is that it may be wiser and easier not to fill an open lay leader position than it would be to remove a spiritually unqualified lay leader (who is otherwise ethical) once elected or appointed. In such cases, I propose it is better to wait for the Lord to bring the right person for the position than to appoint a “culturally-correct” person who just does not have the Lord's calling.

This means it is critical for church leaders to review the criteria they use to select lay leaders. Not only should current church leaders review explicit criteria, but also implicit criteria that stems from the culture in which the church lives (Galatians 1:10). Are we looking for someone who has a spiritual calling, or a person who is successful in his or her occupation and will not "rock the boat." In other words, shouldn't we ask if the person has both the external calling of the church and the internal calling from the Lord?

What do you think?

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