Various changes in the church here and the need for charity registration raise the question of what is the distinction between governance and management, and how should that be understood in a local baptist church. [At its simplest governance focuses on doing the right things and management focuses on doing things right.]
Some will argue that the changes we are seeing amount to a creeping Presbyterianism. In a previous generation governance would have been seen as the preserve of the Church Meeting; gathering together to discern the mind of Christ. It would be the Church Meeting where decisions about vision, strategy and direction would be made. Management would be in the hands of Deacons who would work to implement the will of the Church, ensuring things were done right and to support the Minister. In turn the Minister would devote his/her time to pastoring, preaching and praying.
But if governance is to be the focus of a particular group of people within the church does that downplay the place of the Church Meeting? Is it incompatible with being a Baptist church?
We need to recognise that whilst the older model mentioned above probably exists in some smaller churches in many it hasn’t worked for a while. As a church congregation grows it becomes harder for every member to be involved in detailed discussions about where the church is going; and in many churches it becomes progressively harder to get a large proportion of the membership together in one place. So the debate is not between utopia and apostasy but about how we live out our theological conviction that the Spirit speaks to the gathered church and that a church, which is gathered in the name of Jesus, is promised Christ’s presence.
One key question concerns how we decide things and who decides them; what do we mean by gathering together to discern the mind of Christ? Might it be appropriate for some questions to be worked on by small groups, might discernment be something of a process that involves subgroups considering things and bringing the fruits of their prayerful deliberation? If Acts 15 were a model it would suggest that whilst the whole church gathered, discussed and decided this was in response to a recommendation from the Apostles.
The church always exists and works within a particular cultural context. In the NT we see the churches emerging within the Greco-Roman culture and the early church structures owed much to the Household pattern of life. Which is why it is hard to read a pattern for church leadership from the NT that is immediately replicated in our day: consider what is understood by words like elder, deacon, bishop.
Given the size, complexity and fluidity of contemporary church life it doesn’t seem necessarily unbaptist to entrust issues of governance to a small group who are seen to have the gifts appropriate for the task. The issue of baptist principle comes in how this group carry out their task. If they understand their role to be one of entrusted leadership, with the sense that just as the church has entrusted this role to them they are to exercise this leadership through persuasion rather than authoritarian pronouncement, then the results will benefit the whole church. A vital component in this is an understanding of the church as the body of Christ. The church is no more a Christian charity than it is a roman household. Governance always needs to flow from the starting point that doing the right thing is understood in the light of God’s intention is that the church is a dwelling in which God lives by the Spirit.
Furthermore, as we work our way through these issues we would do well to remind ourselves that church is primarily about being rather than doing and that what we do is as a consequence of who we are.