I was in conversation with a search committee about being their pastor. We did the usual tapdance of questioning each other. I asked what their procedure was for voting to extend a call to a new pastor. One committee member jumped the question and answered, “We require an 80% congregational vote but I moved that we add one additional point for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Spirit.” I’m pretty good at math and that makes an 83% vote necessary. I think the size of that church was such that they might have 60 or 70 voting members present for a pastor-call vote. The 83% threshold meant that ten recalcitrant members could control the vote. Make that a single pew of mushminded, immature teens and a couple of curmudgeonly seniors.
“Pastor, we hate it but you didn’t get the vote.”
I never got that far with that church. Other issues led us away and the conversations ended. But I’d say to the well-meaning committee member who thought he was standing up for the Holy Trinity, “Brother*, let’s not do that.”
The motivation for this article is the sad case of the church in Florida who rejected a pastoral candidate because he only got 81% of the vote, slightly under the 85% required by the church constitution. The candidate was an African-American with a caucasian wife. Racism was said to be the cause of the voting shortfall. The vote was 1,552 to 365. Megachurches aren’t like your church and mine and this one got caught in the vise grip of a burdensome constitutional voting requirement. [Recent reports note that some members point to problems other than racism as the cause of the negative votes. What has been said by current church leadership doesn’t include evidence, though they may have it in abundance. I haven’t seen it.]
But churches can design their business any way they wish. Most of us have a story about strange church processes for calling a pastor. This looks like an embarrassing situation for all involved.
A few observations from an distance.
- I thought that megachurches were all functionally non-congregational. That is, that a small group of leaders controlled all the important decisions. I’d suspect that constitutional revisions are afoot in this church many SBC churches who follow these things.
- There are no prescribed SBC best practices in calling a pastor. It’s an clunky, unwieldy, frustrating, messed-up system.
- A number of SBC leaders have called out the church, or at least the part of the church that nixed the call of this pastor. The presumption is that racism is involved and should be condemned. Fine. I’m a little wary of SBC bigwigs leveling their righteous guns on any local church. Looks to me like the pastorless church is doing a good job of addressing the issues. I don’t want Nashville chiming in on decisions my church makes.
- For those who think that any church expression of racism (and some other high-profile sinful behaviors) should be quickly and summarily expelled from the national level SBC Convention, is the supermajority of this church to be punished for the actions of a decided minority? I’m not persuaded that the national convention is a great place to exercise discipline on churches. The local association and state convention are better, seems to me. We are waiting for the SBC Credentials Committee to publish rules for expelling churches over sex abuse. I’m not seeing a clear, simple path here but let’s see what they come up with.
- If you have congregational votes on important matters, then it is essential to have adequate controls on who is eligible to vote. Want to get a big crowd at church? Have a contentious vote and members who haven’t been seen in years will show up. The Baptist Faith and Message calls for “democratic processes” for the local church. Elder ruled SBC churches don’t seem to be rare and that’s not in accord with the BFM.
- Concomitant with the point above, if congregational decisions are fairly and properly made then it is troubling for church leadership to go after a minority with the goal of excluding them from the church to eliminate opposition.
There are around 50,000 local churches. About 49,000 of them have some screwball written and unwriten policies.
They teach this stuff in seminary, right? Or, do the young theologs have to pick up church administration in the hallways and from blogs and tweets? Go buy you a church admin book. Just don’t wave it around in a deacons meeting like it means anything to them.
My prayers for a speedy, harmonious, and peaceful resolution in the Florida church. Churches have a hard enough time managing things without widespread outside interference and publicity. In this case church leadership chose to publish their problems for all to see.
* “Brother,” when said with fleshly gusto and maybe with a little spittle coming forth, is Southern Baptist cussin’, sorta like “You dumb *&#@*!” If you hear “My Dear Brother” that’s downright obscene cussin’. “My Sweet Brother” is just creepy. Watch out for people who talk this way.