Summary: When it comes to decision-making in churches, we can’t think maturity levels don’t matter. Without maturity, you can’t be a consistently wise church. But the function of more mature believers isn’t to make decisions FOR a church, but to facilitate the decisions OF a church. If this isn’t the case, damage will occur.
Up to this point, I’ve been pointing out how groups made up of all intelligence and maturity levels are consistently wiser than one or a few of the most intelligent or mature people in the group. But one clarification needs to be made about the group’s makeup lest we think it doesn’t matter what the intelligence or maturity levels of the people in the group are.
Although you can’t rely on the more intelligent or mature alone, you also can’t be a wise group without them.
The goal is full maturity
I grew up in a church that was so focused on evangelism, it even had “Evangelical” in its name. While evangelizing is certainly necessary to the church’s ultimate mission in this world of making disciples and expanding the church, it’s only the first step.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but my childhood’s church’s problem was they were absolutely horrible at taking people beyond conversion. Baby Christians stayed fairly immature indefinitely. A bunch of Christians made. Very few disciples made.
This, of course, is the opposite approach from Christ and the apostles. Here is what Paul said his ultimate goal was when planting and working with churches…
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:28-29)
If you look closely at their approach, Christ basically focused on 12 people and a small group of followers; while the apostles that learned from Him would go into cities, convert some people and then focus on maturing that small group to the point where they could be entrusted with overseeing the church and making more disciples in that city. They all used this same approach. Why?
Because they knew individuals and churches that weren’t developed into mature Christians were vulnerable just like babies and children are vulnerable physically, mentally and emotionally. They were vulnerable to bad decision-making.
You must have enough truth
In the book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki points out that whenever groups go through decision-making processes, every individual brings a different mix of truth and error with them depending on what’s being decided upon.
But what’s fascinating is that when a group of diverse, independent people comes together, they tend to cancel each other’s errors out. If they practice healthy and consistent communication, individuals in a group can provide checks and balances to one another, effectively erasing each other’s errors and directing one another toward truth.
But, and this is important, there must be enough truth in the mix to cancel the errors out. The stock market is (for the most part) an effective way to price stocks, but if all of the participants had zero knowledge of business, prices would be sure to be wrong most of the time.
For a church to be consistently wise, it must contain a decent amount of maturity.
The biblical concept of elders
But remember that we also need everybody to be involved in the process.
If you look closely at the biblical concept of elders, you’ll find that they were critical in the decision-making process of the church. The mistake that gets made is when they jump outside the scope of their function.
Their function is not to make decisions FOR the church, but to facilitate the decisions OF the church. They’re a co-equal member of the group, they just provide an appropriate level of truth needed.
They offer guidance, protection, facilitation, encouragement, admonishing and equipping throughout the decision-making process. Then, they may represent a church with their stamp of approval on decisions that are made with everyone’s involvement. That fits best with the biblical concept of an overseer or elder.
What they shouldn’t do is make decisions FOR the church without everyone’s involvement that is affected by said decision.
If you closely examine how Christ and the apostles dealt with people, they didn’t control or make decisions FOR them. In fact, the apostle Paul even repeatedly used language in his letters like “I beg of you.” (Galatians 4:12, I Corinthians 1:10, 2 Corinthians 10:2)
Was he stern with churches? Absolutely. He had earned trust over time and was like a father to the churches he planted. So, he could be stern with them. But, that’s not the language of someone telling people what to do or making decisions FOR people.
We are all siblings
This is damaging to the spiritual growth of those that are less mature. Could you imagine a family where one or a few siblings makes decisions for the rest of their siblings? What would be the results of this? How would the siblings not involved in the decision-making processes feel?
Here are some of my observations of the effects of this kind of separation for the non-decision-makers…
- It damages self-esteem by communicating that they are not an equal member of the church family.
- It de-motivates them to work toward maturity. They see themselves as a cog in a machine rather than a vital co-equal part of the church body.
- It limits possibilities, and therefore the overall quality of decisions.
- It leads to church-dividing conflict, rather than church-uniting conflict
- It fosters a lack of trust. A lack of involvement and communication in a church family leads to people “filling in the blanks” and creating conflict out of unhealthy frustrations rather than creating unity from healthy communication.
Here are some of my observations of the effects of this kind of separation for the decision-makers…
- They think more highly of themselves than they ought
- They enter conversations ready to convince of the rightness of their viewpoint rather than find the collective Wisdom
- They experience undue stress from holding more of the responsibility of decisions than they ought
So to summarize, you can’t have a consistently wise church if the decisions are being made solely by spiritual adolescents. We must work toward maturity. But part of the maturation process is being involved in the decision-making processes of the church. You learn like an apprentice. You grow through healthy communication with your brothers and sisters as you each give your supply of Christ to one another.
If your church doesn’t contain a decent amount of maturity, consider relying on mature believers from outside of your church to come work with you to bring the church to greater maturity and help in decision-making processes in the meantime.
The rest of the posts in the Consistently Wise series are here.