The Blessing of Church Order

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness; illustration from the 1890 Holman BibleAs a young pastor just out of seminary, I was chairing the monthly board meeting in the education center of the church. I could feel the warmth and respect of the people for the six of us — Kathleen and me and our four young children — and the previous board meetings had gone well.

But during this meeting, when I opened the floor for new business the members turned from me to debate animatedly with one another. A new subject had cropped up: The first wedding in the new sanctuary was scheduled and what would the guidelines be for decorating the place?

The meeting became a bit disorderly. There was the protect-the-new-paint faction and the opposing let-the-kids-decorate-it’s-their-day faction and the exchanges were getting more intense.

I called them to order and decorum returned. I told them I could offer a solution. They were polite and interested. I was about to draw on a course I had taken in seminary called simply Church Administration.

I explained that each congregation has at least two committees of the official board — a board (or committee) responsible for “spiritualities” and one for “temporalities.”

The first, the one for spiritualities (called stewards), was responsible to work under the pastor for the care of persons – shut-ins, the hospitalized, new babies, etc. They were responsible also for preparing the elements for the Lord’s Supper.

The members of the board of temporalities (then called trustees) were responsible for the care of property. They were to deal with repairs, or review insurance policies, or monitor the condition of church equipment, etc.

The people listened quietly. I explained that these two boards or committees were accountable to the official board. I went on to suggest that they could refer the question of decorating the sanctuary for a wedding to the board responsible for temporalities and expect them to bring back a recommendation at the next meeting.

They saw the possibilities. In due time the issue was resolved and a peril had been averted: the peril of opening the way by poor administration for power struggles over the uses of the new building.

All this came back to me this morning when Kathleen and I were reading from the Book of Numbers. As the great throng of Israelites was about to set out from Sinai for their wilderness journey, they got special administrative instructions from God. They were to take a census of all the people, especially to count all the men 20 and older, because these were to be the fighting men. The number reported was 603,550. (Numbers 1)

Then the Israelites were given instructions on how the camp was to be laid out when they were not on the move. The Tent of Meeting was to be at the center because God was the center of the community’s life. The Levites, as servants of the tabernacle, were to locate on its three sides. Then the twelve tribes were to locate one row behind them from the tent of meeting, placing three tribes on each side. (Numbers 2)

Should the organization and structure of today’s church be any less clear? Whether it is a local church, an annual conference or a general conference, the body that has rules and prescribed procedures to which it adheres is more likely to be administered in a godly fashion. Its leaders will always be given rightful authority but with clearly defined limits. The life of the body is then ordered so as to guarantee that each member will have a voice at some level of the organization. Across the years I have seen that such simple organizational parameters, when applied, generate trust and harmony.

The Bible has so much to teach us about church life, and when we follow these teachings, God’s people are more likely to be wholesome in their deliberations and open to the blessing of God in their endeavors.

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