One of the unique elements of Cornerstone is how we lead and make decisions as a church. As you read through what Pastor Gerald has to say about this very crucial part of how we function as part of the Body of Christ here at Cornerstone and inside the HeartLink Network of Cornerstone Churches please allow for the Lord to speak to you. Even if it is not how you would normally view this part of your church experience. Be open to hearing from the Lord for a new revelation, and allow yourself the freedom to receive a different way of experiencing how leadership & decision making is done in the church of Jesus.
Foundations Material - Leadership & Decision Making - Pastor Gerald Martin
The way we view leadership and the process of making decisions within the church is rooted in the meaning of church. What is the church? According to Ephesians 1:22 and Colossians 1:18 the body of Christ is the church. In the three major lists of spiritual gifts found in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 we discover that all believers are part of the body. Therefore, believers make up the church. In a universal sense the church is made up all believers around the world. In a local sense the church is a body of believers in a given area.
The Bible also describes the church as being in a house, which would indicate an even smaller unit. In thinking of the church we must always keep in mind that Cornerstone as a local body of believers or as a network of churches is not the whole church. We are part of the extended body of believers in a given locality as the universal church that includes all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, have received forgiveness of sin, and are walking in fellowship with Jesus.
For purposes of understanding our pattern of leadership we begin at the local level. If you are new to Cornerstone you will soon realize that we have a certain understanding of leadership and how decisions are made that may seem a little foreign to your way of thinking. That’s the reason we include a section on leadership in our foundations teaching. Let me begin with what it isn’t. For us leadership in the church is not a dictatorship where the head leader gives the orders and everyone does what they are told. But, neither is it a democracy where everyone makes the decision by majority vote.
Now, depending on the situation there may be times when the pastor simply needs to make a decision or when the congregation needs to take a vote, but that isn’t our general pattern for making decisions in the church. Doing too much of either extreme can result in either the pastor becoming too domineering or the congregation too controlling. Neither makes for a spiritually healthy church. In contrast to that, we believe God gave us a pattern that takes into consideration the discernment of all the people without the pastor abdicating his responsibility to lead.
Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church
Central to this pattern is recognizing first of all that Jesus Christ is the head of the church. He is the real senior pastor.In submission to His headship all the rest of us in the body function according to our gifting and callings. Instead of us simply choosing what we want to do, the Holy Spirit chooses and places us in the body according to God’s will (I Cor. 12:18). Being the senior apostolic leader of Cornerstone Church & Ministries International is not something I chose or even aspired to. But I know God has called me to fill this role at this time.
It is important that all of us know what God has called us to do in the body.In the beginning days of the church our leadership structure included me as the pastor, a board of elders, a ministry council and the congregation. Having experienced the conflict caused by what I call a two-house system where the board of elders made the spiritual decisions and a church council made the program and financial decisions I determined that the ones who were praying should be the ones helping to make the decisions.
Therefore, instead of a two-house system where one group could cancel out the other we established a unified system. In computer language we established a serial connection rather than a parallel connection. As the pastor I was part of the board of elders, the board of elders was part of the ministry council and the ministry council was part of the congregation. In diagramming this we use circles rather than a flow chart to show that it is relational rather than hierarchical. Beginning with Jesus at the center, the pastor is placed in the next circle followed by the board of elders, the ministry council and the congregation in the last and largest circle.
I probably should insert here that when I was the only pastor on staff we ordained lay elders to help give oversight to the church. As the pastoral staff grew and we transitioned into becoming a cell church we phased out the active role of lay elders and recognized the ordained pastors as the elders in the church. While we no longer ordain lay elders we do have leadership teams in our smaller churches that function in that role along with the staff pastor. We have found that the structure needs to be somewhat flexible so it can change as the church grows. After all the structure is to serve the body not the other way around
How It Works
So, how does it work? Let me walk you through the process. Let’s say that God gives a vision for something to the pastor that requires a decision. The first step would be to test it with the board of elders. If it resonates with the board of elders and they discern that it is indeed God’s direction for the church the next step would be to test it with the ministry council and finally with the whole congregation. At that point the leaders at all levels put on their listening hears to hear what God may be saying through the body. What the pastor and other leaders look for at each level of testing is God’s peace. A lack of peace may indicate that it’s not the right timing or perhaps not the right direction. In that case the idea may be put on hold or abandoned altogether.
You may think that this sounds good but are still wondering who actually makes the decision. Well, that depends on the nature and importance of the decision. After hearing and considering the feed back, the pastor may make the decision and simply announce it to the church or he may take it to the board of elders or the ministry council for a decision or on occasions to the whole congregation for a corporate decision. If the result of testing at the various levels is clearly positive the pastor or board of elder may simply make a decision and move ahead. However, if significant checks are evident it may need to be processed further and the final decision discerned with a larger group.
This may seem a little cumbersome, especially if you come from a church that has a monthly congregational meeting where all decisions are made corporately by majority vote. Admittedly, testing direction at these different levels may take more time than simply calling a meeting and taking a vote but the goal is not to simply get a quick decision but to discern the will of God together. Sometimes the process is as important as the final decision. Over the years, there have been times when we didn’t allow enough time to process certain decisions in the way I just outlined. Even though we may have ended up making the right decision in the end we experienced negative fall out that wouldn’t have had to happen had we had the time to follow through with the whole process.
On the other hand in following the pattern we have experienced times when dealing with controversial issues where not everyone agreed with the final decision, there was nevertheless a peace about the process. Making Spirit lead decisions doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with every decision.Our goal has never been to only move ahead with a decision when everyone is in agreement. Rather our goal is to discern the will of God and at the same time to give room for people to disagree without making it a public display.Rarely have we had to resort to public meetings to air differences. On those few occasions it was largely due to short cutting the process. But even then we found God’s grace sufficient to carry us through.
A criticism we have heard is that the leaders make all the decisions and that they are made before it ever gets to the congregational level. While it may seem that way from the viewpoint of a democracy, it isn’t completely true. However, it is true that by the time it gets to the congregation level we have a pretty good idea what the decision will be. Otherwise, it probably shouldn’t be shared at that level. If the elders and ministry council don’t have a peace about a certain direction it’s not likely the congregation will. So, to bring issues prematurely to the whole body has the potential of polarizing the church. And that’s something we try not to do.
Another criticism has to do with who presents the things to be considered. Is it only the pastor or can others make suggestions? While everyone is encouraged to share ideas and make suggestions it is only the pastor and board of elders that determines what suggestions get processed. Being a pastor led church it is the responsibility of the pastor and leaders to communicate the vision and make sure things stay on course.Therefore, they need to decide what gets processed. This may not set well with persons who desire to be in control, get around the pastor and promote their own personal agenda. But this is part of what it means to be a Spirit led rather than a people led church. I’m sure there are other good leadership patterns but this is the pattern God gave us.
Because this manner of leadership & decision making is often times completely different than what we have experienced, or grown up with, we have a tendency to just throw it out without even giving it consideration. As your pastor I really want to be available to all of you so that if you have questions we can sit together and talk them through in a way that brings peace, even if there is not complete understanding or agreement.
Peace leading to consensus in the Lord through the presence of the Holy Spirit is the key to how we lead and make decisions for the church. Our heart is to hear and to take into consideration everyone's hearts, but also to lead the church with the Holy Spirit as our guide. If we are somehow bound by complete agreement or some sort of a democratic process of voting than we can find ourselves functioning much more like this world than like the church. God calls His church to be different than the world and this is a great example of how we can learn to be different than the world through allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide His Church through the waters of leadership & decision making for the good of the Kingdom of God and His Church.
Please call me or e-mail me with your questions. I would very much like to sit and talk this through with you. No question is silly or wrong, and every heart will be heard.