Missions in Odessa, Ukraine has presented me with no shortage of challenges and learning experiences. At times I find myself calling or writing pastors and friends I know in the States just to find reassurance that I haven’t completely fallen off my rocker with some of my theological issues. Recently I sent 4 Questions to some people I know from a wide range of denominations who I thought would have insightful answers. Thankfully, some found time in their busy schedules to respond. I believe many of the missionaries who visit Odessa and work with the churches see many of the same issues I have but choose to handle it in different ways or completely overlook it. Others on temporary trips do not even know they are there, or perhaps don’t realize the extent of the problem. One of the points here is to challenge Church leaders and aspiring Church leaders to think about some things they may not have considered in depth before.
These 4 questions touch on crucial aspects of some of the issues I have with the way churches are run here, and below are the responses I received. Let me say that I do not approach this subject flippantly, and with a heavy heart and great concern for the health of the Church, the Gospel, and the city of Odessa, do I now proceed to put this blog together. These are important pastoral questions which cannot be answered in over simplified terms and most of them require context and nuance for wise application.
Throughout Church history there has been much dispute over what makes for the “bene” of the Church, the “bene esse” and the “plene esse”. In other words, what does the church consist of to be the Church at all, what makes a healthy, or what is beneficial for the Church, and what makes for the fullness of the Churches life? The goal for us all should of course be the latter, but on mission I have encountered leaders who seemed entirely unaware of many of the questions surrounding this topic at all. Certainly, around the world we cannot expect all pastors to have a thorough understanding of these things as in many places a quality ministerial education is unavailable or incredibly scarce. However, in Ukraine there are plenty of resources for a person to get their hands on when preparing for ministry. The standard for leadership here has been tragically compromised.
Whether you agree with the answers below, these are great issues for all of us, leaders or not, to think through.
4 Q & As
1. Is it true that a church should have elders unified on certain issues which aren’t considered essential for salvation but for the unity of the leadership?
American Missionary and Pastor of Calvary Chapel Svitlovodsk in Svitlovodsk, Ukraine
I’d be happy to share my take on these with you.
I believe that the leadership of a church needs to have unity in more than just what is essential for salvation. Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” The implied answer is, “no.” People can have very divergent views on soteriology, eschatology, missiology, pneumatology, etc. and though they are still both saved, it would be very unwise for them to attempt to both lead the same church, they will end up pulling it apart. I don’t believe that means elders need to agree on every little point, but there needs to be a common vision and unity on most basic points or an agreement that the areas of difference are to not be emphasized and presented from every angle.
Student at Moody Bible College (and bear hunting guide in Kodiak, AK)
Hey Jacoby, I’m glad to give you my ideas on these questions. In my college classes at Moody we have discussion boards where I interact with classmates on questions just like this. It’s crazy how many areas of improvement there are in the church.
Yes, ideally elders should be unified on all issues that matter because our unity is found in God. That’s kind of a fluffy answer though. Elders are going to disagree on how to spend missions money, whether or not to expand the local facilities, what church programs are best, etc. So honestly I think a better answer might be that elders should be unified on spiritual issues, and release material issues to the congregation. Delegate ministry managers. I also think every elder should be required to submit a personal doctrinal statement, and it be approved by the church before a new elder is accepted. That often doesn’t happen. If every elder can accept the detailed statement of faith of the church, then there will be no lack of spiritual unity.
What if a church does not even have a detailed statement like this, they have 5 elders that disagree on a bunch of stuff, and they are taking their time in trying to form this thing?
I think that’s the first thing a church needs, is to know where they stand. Until you know where you are, you can’t know where you’re going. That seems like the healthiest route–the elders determining what they can agree on. Our church does not have a detailed statement, and our elders have learned how to agree to disagree on issues not pertaining to salvation. I’ve heard it said that the most important thing for a church to determine is mission, mission, mission.
Nathaneal P. Taylor
Graduate of Westminster Seminary and Ruling Elder at Christ Church Presbyterian in Irvinet, CA
My brother! Of course you can ask any question you’d like whenever you’d like.
I would say it depends on what those issues are and how the leaders handle the disagreement amongst themselves. If it is an issue like eschatology then I don’t think the leaders have to be unified on this issue. But if the leaders have fundamental disagreement about preaching style, or if one holds to necessity of weekly communion and the other thinks that weekly communion is sinful then I would say there ought to be unified leadership for the sake of peace and coherence in discipling the flock (this is assuming both elders or leaders are unwilling to make any compromises on their respective positions). However, I have heard of cases where elders have agreed to disagree on non–essential matters and one of the elder promises not to teach on the disagreeable non-essential doctrine in the church. This could work so long as it is not an essential gospel issue.
Graduate of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and former pastor of Vintage Life Church in Fontana, CA
Here are my responses:
It is true that a church should have elders unified on non-essential issues that would result in discord or theological disunity if they were not. There should be as much unity as possible in the leadership of a church. The congregation will pick up on discord and disunity and will follow in it like sheep. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Psalm 133:1
Former Calvary Chapel Ontario Assistant Pastor and Current Executive Director of Tri-County Love INC, a compassion based ministry in Eastern Oregon
I’ll start with the fact that my thoughts on these issues are merely my own, but I try to base them off of what I consider a biblically informed view.
Yes. I’ll divide nonsalvific issues in the follow categories: cultural, theological and philosophical (not that these are totally inclusive).
Should a church be unified culturally? Of course, I mean if one elder pushes for contemporary services and another pushes for traditional services. There will be conflict. The goal is to resolve the conflict in a way and manner that everyone feels like they were united in the process..
Theologically the position of the rapture can be a huge problem. I think the church must be united in the sense two differing opinions can be held. Supposing a pre-trib and post-trib are elders, but they agree that this issue is debatable and it’s acceptable to hold differing views.
Pastor of Calvary Chapel Central Maui
Yes. Amos 3:3.
Long time friend and avid theology student
Yes, absolutely, without question. “A house divided cannot stand.”
Long time friend, evangelist and avid theology student
Hi Jacoby, it is good to see you. Grace to you in Jesus.
Elders in every church should be in submission to Christ to “teach no other doctrine” than that which ministers “godly edifying which is in faith.” (1 Timothy 1:2-4) That which they teach as a leadership should of the same mind. Double minded preaching is unstable and leads to confusion in the church.
Graduate of Master’s Seminary, Co-Founder and President of Chicago Reformed Seminary
I would say yes to all 4 questions.
Pastor of Cross Connection in Escondido, CA
Here are my initial thoughts.
Is it true that a church should have elders unified on certain issues which aren’t considered essential for salvation but for the unity of the leadership?
I’m not sure I’d account it a doctrinal requirement. But practically speaking, I would want the elders that I work alongside of to be united on issues of vision and direction of the ministry. In addition, when issues of church discipline are exercised, I would strive for unity among the elders.
Youth Pastor at New Song Christian Community Church in Wildomar, CA
I think it depends on the issue. I would say eschatology, no. But something like infant baptism, probably yes, tithing, no. Even on soteriology there’s room for some difference. At New Song, our Sr. Pastor is fairly Arminian, whereas I’m closer to the middle on the issue, and it has never been a problem. In my experience, I’ve found that divisiveness usually turns out to be more of a character issue, than genuine theological difference.
Jim Teri Baugh
Former Pastor who now works in International Leadership Development at Global Training Network
The unity of the Spirit is essential for team leadership, as is the willingness to submit to one another on non-essentials. In my leadership practice, if we were not agreed on a leadership direction that I presented as the lead pastor that was not a Biblical essential, we would pray and wait until God gave us clearer direction so we could move together.
Pastor of The Shelter Church in San Diego
Biblically all believers should be allowed freedom in the non-essentials but unity in the essentials. (Romans 14) The leadership is no different, however when it comes to teaching differing views there has to be a unity and respect for the other non-essential positions.
We just taught through the views of amellinialism, pre-trib, mid trib & post trib, rapture views and 3 elders taught each view(s) that they liked. None of us were dogmatic and we did a lot of q&a and it was fun. But we prefaced it with a long lecture about unity and pride about non essential issues.
Some asked us, why don’t you tell us which one is the right one, and we all agreed to say, “none of us know for sure and that is the way God left it.”
Pastor of Downtown Cornerstone Church in Seattle, WA
Good to hear from you, friend. I’ll give your questions a quick shot here:
Depends what those exact issues are. You want the elders to be as unified as possible. The more leadership someone has, the more in alignment you want them to be with the overall theological framework of the pastoral leadership team. For example, male-only eldership isn’t essential for salvation but that should be a significant point of unity. On the other hand, I think elders can differ when it comes to eschatology, etc. So, just depends what the issues are.
Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in St Cloud, MN
Jacoby, my “short” answers…
Yes…I think elders should be unified re the church’s doctrinal statement and in certain ways that that doctrine is worked out…like: will only men lead worship?, will only men teach mixed classes (Life Training or Sunday School, e.g.) that are above middle school? Who will preside at the Lord’s Table and Baptism? etc, etc.
Former elder, long time friend, evangelist and avid theology student
Yes I believe the elders should be unified on issues, though we should not think that unity is walking lock step with eachother. (In a confessional church) Elders are required to have a doctrinal standard (though, that same standard is not applied to the congregation, but they are in some way expected to grow into those truths) and perhaps farther too.
Pastor of Smyrna Presbyterian in Smyrna, Georgia
Not necessary but surely beneficial.
Pastor of Calvary Chapel Woodland, in Woodland, CA
I will try to answer your questions to the best of my limited experience and what I believe to be Biblical precedence.
I do believe that whenever possible the elders should be unified on every issue. It has been our practice that even if there is one elder that is in disagreement with an issue or decision that we pray about the decision until we are all in agreement. I think there is a safety in that and a reliance upon the Spirit to direct us.
Pr 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
Pr 16:9* A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.
Pr 19:21* There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’S counsel–that will stand.
MTW Missionary and Regional Director in Odessa, Ukraine
Yes, take this seriously, yes, they’re important issues, but rest assured that the Holy Spirit will do what is important. Here are my short answers to your questions.
Yes, a church’s elders should be unified, but I’ve seen many churches that were not completely in agreement on all issues. I guess I’d have to know which issues in particular you’re talking about.
Long time friend and insightful theology student
I completely agree, as long as the issues are actually important to the functioning of the church and its structure, both socially and spiritually.
Friend and serious student of theology
Answering these would be my opinion…
Not necessarily, our elders at Roosevelt are different in their views on spiritual gifts and baptism. I have no problem with that.
Friend and serious student of theology
I know for a fact at our Church Trinity, Art doesn’t have the same views are one of our elders named Norm. Norm is a dispensationist and Art isn’t, and there are a few other things I believe. I think that as long as we have a high view of God and his word things will be fine, but I’m not a preacher, pastor, or even a leader of sorts. So I don’t have the experience really necessary to answer that question fully.