No, The Deacons Are Not “Rubber Stamps!”

. . . . . 

The congregation typically elects the various officials in a ministry or local church setting.  While it can be rightly argued that too often, God’s people vote, but only vote on a ballot of names already selected by others. [1]  The congregation may have the vote, but not the ballot selections.

There is a movement towards “elder rule” and a congregational rule church government that is for all practical reasons no different.  That tendency can be easily revealed by reading many a church constitution.  The policies and practices concentrate authority and decision-making with the leadership and/or pastors. [2]

There is room for another discussion on “congregational” versus “elder” rule, especially in light of the authoritarian tendencies we see in our present-day culture and society.  Add to that, far too many and shocking scandals that plague ministries and churches today — no longer “one-offs” like Jimmy Bakker.

Nevertheless,  those voted in, selected by, and/or truly elected by the congregation are there to represent the flock.  They are not there to protect the leadership or the pastor(s).  Rightfully, that may be needed at times, and indeed for the sake of the people who voted them into that official position.

However, example after example of leadership failure, abuse, collapse, washout, and mismanagement, is a reminder of the need for ministry and church officials to see themselves as part of the flock and not protectors of the shepherd.  They are elected to help ensure that the operation of the ministry or local church is diverse (I Corinthians 12; Romans 12), fair-minded (James 2:1), orderly (I Corinthians 14:40), transparent (Matthew 5:16), honest (II Corinthians 8:2), and just-merciful-humble (Micah 6:8).

Who hasn’t heard the complaint that “they are just ‘rubber stamps.”  I would like to defend those church officials who are charged with that complaint.  I am not sure that is the dynamic that is operating which agitates that complaint.  I suggest that the dynamic operating is not an “automatic official sign-off” on pastoral decisions.

Wise and right decisions don’t happen
without full and accurate information,
no matter how large, diverse, or sincere the group!

Rather, the dynamic operating is informational control.  Those officials are limited in what they know — or what they are told.  “Informational control” is part of the reason for the  “rubber-stamp” perception and criticism.  The fact is that the dynamic operating is far worse than “rubber-stamp-ism.”   It is the control of information, and without true and accurate information, good and right decisions cannot happen!  The details of a situation are hidden from the purview of the officials.

Chairman: “Let me give you the jest of the letter and describe the situation.  You don’t need to take the time to see or read the letter.  You don’t need to have a copy.  The letter basically states . . . . “

Pastor: “Here is what actually took place — trust me! This is about someone who was offended by a comment made by me and is unable to move on.  They are just bitter [3] and upset by that and can’t forgive. [4]

Elected Official: “We received a letter about the decision we made, and without getting into all the details — it’s a rather extensive letter — let me sum it up at to what it says . . . . .  While I could have easily printed off copies or forwarded the letter to you directly,  we don’t want this letter to be shared with others, so we are not providing copies.” [6]

. . . . . 

Don’t be confused!  What takes place is too often an ethical issue involving the control of information.  This is not an issue of lacking the technical resources, timing, sufficient opportunity, or the time to fully and properly inform all.  This is about control, and even covering up that attempt to control with the person who was seeking access — “We informed the board about your concerns. Thank you for sharing your concerns.  It is greatly appreciated!” [5]

The result is that the officials elected by the sheep (and one of the sheep) are seen as “rubber-stamps.”  They are not; they are merely left with limited information.

. . . . . 

That limiting of information is also seen in a resistance to and an unwillingness for meaningful interaction and exchange.  Access to an “official audience” is severely limited, countered, and/or denied because this is about church game-playing.

Chairman: “I think having them come and speak to us personally only makes the situation worse.  There is nothing to be gained.”

Pastor: “I already talked to them about it, and there is no need to have them come and meet with us.  It would be fruitless.  We know their concerns and have addressed it with them.” [5]

Elected Official: “I have been in contact with them and have had some good conversations. I thought the conversation went very well and that I answered any and all of their questions.  We may not agree at the end, but it was a worthwhile discussion.  There is no need to have them personally meet with us.”

. . . . . 

No, I don’t think it is about “rubber-stamp-ism.”  Rather, the various elected officials, actually selected and/or voted on by the congregation, just don’t know.  They have been given limited information and/or persuaded that there is little reason to speak to others personally, directly, and extensively. [7].

Perhaps and unfortunately, over time, they may unconsciously come to see themselves with the same mission as those engaged in this control — that of protecting leaders, staff members, administrators, principles, pastors, and even themselves.

Far more often than not, the elected officers are good, decent, and fair-minded individuals.[8]  They just don’t know, and in some cases, lack the leadership curiosity needed to carry out their role by seeking and demanding that information.

‘Leaders who don’t listen
will eventually be surrounded by people
who have nothing to say.’
— Andy Stanley —

. . . . 

1. Though less and less true, some churches employ both a nominating committee and also allow nominations to come from the floor.  The purpose of opening up nominations is to ensure congregational rule and avoid the skewing of church officers.

2. An obvious example is when the pastor, pastors, or pastors and deacons are the body who selects the individuals up for this-or-that office.  The congregation merely gets to vote on those individuals, and often, the number of individuals listed is equal to the same number needed.

3. “Bitterness” is the key “off-putting” word of the pastoral narrative because “bitterness” is an understood improper response to wrong, as is being “unforgiving.”  To frame it that way is to discredit an individual’s criticism — legitimate or illegitimate.

4. There is no biblical forgiveness without confession and repentance.  No, “Father, forgive them” does not prove otherwise unless you have all the wrong-doers who crucified Jesus “forgiven.”  Those words were heard and answered by the Father, and the Father “suffered it to be” and did not take action against the perpetrators.  The word “forgive” has far broader options that span from “suffering it to be” to “if they repent, forgive.”

5. Some controllers are called out and even lie about what was done.  Sadly, too few are willing to reject and object to such attempts, and/or to hold their fellow officials accountable when they engage in such unethical behavior.

6. “Talked” is the nuanced word.  It can mean anything from a text message to a passing comment, to a one-minute phone conversation, to an email, to a discussion that had little-to-nothing to do with the issue.

7. Another way to limit information is to play “time games.”  Only allowing a small “subcommittee (or”chairman plus one”) to be permitted to hear and respond is yet a secondary method of information control.   Also, an obviously limited and insufficient amount of time to interact is another way to control, not resolve.

i.e. “We have scheduled you to come in for 7:30.  We have other business to take care of, but if you can boil it down to about 15-20 minutes, I think we will have enough time to understand your concerns.) to interact is another way to control, not resolve.

i.e. “We have scheduled you for 7:30 and looking forward to you sharing your concerns with us.”
The person does not know that another person was scheduled for 7:45 and that scheduling will allow the excuse for limiting their time.

i.e. “The chairman and another deacon would like to meet with you at a time convenient to you.”

Oh, you can bet the house on the fact these happen!

8. some individuals are selected because of who they are, their favored relationship with a ministry leader or pastor (James 2:1), and/or who is known to be the defender of the pastor.  The congregation already well knows that they are going to be presented or nominated because of that reality.

Interesting Article:  Here are a few points from the article.

  1. A Healthy Learning Culture Talks About Issues And Lessons Learned
  2. A Healthy Learning Culture Proactively Seeks Feedback
  3. A Healthy Learning Culture Autopsies Success As Well As Failure
  4. A Healthy Learning Culture Is Where People Feel Something Can Always Be Learned
  5. A Healthy Learning Culture Focuses On Continual Improvement
  6. A Healthy Learning Culture Recognizes You Can Get Too Close To A Problem And Miss Something
  7. People Challenge Each Other’s Ideas In A Healthy Learning Culture

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