[This article was previously published in our November newsletter.]
The answer to this question is largely bound up in our understanding of authority. In the EFCA, we are “Congregationalists.” (1) What does that mean? That means that we believe the congregation is the highest governing authority under Christ for the local church. The congregation—not a bishop, not a group of elders, not a pastor—is the highest court of appeals in matters of doctrine, discipline, disputes, distributing resources, and determining who the leaders and members are in the church. (2) So the reason we attend members meetings, in the first instance, is theological, not merely practical.
The congregation has authority in matters of determining membership and discipline.
The local church, when gathered together, has been given the authority to recognize and un-recognize a person’s profession of faith; they have been given the keys of the kingdom to bind and loose (cf. Matt. 16:13-20; 18:15-20). (3) The authority to “bind” is the authority to take into local church membership those who give a proper profession of faith. The authority to loose is the authority to remove from local church membership those whose lives are unrepentant and inconsistent with their profession of faith.
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Paul calls for a man to be put out of the church for unrepentant sexual immorality. It is interesting that Paul appeals to the whole congregation “assembled” to deal with this matter by a majority (2 Cor. 2:6-8), not merely to the elders of the church. The congregation is given the authority to loose. And then in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 the whole church is called to let the same man—now repentant—back into fellowship in the church. The congregation is given the authority to bind.
The way we exercise our authority as a congregation to “bind” in this church currently is through looking at the names of candidates for membership listed in the bulletin. If you have any feedback, we ask that you give that to the elders, who are conducting the interviews and discussing the candidates before approval. When it comes to “loosing,” we are thankful that we rarely need to deal with discipline related items in our members meetings. But it does happen from time to time. When there are matters of discipline they will be brought before you at members meetings.
The congregation has authority in matters of distributing resources and determining leadership.
In Acts 6:1-5 there is a crisis or dispute in the church at Jerusalem over the distribution of resources. It is interesting that the whole church—not just the elders/apostles—makes a decision regarding the distribution of resources and ultimately appoints proto-deacons. In our context, the members of the church make decisions regarding the distribution of resources through our budget process and ratifying trustees and deacons who manage the distribution of our financial and capital resources and serve in a variety of other ministries in order to free the elders/pastors up for their unique ministry of preaching/teaching the Word and prayer. The congregation not only ratifies deacons; the overall picture in the New Testament seems to indicate that the whole church should also recognize its pastor/elders (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17-25).
Our nomination process
Our nomination process is our way of recognizing qualified leadership in the church. Each year the elders appoint a nominating committee, generally comprised of current elders, past elders, staff, and other godly members in the church. (4) The nominating committee first examines the biblical texts which lay out the role, requirements, and responsibilities of elders and deacons (which include our trustees) (e.g. 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). The nomination committee’s job is not to “recruit” elders and deacons; it is to “recognize” elders and deacons. God gives spiritual gifts to people (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:1-11) and God gives people as gifts to the church (Eph. 4:11-12; cf. Acts 20:28). The church’s job is not to make somebody an officer (one who fulfills a God-ordained office in the church), but to recognize those God has gifted. The nominating committee then takes their list of those “recognized” and presents it to the elder board for further vetting. When a final list is approved, the “recognized” candidates are contacted and asked if they are willing to serve, which is a further requirement for serving (1 Pt. 5: 2). If the “recognized” candidate is willing to serve, then the list comes before the congregation. While it is necessary to trust the elders and nomination committee in this process of selection, the final court is ultimately with the congregation. We are given the authority to recognize the gifting and qualifications of those nominated, by choosing whether or not to ratify them.
So why should you attend members meetings. While I could give a host of reasons, the main theological reason you should attend is because it is part of your God-given role as a member of this church. We are currently discussing ways to make members meetings more meaningful for you as members in this church. But for now, I encourage you to participate in this responsibility for the sake of the church here at First Free.
(1) See “EFCA Articles of Incorporation” and “Appendix Two: Congregationalism and the EFCA” in Evangelical Convictions.
(2) See Mark Dever, A Display of God’s Glory.
(3) See Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership.
(4) See First Free By-Laws, p. 9.