Decision Making In The Church: notes from Michael Green

For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things.
-Acts 15:28

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These are notes and quotes from “Thirty Years That Changed The World: The Book of Acts For Today”, by Michael Green (1993: Acts For Today, 3rd Ed., 2004)

Chapter 11: What of Their Church Life? –The decision making of the church:
“How should decisions be made in the Christian church?  In many churches, decisions are made by the minister alone, or a group of elders.  The assumption is that they know best; that they are appointed to lead, and that therefore the church would be wise to let them get on with it.  However, this has led to some very bad decisions in many churches, so a strong reaction, coupled with cultural trends, has led to the opposite assumption: the church is a democracy and decisions should be made by arguing a case, by lobbying if need be, and then by voting.  The fact that this leaves a dissatisfied and probably aggrieved minority is reckoned to be just too bad.

The trend in recent years, at all events in mainline churches, has been to follow more closely the way of secular decision making, with its politics, its synods and its powerful standing committees.  The early church did not make decisions that way.  The overall principle they adopted, as we shall see, was to seek the will of God together, and then resolve to follow it.  There is no hint of voting, of powerful groups behind the scenes influencing decisions.  We see them proceeding in a variety of ways.” (p. 199)

Green then gives six ways of decision making shown to us in Acts (pp. 199-205), then writes this summary:

“All of these varied ways of decision making have one thing in common: there was an utter dependence on God to guide them, and an overwhelming desire that their personal preferences should not prevail but that God’s will should be done.  Prayer, scripture, and testimony to the present working of the Lord were all part of the process that led to decisions, and then, with the possible exception of Acts 15:36ff, it was put firmly in the hand of God for him to show his will.  As a result there was growth in fruitfulness.  And because it was done in this way, we do not find a minority of dissatisfied people angry with any of these decisions.

I believe that we have much to learn today from the decision making of the early church.  I have been on many committees and councils where major decisions have been hammered out, and have often missed the love and warmth I see in Acts, the prayer, the reverent wrestling with Scripture, the determination not to push one’s own view but rather seek God’s will.  Certainly these things have sometimes been given verbal ascent.  There has been prayer, maybe, before the room fills with smoke and the gloves come off.  But my lasting impression after many years has been that very often our decisions are man-made.  We seek to run God’s church our way and then ask his blessing on the result, or imagine that the Holy Spirit must be behind the majority.  We ape secular parliamentary procedures in our synods and wonder why the minorities are so resentful of what has been steamrolled through by the majority.  If we want to learn at all from the life and structures of the early church, we could do worse than allow ourselves to be influenced by their ways of making decisions.” (pp. 205-6)

Decision making through prayer, scripture, and testimony; is how they did it in the early church, chronicled in Acts.  It was neither a top-down, nor a pure (voting) democracy.  They discussed, they listened to each other with honor, and they searched the scriptures and prayed together about their decisions.

Listen, pray, go to the scriptures, listen, and pray.