I felt confident that my idea had merit. The church I was pastoring supported three missionary couples who were chronically under-funded. I thought we should increase our financial commitment to them and the best way to do it would be to increase their allotment in the budget.
The Missions Committee, on the other hand, felt that we should reduce our contribution to these cross-cultural missionaries and focus on outreach in our own community. The stage was set.
When budget time approached, the congregation voted in favor of the gradually reducing support for our adopted missionaries. I felt devastated. Was this my time to resign?
Most EMC churches ask the members of the church to vote on major issues of church life. Generally we believe that this is the way that God guides us in determining which of our initiatives line up with His values. What do you do when you feel strongly about something, but then the results of the vote are tabulated and you find yourself in the minority?
God speaks to His children through His Word, His Spirit, and His people.
The Bible is that steady beacon that has guided us through hundreds of generations. The words in the Book remain constant, but our interpretation seems to change. Who will help us understand how the Book needs to be applied to twenty-first century believers?
Are there principles of interpretation on which God’s children can agree? What effect do popular trends have on our understanding of the Bible? How do our selfish desires affect our interpretation? Even with all those disturbing questions, the Bible is still our guide in making decisions.
Then there is the Holy Spirit. It’s problematic for us that He is invisible. But He is divine and without bias. The Bible says He empowers His children to prophesy and to see visions (Acts 2:18). He directs His followers to specific witnessing opportunities (Acts 8:29) and to set aside missionaries (Acts 13:1-4).
He guides the church in appointing overseers (Acts 20:28), in setting policies (Acts 15:28), in helping the poor (Acts 6:3), in warning believers about imminent danger (Act 21:4), and in pointing out troublemakers in the church (Acts 13:9-10). Though we cannot see Him, the Holy Spirit is active in guiding us. It would seem that those who are obedient are the most likely to receive direction from Him.
But what about the guidance that God gives us through the voice of His children? How can that be reliable? After all, often our opinions are based on our selfish needs. And yet it seems that God uses the collective thought process of the church to lead us to His will (Acts 15:28). In fact, the half-brother of Jesus promises that if we ask the Heavenly Father, He will generously give us wisdom (James 1:5). That wisdom usually rests in the insight of many, rather than of one.
It is true that today God uses mega-churches with small leadership teams to nurture the thousands, but in the EMC there are still many entrepreneurial people who want to have a voice in how the church makes the bigger decisions. We are blessed with wise volunteers who are willing to give many hours each month to help not only in making those decisions, but in seeing those decisions through to completion.
That is why, for the most part, we still have a membership list that tells us who is committed to our beliefs and values. And, yes, at times those members will vote for something that the pastor himself does not support.
But then we believe in the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9). All believers can read the Word. All of God’s children are guided by the Holy Spirit. The interpretation of Scripture by community is a safeguard in which we believe.
So when you find yourself in the minority, don’t panic. You may not be wrong. It could be that further study, discussion, and prayer will bring about consensus. When we as God’s children humbly submit to one another, God gives the church wisdom and balance.
Ralph Unger is our interim Conference Pastor. He has a lengthy history in the EMC as a pastor and has served as our conference moderator.