The Genius of Congregational Church Government

Very many “yes” and one “no,” is how votes usually went in one church I served.

My dear friend (let’s call him DF for short) would very often vote “no” because he had remaining questions about the issue, the budget, or the implementation of our plans. DF questioned from a faithful heart and voted with the best intentions for the church in mind…though I suspect that once in a while he voted “no” so our decision making wouldn’t seem like a disengaged and perfunctory “rubber stamp.” I love DF and appreciate how much he treasured the processes of congregational governance because it truly is a God-blessed inheritance from our Baptist forebears.

The genius of the congregation having local autonomy, and the thing that DF’s questions and votes assured, is it makes the church perfectly contextual. The congregation through committees, councils, deacon boards, votes—whatever processes it chooses—decides who leads the church and what it does in the community and world. No one from outside a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-related congregation can tell it who to call as pastor, who to ordain as a deacon, where to send their money, or what mission endeavor best reflects the heart of the church. Local autonomy frees the congregation to tune their life together toward the particular call of God on them. Congregational governance leads to incarnational ministry because your physical location in a community shapes how you live God’s call.

The congregation exists as the highest authority in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship life so the Spirit’s work in the local church guides who we are as a Fellowship. As churches choose leaders and engage in missions, as they adapt to cultural change and adopt future visions, we encourage that autonomy and invite collaboration for missions and ministry together. Autonomy plus collaboration means that there is a lot of diversity among CBF-related congregations because the contexts of ministry vary across the Fellowship. CBFSC’s mission to encourage congregations to thrive, nurture spiritual development, and value innovative and collaborative missions and ministry is shaped by the ministry and vision of local congregations.

Congregational governance makes ministry perfectly contextual. Collaboration lead by local autonomy makes missions and ministry global while expressing the faith and heart of congregations. Dear friends may not always agree with one another but when committed to each other, with the Spirit’s help, they show Christ’s love in unique ways for their community and our world.