Your Church Council: The Nucleus of Renewal?

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Our council is run too much like a business. 

Our council is not run enough like a business. 

Charles Olson in his book Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders, points out that these are the two most common complaints from those serving on church councils. One group is looking for priorities that have little to do with business efficiencies while the other is looking for efficiency models drawn from business.

But what if there is another way of looking at the work and calling of the church council? What if the work and calling of the council is to be a community of spiritual leaders who are the nucleus of church renewal? What if the way the council carries out its calling is through worshipful work—an agenda that is formed around worship—even as it completes its calling? What if the council members see this work not as a hobby, but as a deep and important calling of God so that they engage in spiritual practices that form both themselves and the renewal of the church?

Olson takes us into a vision and into the practices of a church council that becomes a community of spiritual leaders. A community of spiritual leaders who are immersed in prayer and scripture. A community of discernment that envisions the church’s God-given, hope-filled future. 

One of the important parts of becoming this community is to name the present reality. Councils need to be able to name how they are presently acting. Are they a living out a political culture, a corporate culture, a managerial culture or some other type of culture? Are members of the board living out spiritual discernment in their own lives so they are prepared to join in discernment with the council?

Olson envisions the day when

  • All members of the council are working on discerning God’s will for their own lives through daily prayer and scripture reading and listening to God
  • All members of council take personal retreats taken to listen more carefully to God
  • The council has bonded as a community through story telling and common experiences of God’s grace 
  • Council meetings are done in a framework of worship
  • The council has several important issues before them, discern the priority issue and spend 6 months in study, reflection and prayer on that issue
  • Decisions made are not necessarily the most convenient, cheap, politically palatable or agreeable to the pastor’s wishes. Instead, they all agree that God is leading and calling out this particular form of obedience for the congregation
  • The board maintains a playful spirit, not taking itself too seriously. It is open to celebrate what God is doing

Olson gives us an important way of seeing how our councils can move more deeply into being communities of spiritual leaders. Spiritual leaders who can be the nucleus of church renewal. At the same time, he is clear that this kind of work is not a hobby, but a calling that demands time and effort. 

Olson’s book is helpful for congregations that are seeking a way of forming councils that are spiritual and discerning leaders in the church—in name and in reality. His book is also helpful in training new council members so that they become spiritual leaders.

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