Alliance Polity – John Stumbo Video Blog No. 117

This month John unpacks what we’ve learned from our national conversations regarding eldership, consecration/ordination, and titles, and outlines the related polity recommendations coming to Council 2023 in Spokane.

– Council 2023 is right around the corner. What will we be discussing regarding eldership, ordination, and titling? That’s our conversation today. Thanks for joining me. So, we’re coming to Council with what we learned from the National Conversation and with some very specific action points that we’re recommending. The three categories of the conversation are eldership, consecration/ordination, and titles. We’ll unpack those today. And the other conversation we had is, ‘Who makes these decisions?” Does Council make these decisions or the Board of Directors? We’ll talk about that, as well. The definition of eldership has been contained in our constitution for a very long time, and to the disappointment of some and the great relief of others, we’re not touching the male eldership model that has long been held by The Christian and Missionary Alliance. The only thing that we’ve suggested an alteration of in this statement is the phrase “the pastor” because that left some confusion, and the Rules Committee has determined that it’s just an editorial change to clarify that in our constitution, that singular reference to “the pastor” actually is referring to the lead pastor.

So, we retain the male eldership model, and we just clarify what our constitution has said through the years, and this is before you to read for a moment. It became clear in our National Conversation that the role of elder was not clearly described within our documents, and so, the Board has inserted into the Church Ministry’s District Handbook the following statements that I’ll just walk through quickly in these five slides.

“The elders serve as the governance authority or appoint some of their members to serve on the governance authority. In consultation with other leaders, both male and female, the elders determine the ministry philosophy of the church. The elders participate in and oversee the teaching and preaching ministry of the church. The elders serve as a Committee on Membership, as the Committee on Discipline. They oversee the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They oversee and participate in the shepherding ministries of the church. They oversee and participate in prayer for the sick and provide spiritual oversight and accountability for members of the staff.”

Perhaps it would be helpful for me to clarify that our documents should not restrict women from serving Communion, from conducting baptisms, from preaching an a pulpit, or from participating in prayer for the sick, anointing with oil. If your church chooses to limit that to men, that is your choice, but that is not what our documents require. So now let me move to the actual recommendations that you’ll be receiving at Council 2023– first regarding eldership. Now you know we can’t have recommendations without “whereases”; they’re actually very important so that you understand the rationale behind the recommendation.

“Whereas, we have many multi-staff Alliance churches where not all pastors serve as elders.” We’re aware that a vast majority of our Alliance churches do not have multiple staff, but an increasing number do, and there is complexity in some of those churches because there’s way too many staff to serve on the Elder Board, and so we acknowledge that. “Whereas, we have retired pastors and official workers serving in non-church assignments who are not automatically elders in the local church of which they’re members.” I’m not an elder in my local church where I attend.

“It is recommended, therefore, that the eldership in Alliance churches be the lead pastor, elected lay elders, and the other male members of the licensed ministry staff as deemed appropriate by the local church.” If you’re a multi-staff church, you could have your male staff be on your Elder Board or not–that’s up to you. But we’re clarifying again the male eldership, and we’re clarifying that not all licensed workers are elders.

The second major category is regarding ordination and consecration. A half dozen “whereases” on this one. “There is no indication in the New Testament that ordination and eldership are connected to one another; and whereas, our practice of ordination arises more from Church tradition and polity than it does from Scripture; whereas, ordination is perhaps best seen as a holy process of vetting, certifying, and endorsing those who sense God’s call to vocational ministry, have evidence that call through character, giftedness, and preparation, and have had that call affirmed by the church.”

What we’re saying here is while we can’t defend ordination and consecration from chapter and verse, we can defend it from good practice for an organization such as ours that has to very carefully vet any person who wants to carry our credentials. So, we continue to take a very high view of what it means to be consecrated and ordained by The Alliance.

“Whereas, the polling from our first round of the National Conversation indicated that a very strong majority of the Alliance people do not support our current polity where men and women carry out the same process for ordination or consecration but arrive at two very different outcomes and titles; and whereas, not being ordained at times denies a female official worker access to certain ministry settings, may inhibit them from employment as institutional chaplains, and may hinder our recruitment of female military chaplains; and whereas, the term ‘consecration’ is rooted in Scripture and the term ‘ordination’ is broadly recognized by the public sector.”

That leads us to this recommendation, that “the designation, ‘Consecrated and Ordained’ be used to indicate the denomination’s endorsement of all official workers, both male and female, who meet the stated qualifications for Alliance ministry and have successfully completed the consecration and ordination process outlined in the Manual of The Christian and Missionary Alliance.” Personally, I have a hard time defending our current practice where men and women both do the same work but have two very different outcomes. And I have a hard time with the reality that we have this man-made, double entendre intended, a man-made practice where women are restricted from some very key points of ministry in the public that we should be giving them access to.

The third category of conversation is in regards to titling. First, the title “pastor.”

“Whereas, The Alliance in the United States is a diverse denomination,” I love it, “that includes 38 language groups, and our diversity impacts the use of various titles typically related to ministry positions and even the existence of such titles in some languages; whereas, the current governing documents of The Alliance have the potential to cause confusion related to the use of the title ‘pastor’ and clarity as needed.” We had a conversation about that at Council 2021, the lack of clarity that exists already in our documents.

“Whereas, the polity and doctrine of The Alliance has always offered a balance between national uniformity and local autonomy.” I love this about the Alliance family, that where are we strongest when we’re all in lockstep on certain things like the Statement of Faith, national uniformity, and where are we best when we have local autonomy– that you get to live out your faith in your local church expression. A combination, a perfect marriage of those things, is part of what makes The Alliance The Alliance. It’s part of the beauty of us, and even on this subject of titling, we’re trying to find that right blend.

“Whereas, all Alliance leaders subscribe to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture but do not always interpret passages on some less-than-core issues in the same way; whereas, one of the historic strengths of The Alliance has been the capacity to function in unity while holding to diverse positions on less-than essential issues.” May we never lose that strength.

And “Whereas, Alliance people and leaders hold difference of interpretation on Scripture passages related to the title ‘pastor’ and whether or not it is connected to the office of elder. It is recommended that the title ‘pastor,’ except ‘lead pastor,’ may be used by a local church to refer to its male and female official workers if its biblical understanding allows.” So, this would be bringing clarity to our otherwise confusing documents that yes, the ‘pastor’ title can be used for men and women but not mandated upon any local congregation that would not feel it appropriate to do so. Related, use of ‘reverend.’

“Whereas, licensing of official workers is handled by the district LO&CC, federal chaplain endorsers, and the President’s Office, Church Ministries, and Alliance Missions,” depending on who it is that’s getting licensed; “whereas, consecration and ordination is handled by the district LO&CC. It is recommended that the designation of ‘reverend’ may be issued by the LO&CC to all official workers who serve in roles both inside and outside the local church, meet the stated qualifications for Alliance ministry, and have successfully completed the consecration and ordination process outlined in the Manual of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Each local church may determine the use of this designation as appropriate in their context.”

Similar to title ‘pastor,’ not required to use ‘reverend,’ but it being available to both men and women who do all the appropriate work as outlined in our manual. Now, those are the changes that are recommended and will be discussed and decided at Council. If those are approved, then that has lots of ramifications for the manual.

“Whereas, the adoption of these proposals related to men and women in leadership will require extensive amendments to the Manual of The Christian and Missionary Alliance; and whereas, these extensive changes are more efficiently handled by a smaller group of people, it is recommended that Council 2023 empower the Board of Directors to conform the Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance to be consistent with the above changes, including the new name for the Licensing, Ordination, and Consecration Council, and to eliminate indications that everyone who carries the title ‘pastor’ is also an elder, and that eldership is automatically conferred by ordination, and to report these changes at Council 2025.”

In other words, if the first ones are approved, manual changes are needed, and we’d be giving the Board of Directors permission to do so with reporting back. Now, those are the recommendations coming to Council. I need to show you one more thing. The Board had an interesting conversation that many of you are aware of as to, “Should the Board make these changes or send them on to Council?” You will not see this at Council. This is Board action right here that leads to what you just saw.

“Whereas, these potential polity changes represent a significant change in the denomination; whereas, after nearly four years of engagement in the polity conversations across the denomination, the expectation of the Alliance constituency is to have a voice and a vote at Council; and whereas, it appears that allowing Council a voice and a vote on these proposed changes will assist in promoting unity to the Alliance family, it is recommended that the Board of Directors refer the final decisions on recommendations regarding eldership and the title ‘pastor’ above to Council 2023.”

In other words, ordination and consecration had to come to Council because Council acted upon it previously. But these conversations, because of where they lie within our manual, did not have to come back to Council. It would’ve been more efficient for the Board to have made the decisions, but I am grateful to them, that out of desire for the greatest unity in the family, that they’re bringing these four categories of recommendations to you: eldership clarified, consecration/ordination unified, “pastor” and “reverend” available, and manual changes delegated. That was a lot of information.

Okay, know this– Council registration is strong. It’s open until April 14. If you miss that pre-registration time, you can still come to Council and register on-site. We encourage you to do so. We’d love to have you participate, as we are truly believing that God is going to meet us there, not only as individuals, touching our hearts, stirring our spirits, but as the family as well, leading us on into what He has for us in our next season of ministry.