Church of God Fellowship:
One Solution to Governance
For over four years I have attended a local congregation, the Church of God Fellowship, meeting in East Lansing, Michigan. It has not had that name all of that time, but the congregation consisted primarily of the same people. The congregation began on April 7, 1999, on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread. Most of the brethren in the United Church of God, Lansing, decided to meet separately on that day, due to difficulties with the local ministry and UCG-IA headquarters’ policies. It was not their purpose to start a new congregation, but when the small independent group of about 15 that I met with found out about their meeting, we decided to join them. We have been together ever since.
During the next few weeks, a congregational meeting was held, and the brethren agreed to a time schedule for services and a plan whereby a different family would sign up to host each Sabbath and Feast Day. The designated family was responsible for set up and clean up of the room, choosing songs for congregational singing, arranging for special music, making announcements, taking prayer requests, overseeing the potluck meal and arranging for speakers. Some families did nearly all of these things themselves, other families solicited much help, and most did a combination of the two.
This simple method of governance worked fairly well for over two years. No family tried to monopolize the services, and most people did their share of the work. This is an excellent testimony about how little formal structure is actually needed to operate a local congregation. But as the years went by, we realized that there were some things that were not being done that should be done. We saw a need for children’s classes. We saw a need to make sure that certain basic subjects were covered in the speaking. People were volunteering for special music less often. So we appointed people to be in charge of children’s classes, to coordinate speaking and to coordinate special music.
Like any human effort, there were times where this structure worked very well, and there were times when it slacked. After spending many years in a hierarchical church being told what to do, it is somewhat difficult to being in an environment when the individual believer is responsible for making things happen.
Some of the members of the congregation begin to feel that we had a lack of direction. There was no congregation-wide effort to serve or evangelize. When visitors came and had questions or problems with our services, there was nobody with which they could officially talk. (Some felt it was not their place as visitors to bring the subject up in services, so they just stopped attending.) Similarly, when quick decisions are needed—such as a sudden change in meeting location, unexpected expenses or an invitation to work with other groups—the issue had to be brought to the whole congregation. There was a clear need for some decision making that could be done on behalf of the congregation by a smaller group.
During the spring and summer months of 2003, several Bible studies and congregational meetings were held where we studied elders, ministers/deacons, overseers (bishops) and other Scriptures on congregational government. The Bible says a lot about the qualifications of elders, and shows that both congregations and well-recognized servants of God (such as Paul and Timothy) were involved in choosing them. However, it says very little about the exact process used by congregations to choose them.
Since God leaves this process largely up to the congregation, the congregation developed their own as follows:
As it was, only 27 people submitted a list. Many people—some younger, some older—who could have participated chose not to. Therefore, 19 (i.e. 27 × 0.7) recommendations were required for a man to be come an elder. Three men arbitrarily picked from the congregation tabulated the lists. Three elders who received at least the required 19 recommendations were Jeff Ledy, Alan Boyer and John Bensinger. One other man received 15 recommendations and the others 10 or less.
After several weeks (many were away on summer trips of various natures), all those who wanted from the congregation laid hands on each of these men and all who wanted prayed for them during the laying on of hands. Obviously, these men will be expected to fulfill all of the Biblical duties given for elders. They have no specific written mandate from the congregation. Whether or not they can start a congregation-wide outreach project, spend significant amounts of congregation money, change the time of services, implement significant rules or perform other tasks without the congregation’s approval is something that will be determined in the future. The saying “he who is governed best is governed least” is undoubtedly true, and if the elders naturally consult the congregation about things that are important to them, no such written rules may ever be needed.
As in all church governments, the righteousness and diligence of the people is far more important than the system. In this case, three good men were chosen whom I know fear God and deal fairly and kindly. May God bless their service!
While other congregations will probably not use this exact method, this actual account ought to demonstrate that local, non-aligned congregations of whatever size can and should “appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (Titus 1:5).