Written by Rick Hostetter and Thelma Stahl ~ December, 2001 ©
Brandts Church of the Brethren
Box 251, St.Thomas, PA 17252 -- Pennsylvania Southern District
The Commission based congregational structure of the Church of the Brethren is
examined by this congregation and modified to suit their unique ministry needs.
What motivated Brandts to change its church structure, and why was this structure chosen?
Toward the end of 1995, the Pastor and Church Board Chair attended a Risk Management Seminar at the Chambersburg COB. During this seminar, it was apparent that Brandts needed to become incorporated. Thus during the following year the Constitution was revised to the standards needed to become incorporated and was approved by the congregation on December 29, 1996.
During the following year, 1997, the by-laws were review by a committee consisting of the Pastor and a representative of each commission along with the Church Board Chair. The Pastor encouraged the committee to consider an emerging new structure, which at this time had not been approved by Annual Conference. This structure was based on a smaller Church Board and various ministry teams, which were called by the congregation, thus eliminating a “winner-loser” concept and allowing for more effective ministry to take place. The purpose of the Church Board was to evaluate whether the ministry of each team was consistent with the Mission Statement of the congregation.
The first by-laws committee worked for approximately 9 - 10 months with developing the structure. This development included input from the congregation at various forums before the final structure was presented for approval. This structure took effect January 1, 1998.
With the first revision, the Gifts Discernment team and the Church Board (now Leadership Team) were elected and the other ministry teams members were called. This gradual process allowed the congregation to become slowly accustomed to the new procedure and terminology.
The by-laws require that the Constitution and By-Laws be reviewed at least every three years. The last revision was approved on June 24, 2001, and included a total calling process.
How well did the process work?
Communication to all members and family of the congregation as well as goal setting and congregational input can be forgotten unless there is a deliberate attempt on the part of leadership to see that the congregation is informed. There can be difficulty in adjusting from elections to calling process and using the proper terminology, especially for the persons not directly involved in the ministry teams. More people were and are willing to be involved in ministry, and ministry can be processed at a faster pace. Spiritual gifts of the congregation are reviewed, discerned, and evaluated on a year-round basis. Individuals are trained and educated on their own spiritual gifts. The new structure allows for multiple short terms. People seem to be more willing to accept a calling since they know the term is short, and if they do not wish to extend into additional terms for that position, they can easily give up the position without a negative feeling. Also, the shorter terms allows a change in position, if it becomes apparent that a person’s gifts could be better utilized in another ministry. Being on one ministry team does not necessarily put you on another ministry team so people are more willing to accept a call since there are fewer committee meetings to attend.
What recommendations would you give other churches?
Communication with all members and family of the congregation through the church's newsletters, bulletins, and letters from the church office is essential. It is highly recommended that congregational forums be held for input from the members while in the process of developing the new structure. This input can be a valuable tool and a timesaver. Brandts did a two-step structuring by first electing the Leadership Team members and calling other ministry team members. This can be an easier way for the congregation give up the “Old” and accept the “New”, but at the same time it can be confusing to those responsible to implement as well as difficult for the congregation to understand the calling concept. It is recommended that positions be not duplicated, thus allowing for a broader scope of involvement of the membership/church family.
“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”
About the authors
This article was written and contributed by:
Rick Hostetter, pastor of Brandts Church of the Brethren, located in Pennsylvania Southern District.
Thelma Stahl, member of Brandts and member of Pennsylvania Southern District Board 2000-2001.