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Good Year-End Advice for Churches

In the first years of my ministry, there were two annual events that I dreaded all year long.

One was Harvest Ingathering, which started in the autumn and lasted until Christmas. It meant weeks of driving around to small towns in my rural district, begging businesses for contributions, then convincing my church members to tramp through the cold streets for a few bucks more.

The other was nominating committee.

Nominating committee was shorter than Harvest Ingathering, but more trying. I knew just how it would go. My first call would be to the brother who had been head elder for the past thirty years. He’d protest that he really didn’t need to do it anymore. He wanted to pray about it. Could I call him back in several weeks? I also knew that if we selected anyone other than him, he would create so much trouble that my life would hardly be worth living. So we had to go through the fiction of his thinking it over so that he could pretend he really wasn’t the power hungry old elder that, in point of fact, he was.

In contrast, the children’s Sabbath School volunteers (who arguably performed more important tasks than the head elder) would resign each year, and mean it. We’d call back, beg and plead, and listen to whining about how busy they were, and “why can’t Cheryl do it for once?” Sometimes we squeezed another year out of them, sometimes not.

Too few seemed to take on church tasks gladly.

We Seventh-day Adventists inherited the nominating committee from the denominations our pioneers came from, and we enshrined it in our church rule. We liked it, at least in part, because it seemed wonderfully democratic. But there are several areas where the nominating committee process falls short:

First, it supposes a power motivation for service: that people are in competition for leadership positions, which the nominating committee has to mediate. Power may be the motivation for some, such as the head eldership in the little church I mentioned. But it is not a good one. A system that implies others are fighting for positions doesn’t give much incentive for the less-motivated person to give it a try.

Second, coming back every year to ask, “Will you serve again?” implies that even if you enjoy your volunteer job, it is intended to be temporary, and we are offering you a convenient opportunity to step down.

Third, the nominating committee is able to do relatively little processing about where people could serve best. They only have time to fill the openings. Nor does it encourage the volunteer to ask if this is a call to use one’s gifts in Christian service, as opposed to one more thing to do in church. That it ends in a vote before the church body makes it seem less like service than like a popularity contest.

Finally, it takes an enormous amount of the church’s time and energy, and introduces politics into the church service, where there’s supposed to be only worship.

Happily, our volunteer selection process has been revisited, with an eye toward making it more consistent with biblical guidelines.1

These difficulties were first addressed in the Connections curriculum released back in the 1990s, updated and still available through AdventSource. Though there’d been a flurry of seminars and tests on spiritual gifts going all the way back to the 1970s, Connections was the first denominationally approved curriculum that opened the way for flexibility in the selection process. Connections had enough of an effect on enough churches that in 2005 some pages were added to the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual updating the nominating committee process.

Most Adventists (and even many pastors) are unaware of these Church Manual changes. Here are some key points:

  1. Volunteer ministry selection should be “gift based”: “Everyone is a minister performing some ministry for which he or she has been specially gifted.…Every church member should be matched with an appropriate ministry as part of the congregation’s overall mission strategy.”2
  2. The new methods eschew a political process in favor of a human resources process: “The nominating committee may need to function on a regular basis throughout the year, meeting monthly or weekly (depending on the size of the church) to accomplish this assignment. Some churches may identify the nominating committee as the Ministry Development committee and make it clear that there are unusual expectations for the total involvement of all members.”
  3. The length of the term of volunteer service is flexible. Although this isn’t explicit in the Church Manual, it’s implied by the standing Ministry Development Committee. Those churches that have been successful at this new process don’t ask volunteers every year if they want to continue. They assume they will, unless a change is needed.
  4. Churches have flexibility to go beyond the guidelines of the Church Manual for training and implementation: “A local church may adopt alternate ways of handling such items.” “Curriculum resources, based on a biblical understanding of spiritual gifts, are available to churches which seek to involve every member in ministry. These resources provide specific training and tools for the Ministry Development committee.” (This is specifically referring to the Connections curriculum.)
  5. There must be approval from the congregation: “If the nominating committee/Ministry Development committee is appointed as a standing committee, it must be with the endorsement of the congregation.…”

My congregation switched over to a standing Ministry Development Committee about ten years ago, after studying Connections, but before the updated Church Manual guidelines. The greatest benefit has been that we’re creating a congregational culture where our volunteers think about their tasks as ongoing ministries for which they are gifted, rather than as defined terms of service. The result is less turnover and more satisfaction.

This surely isn’t a cure-all for every congregation’s volunteer staffing problems, but it helps. If your church is struggling with Nominating Committee, I recommend you look at the Connections curriculum, and study pages 67–68 in the most recent Church Manual.

Notes and References

1. Spiritual gifts are discussed in Ephesians 2 and 1 Corinthians 12, with a very simple point: that people should do in the church those tasks God has given them a talent for.

2. All quotes are taken from the 2005 Church Manual, 67–68.

Loren Seibold is senior pastor of the Worthington, Ohio, Seventh-day Adventist Church. He also edits a newsletter for North American Division pastors called Best Practices for Adventist Ministry.

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