Why the Ballot Looks the Way It Does

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Over the last several years Bethlehem has developed an election procedure that is based on biblical principles. It has served well to preserve spiritual, gifted, harmonious lay leadership in the church.

Some Biblical Principles

1) Church leaders should be spiritual people, that is, they should be people with attitudes and behaviors marked by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

2) Church leaders should be above reproach in the church and community (1 Timothy 3:2).

3) Married church leaders should have their families in good order with strong marriages, well-behaved children, and well-managed finances (1 Timothy 3:12).

4) Church leaders should be gifted in the areas where they are called to serve (Romans 12:6-8).

5) Church leaders should be faithful in attendance, supportive of the leadership of the church, and enthusiastic about its worship (Philippians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:12).

6) Church leaders should feel a sense of God-given desire for the ministry (1 Timothy 3:1).

7) In view of all this, church leaders must be examined—that is, some person or group must consider very carefully the fitness of each person for the ministry (1 Timothy 3:10).

These principles have inevitably led the Nominating Committee away from a traditional competitive ballot. Instead of a ballot with several people running for each position, the representative and elected Nominating Committee performs the careful and prayerful examining which the biblical principles require. Then only one person is put on the ballot for each position—the person best suited in the judgment of the Committee.

Beside each name on the ballot is a box marked “yes” and a box marked “no.” The point of the boxes is to put veto power in the hands of the congregation at large and thus provide a means of holding the Nominating Committee accountable to the church. 15% no's will cause the Nominating Committee to reconsider any candidate if perchance they overlooked some flaw.

When there is a competitive ballot a person can be opposed by 49% of the people and still be elected to office. Thus, the populist procedure seems to backfire against its own intention, namely, to provide a check on the abuse of authority. Our sense is that if a person cannot command 85% of the people's support some serious investigation should be made.

The great difference between church elections and American democratic elections is that in the political elections all the candidates campaign and do everything they can to make their strengths known to the people. But in the church no speeches are made. Nor would this be effective or practically feasible. The result is that with a competitive ballot in a church of 1000 people the person who is already widely known gets elected. Elections become not a test of superior fitness for office but inevitably a test of how many people know a person. This seems to us to stand squarely against the biblical principle that fitness for office, not popularity, is the decisive thing in filling offices.

We believe that the preservation of spiritual, gifted, harmonious lay leadership in our church is owing to the de facto abandonment of this populist procedure. Bethlehem's procedure of giving the congregation the veto power over any candidate, but proposing only the best candidate available for each office, has preserved a spiritual depth and harmony which is extremely valuable. It puts final say in the hands of the congregation and puts the sensitive job of examination and recommendation of the most gifted candidates in the hands of an accountable and qualified body of spiritual people. This we regard as the most biblical model.

In your service on behalf of the Nominating Committee,

Pastor John