Thursday, March 6, 2014

COGFC's Governance Structure and Model

COGFC (Church of God, a Family Community), made up of ministers and members who have recently left COGaic (COGaic is led by Mr. David Hulme), has published the audio recordings of its open house session on the first day of their March conference. Those recordings are listed in The Father's Call website. Here is a link to that page. Look for the messages dated March 2, 2014, link:

I have previously reported on that open house, and you can hear much more detail in the recordings themselves.

I want to discuss their governance model.

COGFC is a functioning Church. It is organized. It is not incorporated, but it has organization, and by organization I do not mean legal organization, but simply how ministers and members have organized themselves to function since COGFC has formed.

COGFC has been conducting Friday night Bible studies and Sabbath services for a couple of months. They have a website which is expanding. They are planning a Feast of Tabernacles. There have been assignments for pastoring.

For example, there is an explanation of which pastors have what responsibilities in The Father's Call website. This explanation shows which ministers are responsible for pastoring which areas, and explains responsibilities handed by various ministers such as Steve Andrews, Chip Capo, Don Day, Bill Eastburn, Richard Emery, Maurice Frohn, Bill Hendricks, Bill Hutchison, Brian Orchard, Ray Perez, Marshall Stiver, Ken Vail, Herb Van Curen, Cliff Veal, Fred Watson, and Pete Wolf. Here is a link. Scroll to the bottom till you find "Announcements", then towards the end of the announcements:

Two leadership conferences have been conducted in the space of about 2 to 3 months.

All these activities and events are the results of decisions made by COGFC. The subject of governance is decision making. The structure of governance shows how decisions are made and who makes them and how roles and responsibilities for making decisions are assigned in the Church of God.

When you know how decisions are being made, especially decisions about who has what responsibilities, you know the model of governance being used.

Although COGFC has never articulated how their model of governance works, it seems to be apparent, at least to me, how decisions are being made. I cannot know what goes on behind the scenes, but it seems as if decisions are being made by mutual agreement. I could be wrong of course, and I will leave it to COGFC or others who know more than I to correct me if I am wrong.

So I will attempt to articulate this model of governance I think I observe. It may be transitional and may gradually change into a more hierarchical model over time, or even be suddenly replaced with such a structure, but right now, this is how things seem to function in COGFC.

You can call this, "decision making by discussion and mutual agreement", if you want.

It is a loose organization.

There is indeed a hierarchy of roles and assignments. Currently, Mr. Brian Orchard and Mr. Steve Andrews seem to share the top leadership of this fellowship. But there is a larger group also of the five remaining ministers who attended the first conference in January, which includes Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews, but also includes Cliff Veal, Marshall Stiver and Bill Hutchison.

Then there is the larger group of ministers and local elders, then deacons, then the general membership. The membership consists of those members who regularly attend with and tithe to COGFC. There is hierarchy, a pyramid structure, because the top layers have more "authority" if you want to call it that, or "decision making influence" if you prefer that term, than the lower levels, and the top levels are smaller. A member who is not ordained does not have the decision making power of Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews for example.

Some decisions may be made by the exercise of authority, especially at the local level such as when a pastor makes a decision for the congregation. But many decisions are made by mutual agreement.

How does that work?

At each level in the hierarchy, people get together and discuss issues that need to be decided. They talk about those issues until they agree, or until they agree that they cannot agree. With matters they agree on, they take action. With matters they cannot agree on, they defer action.

So for example, starting at the top, there may be questions and issues to be settled by Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews. Either man can raise the issues he wants to discuss with the other. For each issue, they discuss it, each man giving his reasons why he thinks a certain decision is best. They may come to an agreement by one of three ways. One, they may already be in agreement as soon as they discuss it. Two, they may not at first agree, but one man may be persuaded by the other in the course of the discussion so they end up agreeing. Or, three, they may never really agree about which course of action is best, but one or both of them may compromise for the sake of reaching a decision and thus agree to support that compromise decision. There is a fourth outcome, and that is, they never reach agreement. In that case, no action is taken on that particular issue.

So if Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews get together with five issues to decide, and through persuasion or compromise reach agreed decisions on four of those issues, but cannot agree on the fifth issue, they announce and take action on the four things they agreed about but take no action on the fifth item they failed to reach agreement on.

This same process works when the five leading ministers meet and reach decisions. Anything they cannot reach unanimous agreement on is simply deferred. Whatever they can unanimously agree on is put into action.

When the top ministers agree to an action, the rest of the fellowship, ministers and members, tend to cooperate and try to do what they are asked to do.

This process may to a degree work between levels. So, for example, Mr. Orchard may ask a particular minister to serve the needs of a particular location or congregation. Usually, the minister will submit and say yes, if he is able, but in some cases the same process I described may occur. He may have reasons for declining which he discusses with Mr. Orchard, and they will try to reach agreement. If they cannot, the minister may say, I'm sorry Mr. Orchard, I cannot do that. But normally, the minister will probably make every effort to comply with what the leadership requests. And deacons and members likewise cooperate with their pastors.

Is this model of governance new? It may be one of the oldest and most commonly used forms of decision making in the history of mankind, both in the Church and in the world. When a group of 5 or 10 office workers stand by the elevators at lunchtime to decide where they will go to lunch together, that is exactly what happens. They reach agreement on which restaurant to go to, who will ride in what cars, etc. When a group of friends in the Church decide where to go to eat, the same thing happens. When two friends decide what activity they will do, this is how they decide. Sometimes they persuade, sometimes they negotiate, and sometimes they compromise, and if they can't, they go separate ways that day and the joint activity never takes place.

Is it biblical for the Church of God? There is no law against it. Most of the examples in the Bible are not of this type, but some may be.

Is it the best structure of governance? What are its strong points and weak points?

Its major weak point is that it is limited, even weak at times, and usually slow. Not all decisions can be made, and those that are made may take longer than necessary. There may be other weak points, for example, someone who has the wisdom to know the right course of action may compromise for the sake of reaching a decision. The decisions made can be a blend of wisdom and foolishness, which can be a good recipe for mediocrity. The decisions are not usually disastrous, but neither are they particularly outstanding. It's strong point is that it can work well at keeping people committed to decisions made, even when there are character flaws in the people who make the decisions and submit to the decisions. That is because people commit in advance to supporting those decisions, so it is harder for them to back out or rebel. They feel it is partly their decision (they take "ownership" of the decision and the responsibility because they agreed to it).

Simple hierarchical government, such as that practiced by Mr. Armstrong, can be stronger, and most examples in the Bible are of that type. Hierarchical government, where there is someone, one person, at the top of each human organization (with Christ over him, and there may be more than one human organization), can be much stronger. It can have all the advantages in terms of discussion, persuasion, and compromise as the COGFC "mutual agreement" model because the leader at the top, or a leader anywhere in the structure, can use the "mutual agreement" process with his subordinates whenever he sees an advantage for doing so. In other words, in simple hierarchical government, those who have authority to give orders and commands do not have to always use that authority. They can use it most of the time, some of the time, or rarely, depending on the circumstances, as they see fit. But the authority exists when it is needed.

Simple hierarchical governance can make any decision, and is never limited by inability of men to reach agreement by compromise or persuasion. And simple hierarchical governance can reach quick decisions whenever necessary. The boss says, "do this" and we do it.

But there is one potential problem with simple hierarchical government. It breaks down and does not function well when the people at the top are unrighteous or unwise. Any governance can fail that way, but the failure of hierarchical governance can be quicker, greater, and vastly more dramatic than the mutual agreement structure of governance. Witness Hitler and Stalin and compare their decisions with the decisions made jointly by Churchill and Roosevelt in World War II. Hitler and Stalin were unrighteous and unwise autocrats. They never felt the need to reach compromise with their subordinates. They gave orders and made some of the stupidest and most disastrous decisions for their peoples you could imagine. But Churchill and Roosevelt and their staffs had to argue things out and try to reach compromise. The British had one set of views and the Americans a different set of views. It was a stormy relationship, and there was much inefficiency in the process, yet they never made a disastrous decision, though they made mistakes.

Yet, though simple hierarchical governance can do badly when led by unrighteous or unwise men, it is the form of governance that we should be practicing most of the time in the Church of God. Why? For the simple reason that it is the form of governance that will be practiced in the Kingdom of God and therefore is the way we should be learning.

Simple hierarchical governance is the very BEST form of governance when led by those who are righteous and wise, and all of God's children will fit that category when we are born full sons of God in His kingdom.

There is another advantage to simple hierarchical governance. You can more easily obey Christ's instruction to judge by fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). When a leader is fully in charge, you can easily see his fruits to see if he is a righteous and wise leader. But if he has to constantly compromise with others who are not righteous and wise in order to reach unanimous decisions, how can you judge by the fruits? You never know what decisions he would make if he had the authority. Nor do you see the bad fruits of the unrighteous or unwise leaders he has to compromise with. Everything is blurred, so how can you see who God is working through?

I don't want to use any actual names of people as examples, but suppose you had Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones (fictitious names) as joint leaders who must compromise to reach unanimous agreement for every important decision. Suppose Mr. Smith is righteous and wise and Mr. Jones is unrighteous and unwise. If they must always compromise, you never see the fruits of the men individually. The decisions are not very bad, neither are they very good, but mediocre, bland, somewhere in-between good and bad. But if Mr. Smith leads one organization with simple hierarchical governance and he has full authority, and Mr. Jones likewise leads another organization the same way, you will soon be able to easily follow Christ's instruction to judge by fruits, because Mr. Smith's fruits will be outstanding, but Mr. Jones's fruits will be a horror. Then you will know who God is working through and you can support Mr. Smith. Then the fruits will be better with Mr. Smith than when both men had to compromise and agree on everything because neither one was in charge.

The form of governance practiced by COGFC may be transitional. A year from now, if COGFC still exists, it may be governed according to a simple hierarchical structure such as we had with Mr. Armstrong. Or it may be a blend of the two models. Or, they may continue indefinitely with the model they have, maybe formalizing it somehow and articulating it.

But the strongest structure of governance, when in the right hands, and the one we should be learning because we will practice it in the Kingdom of God, is simple hierarchical governance of the type we had with Mr. Armstrong. And I believe such a type of governance, in the right hands, will be needed to do the enormous work of finishing the preaching of the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel before the tribulation begins.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:


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