Wilkesboro Baptist Church

This post is especially for my readers who attend Wilkesboro Baptist Church. Earlier this year I preached through 1 Timothy. For me, and I believe for our church, it was a fruitful enterprise. Paul described necessity of godly character and doctrinal fidelity in order for a church to be healthy. Those sermons allowed me to share some thoughts on what the Bible teaches regarding church polity and structure. Out of those sermons and simultaneous conversations with church leadership, we have become convinced that a local congregation should be led by a plurality of pastors or elders. I have previously written on this topic from the perspectives of polity, church health, shepherding, accountability, and leadership.

About 3 months ago, I asked our spiritual emphasis committee (Lee Bentley, Wade McInnis, and Jon Snider) along with our deacon chairman, Steve Melton, and our deacon secretary, James Sullivan, to assist me in revising our Bylaws at WBC to reflect what a plurality of elders would look like in our local church context.

Our work together has been fruitful and encouraging. The product of our work has been the Fifth Amended and Restated Bylaws of Wilkesboro Baptist Church. One comment in particular during one of our meetings highlights the godly leadership present at WBC for decades. “We don’t have people fighting for power or position at WBC.” That is so true. In my almost seven years leading WBC as pastor, we have not conflicts with staff, deacons, or other church leaders for direction and power. We have worked together in our attempts to fulfill our mission of leading our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus. This Bylaw revision process is another example of working together to help WBC to remain faithful in doctrine and in mission.

At the deacon’s meeting on Tuesday, July 12, the deacons unanimously approved Fifth Amended and Restated Bylaws of WBC that reflects a structural and organizational shift to a plurality of elders.

Church Bylaws are intended to guide how the church operates in organization and structure. I believe church Bylaws should be reviewed and revised regularly. This most recent revision is an attempt to be biblical in structure while recognizing the very helpful framework that is already in place. While these Bylaws guide us, they are not our ultimate authority. God through His Word is our authority.

These Bylaws do not go into affect unless the membership at WBC approves them. So, as a member of WBC, you have every right to access, read, and review this set of Bylaws. There are a number of ways you can access this bylaw revision.

  1. In the Beacon (week of July 17) we will provide the url address to a page on our website that will include 3 downloadable documents. The first document will be a copy of the current Bylaws revised in 2011. The second document will be a copy of the revised Bylaws for your review. The third document will be a side-by-side of both sets of Bylaws so you can easily compare the sections that have been revised.
  2. We will email those three documents to our email distribution list.
  3. If you do not have computer access, we will print you a copy of the proposed Bylaw revision. Please come by the church office and our administrative staff will be happy to print a copy of the revised Bylaws for you.

For a Bylaw revision to be approved, the membership at WBC must be notified of the revision thirty (30) days in advance of a vote.

There are several ways we are going to provide opportunity for questions and interactions regarding these Bylaw revisions.

  1. First, if you have any specific questions or concerns about any Article, Section, or Paragraph, please call the church office and set up an appointment with me. I will make myself available to answer your questions.
  2. Second, we’re going to make our Bylaw revision committee available to visit your Sunday school class per request between now and the end of August to answer any questions you may have regarding the Bylaw revisions.
  3. Third, we will have a Town Hall discussion opportunity on Wednesday evening August 17 to discuss these Bylaw revisions and how they will affect our church structure and polity. During that discussion time, I will highlight several of the recommended revisions and take questions from the floor.
  4. Fourth, we will present the recommendation to approve these Bylaw revisions at our church conference on Wednesday evening August 24.

Please reach out if you have any questions about our process or the Bylaw revision. May God continue to bless the mission and ministry of Wilkesboro Baptist Church.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

In last week’s post, I shared some of the biblical reasoning for church polity being elder-led congregationalism. Today’s post continues the conversation. I’m going to reference the history of Wilkesboro Baptist Church as well as church health as two important reasons for considering a change in our church structure.

Wilkesboro Baptist Church began in 1880 as a missionary church (church plant) from a sister congregation. The text below is the historical account of our church’s beginning.

On the first Saturday (7th) in August 1880 a presbytery consisting of Elders W.R. Gwaltney, John Adams, James D. Tinsley, and I.T. Prevette met in the Court House in Wilkesboro, N.C. for the purpose of organizing a Missionary Baptist Church. Elder Gwaltney was moderator, and Elder Prevette Clerk, after devotional exercises conducted by the moderator, the presbytery was received by the brethren, The following brethren and sisters presented letters, John Bowlin, Jane E. Bowlin, S.R. Bowlin, B.E. Bowlin, J.R. Bowlin, Ann Eller, W.H. Brown, Mary Brown, Deliah White, G.W. Green and Dora M. Green from Cub Creek Church, E. Staley, Martha Staley, John W. Staley, Nelia Staley from Oak Forest Church, A.M. Church, Susan Church, A.V. Church, L.C. Church and E.S. Church of Mt. Pleasant Church; the clerk read the letters, and the presbytery was satisfied. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith, and Church Covenant were read and adopted by the brethren and sisters. The presbytery then agreed to reorganize these brethren and sisters as the Wilkesboro Baptist Church. A charge was delivered by the moderator and the hand of fellowship given by the presbytery.

Organization for Wilkesboro Baptist Church, Presbytery consisting of W.R. Gwaltney, John Adams, James D. Tinsley, and I.T. Prevette

Presbytery is the theological term for a group of elders. So when a presbytery of elders came together to form Wilkesboro Baptist Church, the church at its founding had a plurality of elders.

Wilkesboro Baptist over the years shifted from a plurality of elders to a pastor-led congregation with strong deacon leadership. While all the reasons for this shift are not clear (not just for WBC but for a great many Baptist churches with similar polity shifts), the most obvious reason is practical. Even with our history of long-tenured pastors, the typical pattern for pastoral ministry at WBC has been for a pastor to come, preach, lead, and then leave for another congregation. In fact, that’s typical of most Baptist churches. So who leads in the transition times? In the case of many churches the deacons, or the second office in the church, were entrusted to make decisions and to lead in the absence of a pastor. Over the years, deacon influence grew and the pastor-deacons-congregation model became more firmly established.

While moving back to a plurality of elders might be a reset to our church history, it also aims at securing a firm grasp on church health.

One might ask, “If our structure wasn’t as biblical as it could be, how has Wilkesboro Baptist experienced stability and health over the past several decades?” That’s a good question.

I would venture this argument. Church health is contingent on at least two factors: godly leadership and biblical structure. Biblical structure is church polity reflected in biblical teaching. Think of these two factors as a spectrum.

When a church has godly leadership (the right people leading, serving, making decisions), it has a great chance of being healthy, being on mission, and experiencing stability. Personally, I believe this is why churches with leadership structures that lack biblical precedent (hierarchical or a CEO model or a board of directors, etc.) can sometimes still experience stability, health, and growth. God works through godly people. I can attest that at Wilkesboro Baptist Church we have godly leadership among deacons, staff, and other church leaders. I believe this has been true of our church for decades.

The question arises, “How do we retain and replicate godly leaders?” This is where biblical structure is vital. It is apparent to me that the Bible warrants a plurality of pastors (elders) leading a church. See polity, pt. 1. If I am correct in affirming the biblical structure of elder-led congregationalism, then a plurality of godly pastors/elders is best suited to make disciples and replicate leaders in the life of a church. (In a future post, I’m going to connect biblical polity directly to our church’s mission).

So in my view, the healthiest church is the one with both godly leaders and biblical structure. It is the church with godly leaders in the right places in ministry, whether that’s in a biblical office (elder or deacon), staff position, or lay leadership in the church.

In last week’s post regarding unhealthy churches I wrote:

Too many churches crumble because of internal wars of preference and power. Too many churches falter because of an unwillingness to hold onto theological fidelity. Too many churches are crushed because of leadership failure rooted in pride, a desire for power, or immorality. A failure in leadership is often preceded by a failure in church polity. I don’t believe a church’s structures can protect against all sin (internal or external), but I have grown to believe that the biblical picture of elder-led congregationalism does offer a healthy and protective framework for pastoral leadership in the life of the church.

Chris Hefner, polity, pt. 1.

At the risk of becoming a discernment blog for a paragraph, let’s observe a few high level illustrations. Consider the sexual abuse scandals and cover-up within the Roman Catholic Church as reported by the Boston Globe. Consider the rise and fall of Mars Hill Church and its leadership failures both in godliness and organization. Consider the all too many Baptist churches that fuss and fight, split and sever over power and control. Consider the theological divisions arising in mainline denominations where biblical fidelity is no longer valued and cultural values are openly embraced (see the United Methodist Church as an example). Consider a Baptist church in our state where the polity was essentially that a single pastor made all the decisions (the church grew under his quality as a speaker, struggled because he did not act above reproach, gave himself a pay raise and almost bankrupted the church).

I could go on, but there is no need. Some of you reading will have your own stories. And while I’m not naive enough to think that godly leadership plus a biblical structure (elder-led congregationalism) will solve all church tensions and end all church divisions, I do believe in the authority of the Bible and the supreme wisdom of the Bible’s Author. The biblical pattern for protecting the church’s spiritual health and mission appears to be a plurality of godly men serving as elders who are above reproach and seek the glory of Christ and the spread of the gospel.

In future posts, we’ll touch on why a plurality of elders is wise relating biblical polity to issues like the weight of pastoral ministry, elder accountability, and the church’s mission.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash