Has the Church of the Nazarene (CotN) been choosing General Superintendents (GS) all wrong? The current way makes perfect sense. Duly elected General Assembly delegates vote (if they get a visa and are in Indianapolis for the election) for any ordained elder between the ages of 35 and 68. It seems downright democratic the way GSs are chosen. But is it the best way to govern a church? Is it truly democratic? Is it Biblical?
Questions rise each presidential election cycle as people wonder if the nation’s best and brightest two people out of the 330 million citizens are on the ballot? Could Nazarenes wonder if our democratic system produces the best and brightest too?
This new method of selecting a GS is fundamentally biblical, albeit uses a biblical model that has been rejected probably since Luke put it to writing. My reference is the selection of Mathias as the apostle to replace Judas. If you will recall, in Acts 1, the disciples gathered, prayed, narrowed their choices to two individuals and then in a purely undemocratic way, cast lots to see who should be apostle #12. Mathias was the lucky winner. There is no evidence that the early church used this method for choosing leaders again (there is also no Biblical evidence of elections either). Before scoffing, at the foolishness of the method, maybe we should rethink it.
General Superintendent Powerball is putting all qualified candidates in a hat (granted it would need to be a really, really big hat) and drawing out six random names. The GS candidates would be any elder within the age requirements who is willing to serve the church. Any elder? That’s right. Surely there are plenty of Holy Spirit-filled men and women worthy to fill such a role. This random selection method would not be limited to regional directors, college presidents or prominent pastors who are favored in the current system, but every eligible elder could put their name in the hat. Picking six random names would eliminate the “popularity contest” feel of the election of a GS. Small church pastors, minority pastors, those ordained elders serving in remote locations, and all elders who don’t have a chance in our current system would be given an equal opportunity. No more ballot after time-consuming-ballot at General Assembly. Put the elders’ names in a hat, have the General Assembly pray and then pick out six names. The whole process would take ten minutes. It’s General Superintendent Powerball.
Much more than a time saver, General Superintendent Powerball would bring a new, diverse committee every four years. It would essentially limit the term of a General Superintendent to one four-year appointment (the odds that the same person being chosen in consecutive General Assemblies would be very slim). General Superintendent Powerball could bring a new perspective to the church. No politics in the process. No popularity contests. No gossip and whispers of who might be elected. No feelings of entitlement would exist since the selection is for only one term. Moreover, once randomly selected, our current system of the necessity of a unanimous agreement of the BGS for major decisions would neutralize a possible rogue or completely unqualified person serving in this role. (finally, a good reason for the current committee leadership structure). The General Board and General Assembly would still set policy and give direction.
Besides it’s biblical roots, it isn’t a totally novel idea. Malcolm Gladwell, in his Revisionist History Podcast (Season 5, episode 3. Hear it here) interviewed Adam Cronkite who is a co-founder of a non-profit organization called Democracy in Practice. The organization believes lotteries are the most democratic method of choosing leaders. Lotteries give an equal opportunity for everyone to participate; empowers those who under normal circumstances would not have a meaningful voice; and rotates leadership. Those three qualities would be worthy goals for the BGS.
“A General Superintendent Powerball would not bring the most qualified leaders to this role,” someone from 17001 Prairie Star Parkway (home of the Global Ministry Center of the CotN) might grumble.
To that worry, I ask two questions:
1) How do you know those chosen would not be qualified?
There are plenty of good, holy-spirit filled, well-qualified leaders in anonymous places who would prayerfully and wonderfully serve.
2) Is a strong “leader” needed?
Strong leaders have been elected. The current BGS are all leaders who have risen in the church ranks and have been in positions where the “buck stopped with them.” But that’s not conducive to the BGS system of a ruling-by-a-committee-of-six. Can a “the-buck-stops-here” leader thrive in a collaborative environment like the BGS? Or should the CotN choose individuals who work well in groups and who best understand collaboration? Truth be told, the CotN needs both leaders and collaborators. Again, who is to say that such a leader/collaborator would not be chosen in a random selection process?
Someone else might descent to the General Superintendent Powerball notion by saying, “We could get six GSs who don’t speak English and would need a translator wherever they went.”
To that objection I say, “Yup. It would complicate things, no doubt.” Then, I would ask, “Are we truly committed to being an international church or not? I’ve read and re-read the manual and the ability to speak English does not seem to be a requirement. Maybe a rural pastor faithfully serving in remote Bangladesh could bring a perspective to the BGS than has never been brought forth. Maybe a modern urban pastor in post-Christian Denmark could likewise bring an assessment not often seen in the hallowed halls of the GMC.”
Do I seriously think General Superintendent Powerball system will happen anytime soon? No.
Do I think we need to rethink who and how we pick leaders? Yes.
Do I think we need to redefine the role of General Superintendent? Yes.
Do I think term limits should be in place for General Superintendent? Yes.
Do I think we need to rethink the value of a singular one-term General Superintendent? Most definitely, yes.
Think about it. If nothing else, General Superintendent Powerball would shake things up (literally) in our 114 year old denomination.