Tuesday, March 23, 2010


President Obama will sign his health care bill into law today.  This major bill that will impact the lives of every person living in the United States passed by three votes.  The President and the House Speaker are being hailed by some within their party of being great leaders who worked tirelessly to get this bill passed.  I disagree.

This posting is not about the health care bill itself.  That is for the political bloggers to address, and this is not a political blog.  While I have strong feelings about the health care bill that was passed, this is not the blog to address those.  Here I am more concerned with the process.

As a pastor I would never accept a vote that would make significant changes in the life of our church that was only approved by such a slim margin. Contrary to what some people think, the will of God is not always found in a 51% majority vote.  The story of the 12 spies who went into the Promised Land should settle that issue.  This was a major change to our nation that will result in billions of dollars of new taxes being imposed on Americans, and it passed by three votes despite a slim majority of Americans opposing the bill.  How did it pass?  According to many political observers this bill passed because of back room political deals with individual Congressmen who received various incentives for their votes.  If you or I did this it would be called bribery, but when it's done at the highest levels of government it's called political maneuvering.  We would be arrested; they are touted as great leaders.  In addition there was supposedly a lot of arm-twisting which I would consider to be threats made against some of who opposed the bill.

Can you imagine a change being recommended at your next church business meeting that required you as the pastor to threaten people or to buy people's votes to get passed?  "If you vote against this I'll make sure you never sing in the choir again."  "If you vote yes on this proposal I'll see that your Sunday school class gets all new chairs to sit in."  If we even tried to do something like that we would be ran out of our churches within the month, and we should be.

A number of years ago the church I pastored was not in agreement about an issue that had significant financial consequences for the pastor (me).  The discussion at the business meeting was lively, and the measure passed by a solid majority but with two signficant families in our small church voting against it.  Later that week I learned they were not happy with the vote, so I visited them.  They shared their concerns, which were more procedural than financial.  They felt the issue had not been properly presented and discussed before voting on an issue that would have a long-term impact on the church.  I discussed my feeling about the issue and tried as best as I could to answer their questions and concerns.  After our meeting I contacted our treasurer and asked him to not make the changes until this was discussed at our next quarterly business meeting.  Three months later the question was asked why the changes had not yet been made, and I responded that I wanted a second vote on the matter before it was enacted.  I certainly had a big stake in the outcome of the vote, but it was not worth it to me to divide the church, and that was what was happening.  Because the vote did impact me financially, I said what I needed to say and went home before the vote was taken.  Later that evening I received a call saying it had passed unamiously with members of the original families who opposed it making and seconding the motion to approve it this time.

Leadership is not forcing something through with back-room deals and arm-twisting to try to squeeze out enough votes to get something passed.  Leadership is presenting large visions and making the case so strongly that this is the direction that the organization needs to go that people can't help but get on board. With polls showing a majority of Americans opposed to this bill it is obvious that the case was not made with the public.  No, you often won't get 100% approval for anything, but a three vote margin should be proof enough that this change does not have wide-spread ownership, especially if it required questionable practices to get those votes.

Pastors and church leaders should not consider this to be the model of leadership you want to adopt.  Pastoral leadership works best when done as a servant-leader.  We aren't called to force things upon our churches they don't want.  We are called to share vision and direction and then to create a consensus that we need to move to fulfill that vision.  Leadership doesn't leave half the congregation behind as we move forward without them.

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