It is often helpful to review foundational beliefs with the purpose of understanding who we are and why we do what we do. With our church approaching a new church year (October 1) and with us soon meeting in the first church quarterly meeting of our new church year, it seems appropriate to review some of these foundational thoughts.
The first thought I will address is congregational polity. It is necessary to define some terms in order to fully understand Congregational Polity.
Polity is defined as a system for rule, governance, or order. Baptist churches traditionally, and by a near unanimous majority, hold to congregational polity. This means that the congregation, made up of members of the local church, are the authority of the church. Final decisions rest with church members. The church members may, and usually do, delegate the tasks of the church to various groups and leaders. These groups and leaders may include deacons, elders, trustees, various committees, the Pastor and other church staff.
The individuals serving within these groups and the church staff people, are entrusted with various responsibilities. The members of the committees are elected based upon their education, experience, wisdom, knowledge, and faithfulness to the church. Church members typically follow the recommendation(s) of the delegated groups or individuals, however, the full body reserves the final say on any issues before the church.
Other systems of church governance include Ecclesiastical Polity (Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, etc.) and Presbytery Polity (Presbyterians). Other faith groups practice Congregational Polity in addition to Baptists and not all Baptists practice Congregational Polity. Our church practices Congregational Polity.
Regular church business meetings are held to inform the congregation and to give the members the opportunity to ask questions and to express their preference (vote) in choices presented to them.
The process of decision making generally follows this order; the delegated group or individual considers a need of the church. That body, or person, either makes a decision that falls within their delegated area(s) of responsibility or they take the matter to the church for a decision. The group or individual's responsibilities and area of influence are given by the church. The church can remove that responsibility.
Typically the pastor of the church is consider ex officio for every committee. Ex officio is Latin meaning "from the office". It is because of the office of pastor that the Pastor is on committees. As an ex officio member the Pastor has all the rights and obligations of the board meetings or committee that they serve on. This includes the right to discuss, debate, make decisions, and vote.
In Congregational Polity any member, as an individual, may bring a matter to the floor (meeting) for consideration. The members may discuss and act on the recommendation or, as per parliamentary procedure, the meeting moderator may refer the matter to a committee for consideration.
Parliamentary procedures are used to maintain order in the meeting. A typical parliamentary procedure system used is Robert's Rules of Order.
In summary, the Pastor, a duly elected committee, or a member may bring a matter before the congregation. The congregation is the final authority on the matter brought by the person or group.