In his book, The Baptist Way, Stan Norman countered several objections to congregationalism. One of those objections—the idea that congregational decision-making is not efficient—Norman countered by asking his readers to consider whether the slower, more complicated process of congregational decision-making might be more effective in making disciples, albeit less efficient in making decisions. By prompting the members of the congregation to address and struggle with seeking out God's will for the congregation, aren't pastors of congregationalist churches leading their congregations to do something substantive, spiritual, and important. Couldn't the model of seeking God's will as a congregation become rehearsal for a skill that these congregation members could transfer to their careers, their families, and their personal lives?
I agree that many business meetings do not accomplish that goal, but the best ones do. I agree that this pragmatic hope, in and of itself, is no good rationale upon which to build a system of congregational church polity, since the polity of churches ought to be built upon the foundation of the New Testament. But I believe that congregationalism does have a New Testament foundation (as does Norman), and I see no reason why a completely pragmatic objection to congregationalism should not be answered, after a biblical rationale has first been supplied, with a pragmatic reply.
Greater efficiency simply does not always lead to greater effectiveness.
God did not take the shortest, most efficient route to get us to the gospel. There's the garden. There's the flood. There's the promise. There's the law. There are the prophets, and the kings, and the exiles, and the returning remnant. Centuries passed while God patiently prepared the world for the gospel.
Jesus did not take the shortest, most efficient route to get to the cross. He came as a baby. For thirty years He did nothing but live among the people. Upon having begun His ministry, He preached and worked miracles for three years before going to the cross. He deliberately delayed His confrontation in Jerusalem. He zigzagged across the Levant, disciples in tow, preparing them for the cross with patience and longsuffering.
Phillip's evangelistic tour was so haphazard that the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit was necessary to get him from point A to point B. Paul's missionary journeys were no model of efficiency. I can find no New Testament church praised for its efficiency. Efficiency simply doesn't rank highly as a New Testament virtue.
Of course, INefficiency is no New Testament virtue either. The Bible doesn't take a pro- or con- position on the question of efficiency; rather, it points us to something other than efficiency. We are to seek gospel effectiveness in people's lives, whether it is efficient or not to do so.
A Simple Example
I've been thinking about this as I've mulled over my schedule for the coming week. FBC Farmersville has become involved in an effort to plant a Southern Baptist church in Montana. A couple of months ago, as I was meeting with our Missions Committee and as we were deciding to give an initial monetary grant to this church, I mentioned that I would need to being to shop for airline tickets to travel to Montana and to meet with the church planter and with the supervising pastor. One of my committee members said, "You don't have to do that. I'll take you up there."
This church member is one of my deacons. He's among the more faithful soul-winners in my congregation. He loves missions and has been the leader of several of our mission trips in the past. He's also an entrepreneur with an earth-moving business and a trucking company. He proposed to bid for a load moving in the general direction of Montana on a week that I could go up there. He would take me to Montana in his eighteen-wheeler. I said, "Sure thing!"
I don't have a CB handle yet, so if any of you have any ideas…
The most efficient way to travel to Montana is to fly United (since I'm not packing any guitars), but I think that it is more effective for me to go by eighteen-wheeler. I will get to spend sixty hours this week with one of the key leaders in my church in a confined space. I will get first-hand exposure to the demands of his job and the life that he leads during the week. We will have time to pray together. We will study God's word together. We will have time to laugh and to enjoy one another's company. He will experience his pastor with a five-o'clock shadow and smelling a bit gamy after a couple of days in the truck.
When I get to Montana, I won't be meeting there by myself. I will have a key leader in my congregation who will have experienced this opportunity and the people involved for himself. An opportunity is there for this Christian to feel God placing a burden upon his own heart for the lost people of Montana, and from past experience, I know that if God places such a burden on his heart, this believer will act upon it. I think that's worth four days worth of driving.
Indeed, I think it is worth more than that. In anticipation of the trip, I went to the Texas DPS and sat for the exams for my own Commercial Driver's License. Although I'm woefully inexperienced and expect him to perform the vast preponderance of the driving, I'm now able to help out just a little bit on my own. Like tent-making Paul, I can do a little bit myself to contribute to the journey.
As a wonderful bonus, the load that we've located is going to help people. We're moving an oversized excavator from one disaster-relief location (Joplin, MO) to another disaster-relief location (Minot, ND). Our noble labor will help people in need.
I'm finding it hard to imagine a LESS efficient way to go to Montana (although I suppose I might have hitchhiked). It's an inefficient route, an inefficient process for me (getting the CDL), an inefficient speed of travel, and perhaps an inefficient voyage to begin with (we might have web-conferenced). But I believe that this is the most effective way that I can travel this week and interact with people for the sake of the gospel. I want to be the kind of pastor who takes off his green eyeshade from time to time and who stays on his knees. I want to follow God's leadership and take God-given opportunities even when they may not make perfect sense to me.
Because ultimately, effectiveness in ministry comes more from following than it does from leading.