The abbreviation “P.C.” has an almost universally negative connotation. We hear “P.C.” and we think “politically correct.” Being “P.C.” is synonymous with cultural capitulation, a kind of cowardice that refuses to call things what they are.
If that’s all the letters “P.C.” could stand for then we’d be right to suspect a “P.C. elder board” of unfaithfulness and ineffectiveness. But, thank God, there are other words for which “P.C.” can stand. And some of them actually help us define what a well-functioning eldership looks like. In general, I think we need “P.C.” elder teams. Here’s what I mean.
The first thing Paul mentions in his list of elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 is “desires to be an overseer.” He calls such desire “a noble thing.” There’s got to be the want-to in an elder’s heart. It’s that want-to or desire that germinates into personal commitment. We’ve all heard the adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Well, elders are horses. They’re the strong beasts of burdens that loyally carry, pull, dash and jump in service to the King and His people. Elders are noble steeds, war stallions for the church militant. But you can’t make them drink the waters of personal commitment. They have to want to. And once they want to, they’re unstoppable. Out of deep personal commitment to the calling they lead, learn, serve, pray, teach, sing, model, weep, rejoice, sacrifice, even die. You can’t keep them from the meetings of the church, the meetings of the elders, the special celebrations, the ordinary work days, the Lord’s table or baptism celebrations. They express their commitment in word and deed.
Healthy elderships call for such commitment. Elder teams specify precisely what they expect of one another and that becomes a floor for their ministry together. Without this floor of personal commitment elders sink into the hole of irregularity and unfaithfulness.
Principled commitments represent the theological and values-oriented perspectives of the elders. These are the foundational–sometimes unspoken–beliefs that guide worship, life, speech and behavior. These are the pre-conditions and presuppositions that define what’s possible, conceivable, worthy, and good–and simultaneously rule out things as unworthy, inconceivable, repugnant. Sometimes these prnicipled commitments get embodied in statements of faith, vision and mission statements, or a list of values. These principled commitments say to the elder, the church and the world, “This is what we believe and how we intend to live out our faith. These are inviolable, non-negotiable principles to which we dedicate ourselves.”
Healthy elderships clarify their first principles. They take time to examine the Bible and to discuss those values and beliefs that serve as the North Star in Christian witness. Once they lay these principles as a foundation, elder teams then take their stand on them. An unprincipled eldership will soon be an unruly eldership.
Finally, “P.C.” refers to “practical commitments” in a healthy eldership. These are the strategies, ministry approaches, processes and “how to’s” of a particular eldership and church. These practical commitments define how the eldership applies personal and principled commitments. How will they organize church services? How will they take in members? What process will be used for passing budgets or electing officers? Which missions opportunities will be taken on and how will missionaries be developed? Church life is full of practical, day-to-day decisions and processes that must be kept up. The elders need not implement all these things (in fact, getting too involved in day-to-day operation is a sign of poor health for an elder team), but they must ensure these processes and practices are consistent with their principles, lived out personally, and kept in good repair.
How These Things Fit Together
These three PCs have a particular relationship and can often signal health or dis-ease in an elder team.
As alluded to earlier, personal commitment is most foundational. Nothing good or lasting happens without personal commitment. If an elder or team lack personal commitment, chances are they won’t do the hard things of Christian ministry–at least not consistently. If personal commitment is absent then sacrifice will be absent, too. An elder may not give financially, attend meetings or services, or, worst of all, watch over the sheep entrusted to his care. In short, there’s no way for an elder to fulfill the call to faithfulness given in 1 Cor. 4:1-2 without demonstrating some personal commitment.
Some reading this will naturally think principled commitment should come first since that category includes theology. Surely an elder ought to hold to the church’s theology first? Let me suggest three reasons why personal commitment should initially take precedence over principled commitment. First, the Bible lists personal commitment first. From “desires to be an overseer” to all the character qualifications of 1 Tim. 3, we’re really reading the biography of a committed man–in his home, in relationships, in the church. Second, a church doesn’t want a situation where a man signs a statement of faith but isn’t really committed to it. The history of liberal denominations and churches often illustrates how disastrous such a practice is. Men who aren’t personally committed to the truth won’t uphold the church’s theology. Third, personally committed elders will also be teachable elders. They’ll be there to learn and grow. So even if you’re starting with a team that doesn’t see eye to eye on some things, godly personal commitment will enable fulfillment of Philippians 3:15-16.
Principled agreement is another phrase for “freedom.” Freedom isn’t created or maintained by saying to each man, “Live by your own rules or perspectives.” If each man is a king in his own eyes, then sooner or later someone will not only look to live by their own rule but to rule how others live. Preferences will be debated and sometimes forced on the group. There will be no plumbline to settle disputes. Each will be going their own way and sometimes battling or politicking to get others to follow. If these first principles are not settled, the underlying differences or uncertainty bubble up and pop. Elder teams will find it difficult to move on to practical matters of ministry as they repeatedly debate first principles or they may find their practical agreements hang by a thread because deeper principled confusion exists. But if the Bible and the church’s statement of faith are the unifying truth to which every elder is committed, and if they hold that agreement joyfully and deeply, it actually frees the eldership from the slavery of preference and tyranny of individualism. Their unity dispels suspicion. The shared principles or theology define and bind the team. With these first principles settled, men can move on to the practical matters of ministry.
In practical matters their freedom comes in surprising forms. One surprise will be the ability to disagree about practical matters without feeling personally attacked or opposed and without feeling as if the entire church may come to a halt or split. An eldership marked by personal commitment and principled commitment will not feel as if practical disagreements are high-stakes wars with winners and losers. They know each man’s dedication personally and to the ministry philosophy of the church. So they’re able to accept that the person disagreeing with them is filled with the Holy Spirit, wisdom and faith. They can receive from one another during discussions and debates because they perceive the other to be Christ’s gift to them personally and to the church (Eph. 4:8, 11). Commitment breeds trust. Trust enables freedom.
A “P.C.” eldership is a very good thing–if the “P.C.” stands for personal commitment, principled commitment, and practical commitment. Such an eldership is blessed with individual men whose personal desire leads to a broader group identity and a joyful freedom to work together. Is your eldership “P.C.”?