In Acts 20:28 Paul urges the Ephesian elders to Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. It is the Holy Spirit who raises up overseers to watch over His people. These men are given to the church so that the church might be cared for and so as to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Eph. 4:12).
Overseers have a responsibility to see people released into service. Elders are to serve the people by leading the church forward under God. Some churches become stifled by all the decision-making being undertaken by all the church. This seems to make the church inefficient. Part of the responsibility of leaders is to shoulder responsibility for decision-making so that the church is released for growth in the Lord and service of the Lord.
However, this does not mean that elders should have an autocratic spirit. In fact such a spirit is very wrong. Paul tells the Christians in Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 5:12b to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. This obviously refers to the elders and indicates that they are not to domineer over the church, but to be among the people.
The implication of this is that the leaders are to be aware of how the sheep are thinking and what their attitudes are to certain issues in the church. Whenever, any issue comes up (and before issues come up!) the elders should be consulting the church. They should be moving around the church and asking what people think about this and that. This is all about having interaction with the fellowship. It is in fact, all about caring for the sheep which Paul urged the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28 to do.
It is also part of discerning what the Holy Spirit is doing in the church. How is the Spirit using His Word forming lives and attitudes? Consultation and discussion with the believers will reveal this. So consultation by elders with the church is absolutely vital in a healthy church. In exercising such a listening ministry the shepherd is encouraging the sheep to know that they matter in the fellowship.
As a final note consultation will vary according to issue to issue. In some specialist matters like a building issue it may be just a few who need to be consulted. It will also vary according to the size of the issue. Big issues self-evidently, to require more consultation. And some times it may require a meeting to be arranged. Surveys can also be useful when undertaking consultation. The method will vary, but it must be done.
So leaders must consult. And they must consult sensitively and attentively. The people should not expect for you to do everything they say, but they should know that they have been heard.
(This post follows-on from my post of June 20th about Mrs May and Leadership – see here)