Aug. 8, 2017 | by Brian Thorstad

I’m not talking about Elder Bob, or Deacon Robert or Youth Guy Robbie, I’m referring to the ubiquitous Robert’s Rules of Order.

No offense is intended to Henry Martyn Robert either. The U.S. Army Major meant well when he published his Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies in 1876. Robert was frustrated that there was no universal standard for the practice of parliamentary procedure in the clubs, associations, professional societies, trade unions, school boards and churchesof the United States.

Admittedly, Robert’s Rules of Order (as the book came to be called) was an adaptation of secular governmental practices.  That doesn’t make it wrong, but should give us pause before adopting it wholesale for church use.   

Personally, I have no issue with the use of Robert’s Rulesoutside the church. But like gambling, cigars, livestock and hay bales, I think it should stay outside the doors of our churches. Here’s why:

1. Robert’s rules are not consistent with the New Testament leadership pattern. I realize that the advocates of every variety of church government have their proof texts to support their positions.

One can point to passages that look like Episcopalian(top down) church government, Congregational(democratic or bottom up) church government and Presbyterian(oligarchical or council of elders) church government. 

What you will not find is any passage wherein a generic member of a congregation can stand up at a meeting, make a motion which is in flagrant opposition to the will of the God-appointed leaders, and have it voted on after a few minutes of discussion. But consistently following Robert’s Rules (which most churches don’t) makes this a possibility.

2. Robert’s rules are not consistent with a Biblical philosophy of leadership. The New Testament leadership pattern, referred to above, is congruous with the whole of the Scriptures.

God chooses leaders. He equips them for the task set before them. He authenticates them in the eyes of men. He then, consistently – Old Testament and New Testament – calls upon followers to follow their God-ordained leaders.

Passages such as 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15 and Hebrews 13:7 and 17 are clear: good followers (just as important to a church as good leaders) respect, obey, follow and follow the example of their carefully chosen leaders. They seek to make the ministries of their leaders a blessing, not a curse.

However, Robert’s Rulesallow followers to ignore, outvote, repudiate or overpower their God-ordained leaders. It’s OK with Robert; it’s not OK with God. This never has been, and still isn’t.

3. Robert’s rules open the door for ungodly, rebellious behaviors. I meet rough-edged church members from time to time who epitomize the American (not Christian) fascination with rebellion, disrespect and arrogance. They are proud of their life histories of defiance and the resulting punishments they’ve received and drag their life-patterns right into the church with them. These dear folks need to be loved and discipled (taught how to obey) the meek (willing to not get his way) Son of God, who tells us to submit, with faith in God, to our God-chosen leaders.

In the Scriptures, leaders lead and followers follow. The followers who don’t follow are called rebels—and that is nota flattering term in the Bible. Those who publicly defy their leaders are swallowed up by the ground, struck down, turned into lepers and bitten by snakes. 

I’d never suggest that we make such special effects happen of course, but we do need to warn God’s people with these stories, and we don’t need to encourage them to do wrong by handing them copies of Robert’s Rules.

Photo source: unsplash


Topics: Leadership, Ministry



Brian Thorstad

Brian Thorstad is a Redevelopment Transitional Pastor. He is the author of Heaven Help Our Church! (A Survival Guide for Christians in Troubled Churches) and Redevelopment: Transitional Pastoring That Transforms Churches.

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