In October 2007, FCA Canada introduced an innovative leadership model – a nominated board of national elders to guide the Fellowship. Canadian elder Roger Armbruster discusses how this new structure is helping to advance FCA across Canada. 

As anyone can appreciate, until we really get to know one another relationally, there are always fears that a national board could lead to denominationalism. And yet there is a growing sense of cohesion and a desire for relational order that fosters connectedness, co-operation and interdependence, as well as mutual accountability, encouragement, understanding and spiritual support.

How We Got Here
The concept of having national elders did not happen abruptly or overnight. For quite a few years prior to the FCA Canada Convention in Regina, Saskatchewan in October 2007, seeds were planted at envisioning meetings and annual meetings. While holding to the New Testament premise of the local church being the primary decision-making agency, Paul Vallee and others made a case for trans-local church structure. They articulated that every local congregation needs to be part of something bigger than itself, and to be in relationship with a bigger picture.

Those who advocated a national eldership among our Canadian brothers and sisters were patient. They did not rush things; they were good listeners. Ministers were given ample opportunity to give their feedback, input, counsel and concerns. In this way, a growing trust emerged that this new structure was not something being pushed by a few people hungry for dominance. It became evident that the moving force behind this was a spirit of servant leadership that would aspire to facilitate inter-church teamwork, interdependence and partnership in a more co-operative manner.

How Do We Define Elder?
To us, “elders” are in fact “spiritual fathers” who provide a covering for those in the family who want to develop real and authentic relationship. We recognize that it is simply not possible for seven national elders to have an ongoing, personal relationship with each one of our  400-plus ministers and openly acknowledge that it comes down to the local church to build strong relationships with other local ministers and church planters they are in contact with on a regular basis.

Perhaps all this is a part of our historical and spiritual DNA. The main issue over why our Canadian Fellowship parted ways with the Independent Assemblies of God years ago was that of one-man control without checks and balances. (We do thank God that reconciliation took place between leaders of the IAOG and FCA Canada during the 2008 convention in Cornwall, Ontario.)

It is not our intention to convince people that other models are wrong and that we are right. Any one of these models, if not applied under the supremacy of Christ, can lead to dysfunction, whether it is one-man leadership, plural eldership, or rule by the members. However, where there is relationship and mutual respect, any one of these models can work successfully.

It can be an advantage, during crisis, transition or critical decision-making processes to have a team of mature leaders truly in submission to Christ, who can come alongside to assist during those times without undue pressure or burden being placed on any one individual. A corporate anointing is stronger and more powerful than an individual anointing, and has the potential to lead us all into greater maturity.

Working Together for Greater Results
Let me be clear that a national eldership does not mean we each have equal authority in every sphere of ministry in every region of the nation. We have different anointings, different giftings, different strengths, and different weaknesses. It is the love of Christ that constrains us to learn to use our strengths to cover others in an area of their weakness, and that they use their strengths to cover our weaknesses.

This also means that none of us gets our way all of the time. We are learning to defer to the other if we sense that a brother has a greater strength in an area than we have. Paul chided the Corinthians for polarizing around individual ministries such as himself, Apollos and Cephas. Each one had a sphere of ministry, but no one was complete without the other. Our calling is to complete, not to compete with one another.

We want, first and foremost, to communicate the spirit we are of, which is servant-leadership that serves and undergirds, rather than impositional leadership, which imposes and controls from the top down. Foundation-laying is an undergirding ministry that gets underneath, supports and builds from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

Other Benefits
This new leadership structure also enables us to operate as a “think tank” for long-standing issues and ideas that the Fellowship has debated. This is leading us toward new proposals, policy changes, and initiatives that seem to have some traction.

For example, we have been able to draft and present to the membership a statement of Minimum Standards for Ordination and Licensing. That has always been a local-church prerogative in our Fellowship, and the elders have no intention of changing it. But the apostle Paul did admonish Timothy to “not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim. 5:22). What does that mean, practically speaking? What should local churches look for in evaluating those who seem to have a future in ministry? To see what we prepared as guidance for the Fellowship, click here.

This is just one example of how we are corporately coming out of a “lone ranger” mentality of serving in isolation. Together, we elders seek God’s wisdom and find his direction. None of us get our way all of the time, but we generally come to a place of agreement.

The national elders meet together once a year for two to three days, where we can really share our hearts in depth. We also participate in a conference call every month to build and maintain a teamwork mentality.

As long as each elder recognizes that leadership equals servanthood, good things can happen. I believe our members do not see us as bypassing their input and point of view, but earnestly desiring to serve them, and to create a stronger foundation for future growth. This, we hope, will also provide a stronger shield against devastating enemy attacks.

In one of our elder meetings, we began a discussion on how to restore ministers who fall prey to various moral temptations, whether financial, sexual, or other. These are always difficult and painful situations. I must mention that when we began this discussion, we were not facing an immediate crisis. There was no “raging fire” in one of our churches demanding attention, but we knew that we needed to be prepared for such difficulties in the future.

We did quite a bit of research. We looked at the restoration policies of other organizations, such as the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. We collected various FCA statements that had been developed at the local level. It took us a year and a half before we finally emerged with a lengthy document that was presented to the Fellowship at the recent Toronto convention in Oct. 2011. We believe it will be a compass in times of storm when our churches desperately need it.

So while progress is not immediate or abrupt, we believe we are definitely making advances, and that our national eldership board is a tool to infuse greater vision and direction into the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies in Canada.

Maintaining Balance
Perhaps the hardest part of being a national elder is finding the balance of serving vs. ruling. Yet I think that we are also coming to learn that in the biblical sense of these words, and in the kingdom of God, the two are not necessarily in conflict.

“Behold, the LORD God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a Shepherd. He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young” (Isaiah 40:10-11 italics added).

In this passage, there is a close connection between a shepherd feeding his flock, and ruling. The connotation of ruling is inside a love relationship. In the kingdom of God, we must not rule by force. We must rule by loving and by feeding. We must lead by example, not by driving or harassing the sheep to cause them to scatter.

Clearly, ruling has to do with feeding, loving, tending, serving, and only when that relationship is solid, and built on a foundation of deep trust, will the corrective or rebuking aspect have much permanent effect. So we are all growing in this, and learning to build trust in relationship.

It seems that the apostle Peter was both a local elder and, as an apostle–a national elder, if you will. He wrote: “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. Feed the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (I Peter 5:1-4 italics added).

Ruling and serving are two sides of one coin. They are not contradictory, but complementary. We are trying to fully respect the decision-making of each church congregation, and yet provide leadership for the whole. It is impossible to please all of the people all of the time, but we can obtain consensus when we are patient, respectful, practice communication and seek God’s perfect will.

Looking Ahead
We believe we now have a stronger model of working together, not only as a leadership team, but through regional meetings and the day-long envisioning meeting held before each National Convention, which allows for greater input and a contribution from our entire Fellowship in addressing critical areas and working together toward co-operative strategies.

We are building strong relationships based on trust. We are getting things done that have only been talked about for many years. We have a way to accomplish things between conventions, not just when we are all in one city together.

This does not mean that we always make the right decision the first time. But we learn, and truly want to be more relational. We seek change that comes from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.

Some of the plans we are currently working on are:

  • a national plan for church planting
  • enhanced leadership development
  • a cohesive convention planning model

In the area of leadership development, we are looking at ways to support our existing leaders through training at the annual convention, while also looking at periodic times during the year to enrich our pastoral leaders.

We are also looking at ways to strengthen and train both emerging vocational and local-church leaders. We are even looking at enhancing our adult educational programs in our churches with the co-operation of our affiliated Bible colleges.

As we seek to take a humble posture and to act upon whatever God is saying, we sense that we are at a unique juncture in our Fellowship history. Our attitude is “Hats off to the past!” but “Coats off to the future!” While the future holds dangers, it also holds unprecedented opportunities to advance the Kingdom. We want a wineskin that is strong enough and yet flexible enough to seize divine opportunities and to prayerfully make wise choices to take us wherever God would have us to go.

Roger Armbruster is the head of Canada Awakening Ministries, based in Niverville, Manitoba, and serves as an FCA national elder.

One thought on “Implementing Innovative Leadership

  1. As a member of FCA Canada, I appreciate the openness, honesty and transparency of the Canadian leadership. It easily fosters two-way conversation and opens the way to learning, growing and changing together to meet the challenges and changes before us.

    I think this model works because it’s highly relational. We constantly hear the word “fellowship” being emphasized in Fellowship of Christian Assemblies in Canada. Without that focus, FCA would just become about the “business” of ministry, rather than the people.

    I see this leadership structure like a triangle, but inverted, with the elders at the bottom, providing the structure and support for pastors and leaders to grow personally and corporately. Glen Forsberg, the Canadian Chairman commented at the FCA Convention, “We’re all knit together like one big family.” That is what I believe will empower FCA in Canada and beyond not only to grow, but to meet future challenges together.

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