Throughout 2022, I led our church staff and elders through an intentional process of ensuring our positions on several topics and cultural issues were documented for the sake of consistency and clarity. We already had a statement of faith that captures the core doctrines of our church, a beautiful statement that originated with John Stott, my predecessor’s mentor and a pastor/scholar who has deeply influenced me. The goal was not to replace or improve on that statement of faith, but to show how our statement of faith informs how we view sexuality, gender, the image of God, marriage and divorce, political engagement, etc. Over the course of the year, the process unfolded like this:
- We asked a pastor to serve as the initial author of each paper based on a framework.
- We contracted with a scholar/professor to serve as a coach and first reader.
- Each pastor presented the first draft of the paper to all our pastors.
- We went on a retreat as Directional Elders to review the position papers.
- Each pastor took feedback and made appropriate changes.
- We presented each paper to our whole staff.
- We presented the papers to our Shepherding Elders.
Going through the process of developing position papers increased our clarity, confidence, compassion, and consistency.
Position papers are more important today than they were when I first entered ministry (a time when a statement of faith seemed to be sufficient). Today some of the historical positions of the Church are viewed as more and more archaic, new challenges have emerged, and new understandings of terms have entered our cultural landscape. For example, when I first began serving in local church ministry, it seemed most people understood the phrase “biblical definition of marriage” to mean marriage between a man and a woman. That understanding is no longer the case, so more specificity and explanation are required than merely a few phrases in a statement of faith.
Spending time studying the Scripture, reading additional resources, and discussing God’s view on different topics increased our team’s confidence in the historic positions we confidently yet graciously hold. Jesus is full of grace and truth, and His Word is full of grace and truth. God is gracious and good, so His breathed Word is gracious and good for us. We must not apologize or be ashamed of what is good and of what He has declared.
We must hold to our positions with conviction, and we must pastor people with compassion. Both are important. Behind every “position” are real people God created and loves. People Jesus died for. Our role is to hold tightly to the faith delivered to the saints while also having mercy for those who waver and those who have struggles.
Going through this process increased our consistency in our responses to questions people ask, to struggles people have, and to how we speak with both grace and truth. One weekend I taught about gender, and the following Wednesday night I sat in our high school gathering with high school students as our High School Pastor taught on gender. The position paper we developed was not the content for my sermon or the talk our high students heard, it was the source document (think preachers using the same commentary as they study) establishing harmony between the two messages.