Los Alamos Christian Fellowship
This is a church visit report of sorts, but not the usual kind. I’ll explain below.
About twelve years ago I was living in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and looking for a church, and after visiting several churches in town, mostly mainline Protestant, I decided to take a look-in at the church that was meeting in a little room at the Pueblo Complex on Diamond Drive. I had nothing to go on apart from the fact that they had a small sign that they put out by the street when they were meeting. I even needed a couple of false starts to figure out when they were meeting.
When I finally caught up to them I was surprised to discover that they were actually a struggling (not to say dying) Brethren fellowship: three or four older couples, all retired, whose children had all left town, one younger couple with children who were on-again, off-again, and one younger couple with children who were steady (the dad was taking his turn as teaching elder) but who would soon leave for the local CMA church.
This was the first elder-led church I had ever visited, and I was impressed. I ended up not staying with them; I eventually found my way to Calvary Chapel, with its Moses Model of leadership. I stayed in contact with a couple of the men from LACF, met with them at their prayer breakfast for a while, etc. and they occasionally asked me questions about how we went about doing church at Calvary. At the time I didn’t pay much attention, partly because I was so thrilled with the teaching at Calvary, and partly because I didn’t really have a viable alternative.
Lately I’ve bumped into several local churches that have adopted some flavor of elder leadership, most of them apparently looking for a remedy to some of the excesses that can occur in churches where the head pastor isn’t accountable. I’m encouraged that some churches are looking at this problem and willing to make changes to address it. At the same time I’m taking a wait and see attitude: so far as I can tell there are no perfect churches and no perfect ways to organize a church; a system is only as good as the people who implement it; and we learn more about systems of governance when they face a crisis than we do under ordinary circumstances.
LACF had a handful of elders; by the time I met them almost all of the men in the church were elders, but it hadn’t always been that way. The elders made decisions together; I have no idea if they voted or if they did something else. They had a rotating position of teaching elder, and each of the elders took a turn teaching for I think a year. And finally, nobody was paid for serving as an elder, teaching or otherwise. I have no idea which of these are typical for their particular Brethren group (of which there are several), and which are accidents of their circumstances. They had no shortage of educated elders; they didn’t need much money to meet expenses; they were vanishingly small.
Regardless, this more or less served as my introduction to elder-led churches, and as always I’m tempted to take it as normative. There are others, of course, and at least one has become the model for a couple of local churches. About which, more later.