What’s the status of a congregational meeting and a congregational vote—especially when it comes to extending a call to a pastor?
In the Christian Reformed Church, the council is the governing body of the local church, so it is the group that makes decisions for the church, including nominating officebearers and calling and ordaining them to office. Congregational meetings and congregational votes are required by most churches’ articles of incorporation and by state or provincial laws for matters such as approving the annual budget and electing officebearers (which includes calling pastors). But in Christian Reformed polity, “although full consideration shall be given to the judgment expressed by the congregation, the authority for making and carrying out final decisions remains with the council as the governing body of the church, except in those matters stipulated otherwise in the articles of incorporation or by law” (Art. 37).
Questions often arise about what the council should do when the congregational vote is very close. A simple majority of the congregational vote gives the council warrant to move ahead on a recommendation. Reformed polity has a long history of majority votes based on discussions in deliberative assemblies that seek to understand how the Spirit of Christ is leading the church. Just as classis and synod do, the church council seeks to discern the Spirit’s guidance, and a simple majority is an indication of that discernment. The “simple majority rule” also avoids the “minority rule” that can result if more than a simple majority is required.
In some matters, a council might decide that a slim majority indicates the need for caution or even postponement of a decision. It is within the council’s power then not to move forward with a congregational decision. However, the council is also called by God and the church to lead. If a congregational vote is not an overwhelming majority, the council still must discern whether it believes this is the direction in which God is calling the church. It’s good to remember that regardless of the percentage of a congregational vote on a call, when the council extends that call it is presented as a unanimous call. Many pastors who receive a slim majority in a congregational vote go on to serve entire congregations very effectively.