On The Selectorate In The Church Of God During The Modern Era

If we define the selectorate as those people who are able to choose the leaders of institutions and governments, and whose opinion actually matters in the operation of those institutions, we will find that the history of the modern era of the Church of God (going back at least to the late 1920’s and early 1930’s) shows a wide range when it comes to the identity of the selectorate of the various Church of God groups that have existed since then.  Although, formally, many of these organizations had a form of government that had one-man rule, in practice all of these organizations have and continue to depend on at least a small group of people who provide key logistical and administrative support and whose opinion and judgment matters and whose loyalty is vitally important for the preservation of the various organizations that have existed.  A more detailed analysis of the selectorate, to determine its precise size, would require information that is highly confidential to all of the organizations of the Church of God.  That said, at least general patterns can be observed that can contrast the larger selectorate that some organizations have and the smaller selectorates that others have, and the consequences of this that have been observed throughout the last few decades of the history of the Church of God.

There has long been among the membership of the Churches of God a vague to intense unease with the gulf that has existed between those who are considered a part of the body of Christ, namely all baptized members in good standing, and those who are considered to be members of the organizations and corporations themselves.  For example, the only people in the Worldwide Church of God who were considered to be members of the corporation were those few people who were a part of the board, and if we define the selectorate a bit more broadly, we will see that those who were in charge of ministerial affairs or other important departments were clearly part of the selectorate, but that even ordinary ministers were not.  In the United Church of God, the selectorate consists of both paid ministers and unpaid elders who are eligible to vote on balloting measures at the annual General Conference of Elders.  In some smaller organizations, the selectorate may consist of the person in charge and his immediate group of assistants and inner circle as well as any vitally important tithepayers whose support is vital to provide the logistics of proclaiming the Gospel and paying the salaries of the ministry.  Furthermore, the selectorate of the organization as a whole is likely to be smaller than the selectorate of a local congregation, which will include not only the pastor and other elders but also deacons and those who pay tithes, offer generously, and serve the congregation in various ways that keep the congregation going and allow it to perform various local activities.

How has the selectorate changed over time?  During the period of Worldwide Church of God, the selectorate of those whose opinion mattered in the running of the organization was quite small, even though the population of baptized members was quite high.  Even those who were pastors and elders had no particular importance when it came to the decisions that were made at headquarters in terms of who was ordained as an evangelist and who was put in charge of the important departments in Pasadena, even if they were the authority figures that members dealt with on a local basis.  The scattering of the membership, beginning in 1973, increasing after 1986, and exploding dramatically after 1995, naturally increased the selectorate of the Churches of God as a whole by making a lot of people’s opinions far more important than previously.  The various organizations of the Church of God have not always been able to handle this increase in the size of the selectorate with a great deal of skill and success, as in many cases old ways of thinking have blinded the people in charge to the changed reality of the situation and the desirability of changing one’s approach to successfully deal with that reality.  For example, the ineptitude of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Worldwide administration in handling discontent with doctrinal change pushed form above led to the growth of a variety of organizations headed by those who saw themselves as being more qualified to lead than the small group actually in charge, and the intensification of those changes in 1995 led to the growth of organizations (like the United Church of God) which had a far more open selectorate than had been the case before as a way of seeking a more consensus-based government that would have the trust of at least its top congregational leaders that there would be doctrinal stability and concern for the well-being of local congregations that was not always the case during the history of the Worldwide Church of God.  Even hierarchical organizations like Global (afterwards Living) Church of God felt it necessary to establish more egalitarian councils and a larger selectorate in order to appeal to a more informed group of members as well as local church elders and ministers who demanded (and received) a greater degree of influence within the Church of God organizations as a whole.

The effects of this have been decidedly mixed.  The increase of the selectorate in individual organizations has not decreased the tendencies towards separation and division that have only increased within the Church of God as a whole since the 1970’s [1].  Lamentably, the increase of the number of people whose opinion has mattered and whose support has been necessary for the smooth operation of church organizations as well as local congregations throughout the Church of God as a whole has not in any way made that operation more smooth.  In many cases, though not in all, the change in reality has not always been accompanied by a change in rhetoric and understanding.  Even though a great many more people matter to the operation of a lot of smaller organizations and congregations than was the case in larger and far more centralized ones, in many cases there is still a tendency to overemphasize the power and status of the leader in charge or the privileged few around that leader and a marked ignorance on the part of many leaders of organizations and within congregations of the need to mobilize the support of the larger body of people within the selectorate of the contemporary Churches of God.  When the feelings and opinions of more people matter, those in positions of authority are forced to either become more skilled at persuasion than commanding, and motivation than sanctioning and punishing, or to suffer the consequences of division and departure of key members of the selectorate whose tasks must then be performed by other people who then enter the selectorate themselves and who then present the same need for persuasion and motivation in order to keep things going.  All too often organizations and congregations have suffered the consequence of heavy-handedness from those who did not realize that times have changed and that people will not permit themselves to be governed by a heavy hand as was the case in times before.  Alternatively, congregations have also suffered from a recognition on the part of many members of the increasing weakness of authorities to expand their own belief in themselves as spiritual authorities that has led to proliferating diversity in doctrinal understanding.  How a consensus can be built that would allow for unity to trump division remains unclear at present, but the need for such a consensus is obvious wherever one looks in the Church of God as a whole.

[1] See, for example:



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2 Responses to On The Selectorate In The Church Of God During The Modern Era

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    The huge split in 1995 had unintended repercussions. God provided ministers to the flock who fled their errant shepherds, but they became hesitant with their trust, skittish, opinionated, and more reliant on their own judgment. They also became less willing to tolerate heavy-handed authority–or authority figures, period. It has been difficult for the ministry to deal with this change. People who rejected heresy have learned not to automatically accept what is said and they take the example of the Bereans seriously, but the line between questioning and challenging is not clear to many.

    We are all now in training to become ministers. What is occurring brings congregations to the point of upheaval for a reason. Perhaps it is for the purpose of giving others the opportunity to gain supervisory experience. We all have to learn what not to do as well as the things that we should. These temporary schisms will be healed, but I hate the cost. Sometimes we have to bear the cruelty of being unjustly ruled in order to be a just ruler. In the Kingdom to come, the persecuted will not become the persecutor. We have to learn to rule ourselves before we can rule anyone else.

    • Yes, we have to learn to rule ourselves before we can rule others, and we have to be in places and situations where we can learn self-restraint and self-command. To be sure, all of these changes are providential, but they are certainly not easy. The line between proper questioning and challenging is not an easy one to determine, but no line is easy to demarcate when it comes to human beings who struggle with self-deception and giving others the benefit of the doubt.

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