Like David in Psalm 133, we should celebrate unity in our churches and in our elder boards. And as Paul instructs in Ephesians 4:3, we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” So we should pray for unity. We should work to preserve the unity God’s Spirit has given us. Insisting on unanimity, however, can actually damage unity. Instead, let’s value trust more highly than agreement.
Unity is a wonderful thing, especially in leadership. How I pray that David’s description of unity would be true of the elders in my church and in your church. Unity that’s good and pleasant is the blessing of God!
But this raises an important question. In the interest of unity, should an eldership insist on unanimity before it acts? Wouldn’t it be a wonderful boost of confidence to your congregation to know that the elders only ever speak when they are of one mind?
Five Reasons to Not Insist on Unanimity
Let me give you five reasons why I’d discourage the rule of unanimity, and then finish with one brief caveat.
1. Unanimity isn’t the biblical pattern.
In 2 Corinthians 2:6, the church appears to have exercised church discipline by a “majority.” In Acts 1:26, the apostles determine Judas’ successor by casting lots. Does this settle the matter? Certainly not. However, if there were a strong biblical pattern of unanimity, we should pay it close attention. But no such pattern exists.
2. Unanimity can stifle dissent.
I remember in the years before I became a pastor, I worked with one company who insisted on unanimity in their product development decisions. One night over dinner with a group of R&D heads at large companies, I asked them what they thought of that practice. Did requiring unanimity protect the all-important minority viewpoint? Ironically, every one of them disagreed, insisting quite the opposite. When everyone in a group knows unanimity is required, people who disagree with the majority are actually less likely to speak up because they don’t want to get in the way. That can be true especially when the group trusts one another. Insisting on unanimity can lead to group-think.
3. Unanimity can discourage trust.
When I lose a vote on our elder board, I must then turn around and represent our decision to the congregation as my decision as well. Is that my conformist, people-pleasing tendency at work? No, it’s because I trust my fellow elders. On the other hand, insisting on unanimity removes the need for such trust.