Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The church meeting blues

I’m a member of a Baptist Church, which means that we are congregational in our governance. Last night we had our quarterly church members meeting.

Mostly it was dull – there were a couple of highlights, including feedback from our housegroups’ thinking about the direction for our church. But overall it was dull.

I can’t imagine that this is what Jesus intended his church to become.

My thinking was crystallised by one topic that was discussed at some length (the only topic that was discussed at all really). Without going into details – the deacons and pastor had made a decision which they were bringing to the meeting for endorsement. The rationale for the decision-making approach was the need to act speedily on this topic.

Nobody had a problem with the decision itself, but there were concerns expressed about the way the decision was made without reference to the church meeting. Those expressing their concerns were some of the more traditional members of our congregation – in fact, some of those with a long-standing Baptist background (unlike most of our members, including me).

So what? Well, this strikes me as an issue that needs to be carefully considered.

How do we equip our leadership team to make decisions, without constantly referring back to church meetings, and ensure that they remain accountable to the church for those decisions? I understand how difficult it is to serve in a leadership position in church (and other voluntary situations) – I’ve been there!

How do we deal with the concept of congregational governance as our church gets bigger and more complex?

But more fundamentally than any of these things – how do we have a conversation on these issues without people adopting defensive or antagonistic positions. I have a fair degree of sympathy with those who raised the issue, and also admire (to some extent) their courage in speaking up. I did not like some of the manner in which the concerns were raised. I was equally unimpressed by contributions on the other 'side' of the debate.

I was impressed by the graciousness and wisdom of the oldest person who spoke during the debate. I am saddened that this wasn’t reflected by the rest of us who took part.

The debate does need to continue – hopefully in a loving, listening and considerate manner.

Then at the end of the meeting the pastor announced that he’d received a message – during the meeting the son of our members had suddenly collapsed and died. May he rest in peace.

And may we learn to keep our issues in a sense of perspective.
PS - just before I published this I found a link to an article about leadership (thanks to Camel Crossing). It's not directly related to my comments above, but it provides some food for thought and given my interest in leadership, I may return to this in another post.


That Hideous Man said...

You helpfully drew the attention of the meeting to the underlying issues of substance and structure - and away from merely the 'presenting issue.' The structural issue - of which this discussion was but a symptom, is one which many chuches like ours are struggling with. Bill Slack of the Baptist Union of Scotland wrote recently:

"Baptists have often harboured mixed feelings about “leadership”. We’ve recognised the need for leadership in the local church but, with our commitment to congregational church government and suspicion of religious hierarchies, we’ve been loathe to effectively empower that leadership. While in no way diminishing their commitment to the church meeting, many growing, flourishing churches have found ways of releasing their leaders to lead! Of course, that doesn’t mean an uncritical acceptance of every proposal that is brought by leaders to the church. But it does mean that the congregation is willing to recognise the special role God entrusts to those whom He calls to leadership."

However, Stuart Blythe on his blog, "the word at the barricades" has recently been posting resolutely in defence of the traditional congregational form of government.

Until the church has got this underlying issue sorted there will inevitably be friction. Some sections are eager for stronger leadership (expressed quietly but persistently) and others vociferously resisting it.

Such agreement can only be reached with (i) a more mature discussion than we have so far managed(ii) an appeal to scripture not merely denominational tradition.

His Girl Friday said...

First of all, my condolences for the family. Sometimes occurrences such as these helps put things into perspective, as in what is really important with regard to 'life', and reduces the attitudes of 'I'm right, my way is the best/only way, etc'. As you mentioned, was the 'Church really supposed to be like this'?

When I first started with your post, it gave me a shudder, due to some of the 'church politics' experiences we've gone through, which has had an influence on us not belonging to a church at this time. Still, I wish the best to work things out, and hopefully people can remember, that after all, 'we' are all on the 'same team'.

HM made a good point in that rather than basing conduct on denominational tradition, discussion should be from scripture. I'll add my part, in that, servant leadership is a neat concept and I also think scripture based. I found this link intersting:

ER, I enjoyed the article on leadership and accountability...very informative; I've passed it on to those I think will appreciate it! :)

MilePost13 said...

we had our anual church conference (basically what we formally called "business meeting") this past Sunday night. only 15 people (outside of the pastors and their spouses) showed up. Everything was voted on unanimously. Those who didn't come trust our leadership...those who did come are the cheerleaders. :)

MilePost13 said...

and yes, we're a "baptist" church.