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Correspondence in February

Re: Church Meeting: time to be scrapped or time for a radical change?

Many thanks for this article which is much needed at this time as a challenge to us to see if there is a better way of doing Baptist Church. I have also enjoyed some excellent meetings where the Lord moved prophetically and some awful ones where there was more concern over internal niceties than mission.

I also feel that church meetings favour those who think and speak at the same time and tend to bypass those who need time to think or who would find speaking up in a crowd difficult.
Paul Rhodes


Great article, it's time to put some serious thought into Church meetings as the agendas are often set by the pastors, who lead them and often aren't skilled at chairing these meetings, giving little time for discussion and discernment just a rubber stamp of the pastors thoughts and plans.

If we believe in all member ministry and the church meeting is the place to discern God's will we need to create a forum cohesive to prayer, discussion and discernment rather than a download of the pastor’s thoughts!
Martyn Strong


Concerning pastors chairing the church meetings: in the UK parliament, and local councils, and in larger public companies, the normal practice is to have an independent chairman whose job is to drive the discussion, whilst the "chief executive" presents the management's proposed policy.
In church meetings sometimes the pastor declares that there will be no discussion of an issue - especially if there are questions about his actions or those of one or more deacons. Would church meetings benefit if, in addition to deacons, we elected a church meeting chairman?
Jeff Evans


So maybe I'm being naive here.
Isn't the church meeting supposed to be where the people of God prayerfully discuss things and through its number discern the will of the Holy Spirit over church matters both temporal and physical in unity?

Isn't it to give every member a say as a priesthood of believers?
Isn't it to challenge and encourage ideas and aspirations?
Isn't it to deal with everyday life?

Isn't it about joining as one to the will and heartbeat of God?
Surely the agenda is no great chore, isn't it simply about identifying both the physical and spiritual things that the church needs to deal with on a day to day basis in order to prayerfully discuss them? Isn't it about hopes and vision and dreams?

Nothing that gets discussed should be new to the members if the servants of the church have been communicating with the congregation effectively?
Isn't most disagreement about lacking to communicate properly or actually articulating the need for something effectively enough to secure a voting majority?

I seem to be sensing in a number of threads I have read on this subject that the changes in church meetings is more about frustrates leaders not getting their way more than accepting that maybe, just maybe, as good as a plan sounds, it may just be that Jesus doesn't want it to go ahead.

So what causes the tension...someone wants something but can't get their way for good or bad. And ... sometimes a starting position were we like to suggest a leader is nearly always perceived as speaking the will of God already and it is the congregation that is the hang up if they say no.
Are disagreements possible, of course.

Will there be human spirit occasionally coming to the fore rather than God's spirit, possibly.
But even Paul noted that there will be disagreements which were necessary to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying.
Could there be times that the church meeting totally get it wrong? Yes, but even in that situation God is able to work through our failure to bring about his sovereign will if he so desires. Sometimes he simply uses our failures to mature and refine us.

But what's the alternate?

Creating super Christians that alone are capable of listening to God? Silencing the voice of any dissenting Christian because they are not of the select decision making group? Creating a two tier system of believers? What about simply making one person the voice piece? Let's have our own pope in each church. No discussion about doctrine, no discussion about church direction.

No...I am totally against moving away from the church meeting.
It is the ears of the church, it is a guard against elitism and holds everyone to account whether minister or brand new Christian.
So scrap it....no I don't think so.
Radically change it? Into what? What are you after? Slicker decisions? Then communicate better. More dynamic congregations...then communicate better.

Bottom line.. do we need to change anything or do the people that want to influence things simply need to communicate better rather that taking it for granted people should blindly follow? And be prepared to accept if the church under the will of the Holy Spirit says no to a particular thing for a season or maybe longer?
Martin


I have a strong sense that the Church Meeting still has its place within our lives. Is it not that they need doing away with but rather need renewing, reforming and transforming by the presence of Christ Himself? It's taken 5+ years to see our CMM's become a much safer, open place where the voice of Christ can be heard and responded to.

We've managed to overcome the manipulating and controlling voices and enable the still small voice to be heard through a variety of reflective practices and by giving consideration to how the room is laid out etc. Every meeting involves food as part of the coming together.
We have a long way to go, but we've started the journey...
Richard Burfoot


Hi Richard, thanks for your post. I think I must have been lucky in that I don't think I have experienced what you mention below to the point where that level of manipulation effects a vote to where it is followed against the conscience of the voter. It's great to hear things have moved on. Blessings on you and your church
Martin

I am absolutely committed to the continuing value of the Church Meeting, it is one of the things which sets us aside from other denominations, and recognises that we are not to be governed in church by the professionals, who do not, despite what they may think themselves, always know best.
I recognise the value of ordination, and think I have demonstrated that by being active in support of one of our colleges for over 20 years, but I do see the Minister as being 'first among equals', and not in an executive role.

I also recognise that some unfortunate hierarchy in churches is not just amongst the ordained, and the role of the church meeting in acting as a moderating influence is equally valuable there.

To use what would be regarded by some as an unfortunate analogy with the role of the Monarch, it is not so much the power which the church meeting holds which is important, but the power it prevents others from exercising which is.
I hope the role of the Church Membership in meeting prayerfully seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit will remain at the core of Baptist life for a long time to come.
Bill Johnston

Bill, I think you have made some good points there. I for one am in favour of recognising 5 fold ministry models for instance, but .... And it's a big but... I do not desire to see them rule the church, only steer it with the blessing and full interaction of the church membership to whom, they must be accountable to and who can remove them from appointment if required.
Martin

I agree with Martyn, but as a Pastor, I realise that often people only have a strong opinion on the issues that either affect them or to which they can get their head around. Such as colours for paint, types of chairs or crockery.
However when it comes to bigger issues like; do we adopt a new mission strategy, the finances, most people (in my limited experience) let things go without raising an objection or comment.

I think more than ever this is simply because people trust the ministers/deacons/leadership and are prepared to take their lead. Or in addition and far more likely people in our congregations simply don't know what to think, but admitting your ignorance isn't easy so they don't say anything.

This might also mean that plans we're passionate about, don't resonate with the church, and so they've no desire to be involved, so are happy to support something, or let it pass because it won't effect them anyway. I hope this doesn't sound cynical, because its not meant to be, just simply my observation and gut feeling from being in and chairing quiet a few of these meetings myself.
Dave

A possible way to address this problem would be to have an initial discussion around a particular issue in a church meeting before the leadership came up with a definite proposal, and, when there is a definite proposal, to explain why some initial ideas were rejected, and to have some optional features (including paint colours, or the slogan for the outreach campaign) on which the meeting can decide.

Obviously there will be some issues (e.g., compliance with statutory requirements) on which it will be necessary for the leadership to present a fait accompli.

Another way to increase understanding could be to think about better ways to introduce matters to the membership - e.g., circulating a paper to members beforehand, or making a powerpoint presentation.

On the matter of passionate commitment, maybe we need to ask how necessary it is for the whole church to be committed. E.g., it would be good for the whole church to be committed in principle to support a particular missionary overseas, but maybe it's enough if half a dozen can be committed to pray, write and raise money, and report back to the church on a regular basis. The same would apply to open-air evangelism; a team of maybe a dozen, with other members happy to turn up when possible and form a crowd.
Jeff Evans

I've looked on the 'church meeting' as the one place to gather together people from across the various groupings within the church family. I've always seen it as much more than a time for business - it's a place to laugh, cry, pray, rejoice and discern.

Getting a rich mix of people together means that often you have to travel at the pace of the slowest person. Some will find this constraining. But leading the 'whole' fellowship on is a delight and fosters a greater sensitivity among people.
But key to all this is the communication skill level within the people, particularly those in leadership. Work on this and when you gather you'll be buzzing.

I appreciate that life is complex and my comments may seem simplistic, but after the twenty years of existence of our church we are known for being loving and active. I'd suggest this is the fruit of gathering together to go out.
Tim Heeley


Ernie raises a very valid and timely question here.
I think a lot of the problem today that results in a lack of attendance at church meetings is the busyness of people's lives, hence they don't have the time to come to church meetings. This isn't a lack of commitment, or a lack of desire to engage in what the church is doing in mission.

I see lots of very committed people doing great things that God is blessing, but who don't come to church meetings.
It's true that some feel they are only coming to rubber stamp the leadership’s decisions. But let's be honest, leaders are called to lead, to shape, to guide and to make decisions - that's what they do.

And a lot of the time specialist areas in church are led and bottomed out by those with the relevant gifts and skills. Asking people who have no experience, skills or qualifications to make decisions on things they don't know about is an unfair pressure on them, delays doing what God has called us to do and makes the leaders of these areas feel undervalued.

We must allow leadership teams to lead! We must release and equip them, honour them and support them without causing them unnecessary frustrations through more unnecessary meetings. "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you." Hebrews 13:17

What would a church look like, where the church meeting wasn't used to discuss colours of paint, types of curtains or whether we need a new microphone for the worship team? What could it achieve if instead its church meetings were used to worship together, pray together, share visions and ideas that excite them, share testimonies of how God had worked through them .... and then they went out onto the streets and did some practical mission stuff? Yes there will be some "business" that needs discussing, no ones questioning that, but let's keep it to an absolute minimum. I wonder if sometimes we just make stuff to discuss because we have to fill a church meeting!
Ross Dilnot


It's my belief that a large part of the problem of lack of involvement of rank-and-file members is the increasing "professionalisation" of pastors and leaders, and this leads to the person in the pew viewing the church more and more from the point of view of a "consumer" rather than a participant.

The same thing has happened in our political parties. Larger charities have also been affected; you are now more likely to encounter a "chugger" than a local supporter rattling a tin.
It's my belief that "equal opportunities" has contributed to the "busyness" you refer to; nowadays both partners in a marriage NEED to go out to work to bring in a "comfortable" income, whereas 50 years ago they would have had the time to support each other. However, that's a whole different discussion.

How you prevent this professionalisation from happening, or reverse it, I don't know.
Jeff Evans


Thanks to our president who have brought great issue into the limelight.
For me there is nothing wrong in the Church meeting as long as the leadership and the congregation what the purpose if all about.
Many people think the process of the meeting is democratic (which sometimes could be demon-crazy) which shouldn't be, rather I believe it should be theocratic, where all of us discern the mind of God together, to examine whatever the proposal of the leadership is or the issue at stake through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and make the right decision.

I also believe that not all members meetings are for making decision especially when there is none to make. some of them could be for information sharing, stating where we are now and where we will like to go.

When there are no meetings, you are likely to hear 'we don't know what is going on here' and all sorts of negative and unfounded comments will be flying about which is likely to damage the Church.
There should be Church meeting to share information and if major decision needed to be made, we should do it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. we should trust the people we elected into leadership to lead otherwise there is no need for leadership.

It is not a forum to shoot arrows at each other but a place love, respect and commendation are its expression.
Adedayo Ige


Kumar Rajagopalan of the London Baptist Regional Team presented an address to a lay leaders' training day a few years ago about varying cultural expectations for meetings like the typical church meetings. Apparently in British and Caribbean societies, open discussions are expected. In African societies the practice is for the community leader to canvass opinion beforehand, formulate a policy, announce this to the meeting, then invite somebody he knows will be critical to be the first to speak. Other societies have other models; I don't remember the whole picture.

If every believer had a perfect understanding of the mind of God, then there would be no need of meetings; the pastor would always be right, and the members would know that he was. If the meeting disagrees with the pastor (or leadership team) then perhaps he was mistaken!

However, I have experienced church meetings where the leadership team's proposals were overturned by the church meeting and there was afterwards a sense among the leaders of the "successful" faction that they had beaten those "out-of touch" deacons. Regardless of the matter in hand, this is NOT a good outcome.

A final couple of points:
1. You can only make decisions on the basis of information available to you at the time.
2. Often (maybe always?) a decision which either at the time or subsequently appears to be not the best will have beneficial consequences in God's plan. About 20 years ago, a number of people in the large church I was attending felt unable to continue in the church after a particular decision. Years later one could see that those people had been a blessing to several smaller churches round about.
Jeff Evans


What we need is a kingdom shaped church but following the biblical teaching where the members of the church are a united one family.
The gift that Baptist church members have is the power of decision making unlike the Bishop control Episcopal church. This may be due to the tough laws that were in force that British had to follow the Anglican church practices with the British government announcing that Church of England was the only official church or denomination and any breakaway groups face death sentences.

So Rev John Smith getting immersion baptism by himself getting immersed in water as a puritan established this freedom of the decision making by the members of a Baptist church .So we must maintain the freedom by enhancing thy kingdom.
David Edirisinghe


Two good questions framing a good comment.
When I was at college I heard it said by a tutor that the church meeting should be the most charismatic of all our gatherings.

In the 1980s there was an excitement in many of our churches about the new wind of the Spirit that was blowing. That excitement has now passed to many Baptist churches which do not use 'Baptist' in their name – in other respects being pretty much the same, even down to church meetings, which would tend to be more focused on the vision, and what God is saying about how it is to be worked out. They would have the sense of a general course, with many frequent and minor course corrections, of the kind that any sailing master would be familiar with, working with wind and tide.

I really don't know whether we are a church family of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Many in our churches don't know, either. When we work that one out, church meetings will become "must not miss" occasions when God shows up and participation requires all the gifts of the Body. A high ideal? Not really – just a higher expectation of what can be achieved by a gathering which truly submits to one another and to God.
Ian Greig


For anyone interested my masters dissertation on church meetings from a historical and contemporary perspective 'Whatever happened to the covenant community?' can be downloaded from http://egner.org.uk/publications
Mal Egner



Re: Floods - long term prayer needed

Freak weather, including tornadoes, floods and droughts is increasing throughout the world and poor countries suffer the most from this. To be good stewards of the environment, concerned Christians should press for the harnessing of safe, non-polluting renewable energy created by God, such as wave and solar energy. 

Fields that soak up water & reduce the risk of floods are increasingly being built upon by developers. Despite repeated warnings, housing developments keep being built on flood plains. Environmentalists & the insurance industry have repeatedly sounded the alarm in recent years.  Of 1.6million homes built in England between 2001-2011 over 38,000 are in areas of high flood risk. For decades we have filled in ponds, culverted watercourses, not maintained river banks and not removed silt and weeds from rivers.  Over a quarter of Holland is below sea-level and they don’t cut costs on flood prevention. 

The floods will cost Britain much more in damaged buildings, ruined possessions, road and rail disruption and lost working days than it would have cost to prevent most of the floods in the first place.  We should not blame God for bad weather, but rather look at mankind’s part in the floods, caused mainly by the lack of diligence by the authorities and their failure to plan ahead.
A. Wills

 

 
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