Church Meeting: time to be scrapped or time for a radical change?
It was good to attend the Fresh Streams’ event at Swanwick last month and sense the energy and enthusiasm in the gathering. Folks came mainly from our Baptist churches and it was a joy to see how our new General Secretary, Lynn Green, was welcomed.
Fresh Streams has a theology strand and a vote was taken to explore two topics this year:
engaging with culture whilst remaining distinct from it
Baptist ecclesiology: has the church meeting had its day?
Church members’ meetings are often the low point in our church life and for understandable reasons. As a former regional minister, I have probably attended church meetings in over 100 churches in the past 15 years. In the pastorates I served, I chaired well over 200 such meetings. I think I can safely say I’ve seen much of the best … and the worst! Power politics, imitations of the worst of Westminster, packed meetings when there’s a proposal to remove pews… or terminate a ministry … to name but a few. However, I’ve also experienced the best when there has been careful listening in tough meetings and people have changed their minds, when there has been space for the prophetic and the quiet voice on the margins has been listened to and heeded. I understand how the church meeting has become a forum for the leaders’ plans to be shared with little opportunity for discussion. I understand why many people avoid them like the plague because they do not want a sleepless night.
So where do we go? I believe Fresh Streams is right to want to explore this topic. The time is right to consider…
Why do we have church members’ meetings anyway? It is fruitful to explore the reasons for this in our history? Why did our forefathers and foremothers propose this gathering to ‘discern the mind of Christ’ within a local congregation? Its essence is at the heart of our history and principles that, in the gathering community of believers, the Spirit of God is seeking to prompt and guide us in the ways of Christ in our day.
The church meeting should be the setting where our ‘little’ Kingdom visions are placed within the glorious, limitless, ongoing purposes of our great God. In our fragility, God deems to use even us as Kingdom partners.
Who sets the agenda? This is a key question for me. Is it driven by our own parochialism or by a genuine open-ness to the Spirit? We sing ‘be the wind in these sails’ but do we mean it? Have we the maturity, prayerfulness and courage to practise this in our life together, as expressed in the church meeting?
Yes indeed, the time is ripe for deep consideration of church meetings. Do we want a Kingdom-shaped church or a church-shaped Kingdom?
(Ernie has prepared a series of 6 Bible Studies ‘Like Stars in the Universe’ based on our Assembly 2013 theme: ‘Reclaiming Philippians for Today’s Church’. Copies of this are available from the online shop – priced £3. Ernie encourages churches to join a conversation based on the themes of the study – see www.likestars.org.uk throughout this year)