When I first worked this out it felt like a guilty secret; but
over the last six months I’ve seen several comments and articles which show I’m
far from alone. Yet, I’m a Baptist Minister so surely I should be committed to
this distinctive pillar of Baptist life?
But what is it that Church Meetings are the appropriate
answer to? What are they for?
A cosy gathering to record, report and
approve minutes? If so, why bother to encourage people to attend? You can make
it a more pleasant experience with coffee, cake and chat but you are still just
going through the motions.
opportunity to set out vision and communicate news? Well, a cold Tuesday
evening is a bad way of doing this, and as boring as a soap opera episode to be
part of. You can dress it up with worship and prayer, but the bottom line is
people know when you are trying to sell them something.
A chance for church members to scrutinise
what’s going on and to hold leaders to account? Well a large scale meeting with
a wide ranging agenda gives no real opportunity for that; the closest you might
get is a couple of well targeted questions or someone giving their hobby horse
a ride out for the evening.
A more positive spin might be to suggest Church Meetings are
an occasion for the church to consider some important aspect of our future life
together. Except you don’t get the church gathering together; if you are
fortunate you get a cross section of the church, but more likely it is weighted
towards attendance by those in their mid 50’s to mid 70’s, and getting close to
half the church to attend takes something of a miracle.
Church meetings have been the way we give expression to two
The commitment to watch over each other
The commitment to seek the mind of Christ
together as a gathered community.
Watching over each other has largely been lost from Baptist
Church Meetings, with perhaps the exception of a desire to watch over the
leaders. 'Watching over' depends on relationship, on knowing a bit about the other persons
life, the opportunities and challenges they face, and the time to develop this.
If we are to do this meaningfully it will be in small groups not at a
Seeking the mind of Christ is an important part of congregational
meetings but is more about a church culture than any one particular meeting.
Traditionally, Baptists have wanted to emphasise the role everyone in the
community has in this process which is not easily achieved in meetings with a
If we believe that when groups gather together they can seek
the mind of Christ, then we will allow some freedom to groups tasked with
things by the church to do stuff without lots of checking up on them. If we
believe God speaks to us through the gathered community and not just
individually then we will ensure the church is made up of networks so groups can
work through things together. It will empower members, envision the church and create space to be responsive to the Spirit's leading.
I’m sure there will be occasions when we try to get the
whole church to gather together, but they need to be the fruit of our church
life not the means of creating it.