Lessons from ministry: church meetings don’t work

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.

        
 An
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
Baptist principles:

        
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
congregational level.

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
hundred people.

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.

3 thoughts on “Lessons from ministry: church meetings don’t work

Add yours

  1. Hi Neil,

    I fully agree that in practice most church meetings are awful. But you get the exception to that rule occasionally and it gives you hope. I will tell you the story

    1. During settlement – my wife and I felt called to our current church – the only red flag was that the did not allow women to be elders or to preach. Everything else was good.
    2. After discussion it was understood that this had been a view held by the previous pastor, who was held in great esteem, but his pastorate had ended when he died of Cancer
    3. Some members still held the views of the previous pastor, and were now seeing any change as a potential rejection of him
    4. I was honest and said I would only come if the issue was considered.
    5. I received a call but the vote was nowhere near unanimous
    6. After six months I finally started raising the issue.
    7. I started a process, but part of this process was rejected – me preaching on the subject they wanted someone who is “neutral”
    8. We eventually agreed a process – slow and measured – it started with a lineup of where people were on the issue at a members meeting. To my wife and I’s delight only two drifted to outright no’s most were either in the middle or into the yes camp.
    9. before the next meeting (two months later) we held a prayer day, three formal sessions which prayed over the scriptures – I introduced each session (http://devonportbaptist.co.uk/podcast/prayer-day-july-2013/)
    10. On the sunday we met after the church service, got into groups and discussed the issue. Then we came together to feedback
    11. after much discussion, one of the members (who was in the don’t know camp) pushed for us to get on with making a decision – there were some question over whether we were quorate, but it was decided not to drag it out anymore
    12. The vote was a unanimous yes! The church had shifted and moved.
    13. I did not get a unanimous call – but this felt like after a year they had indeed called me and my wife unanimously

    Sometimes they do work, but they are also hard work!

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  2. but if they are the fruit of a strong community life (which is how they were originally intended) then Church Meetings might be wonderful and significant – surely the problem is not with CMs as much as with community life, particularly (but not limited to) larger churches where the congregation don’t know each other. CMs were never intended to create community … (indeed community cannot be created, only entered into) but if that is where we are at then it is too heavy a burden for the humble CM to bear, just as Sunday worship is too a heavy a burden for discipleship and mission if that is the only occasion where people meet with one another or indeed God. ????

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  3. Thanks for the comments (here and on facebook).
    Just for the record, my experience of Church Meetings in my current church is, in many respects, good. People are well intentioned, desire to do what’s right and listen to others. It is simply my belief that there must be a better way of being baptist.

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