Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Church Meetings - How to Fight Nicely?

There can hardly be a parent alive who hasn’t said to their children, “Now I want you to learn how to play together nicely.”  The other day it occurred to me that it would probably serve the next generation better if we helped them to learn how to fight with each other nicely.  I was sitting in a church meeting at the time.

Church meetings eh?  Don’t you just love ‘em?  Get a group of Baptists together and it won’t be long before someone pokes fun at, moans about or openly despairs of church meetings.  Fact is though I think church meetings are brilliant, or at least I think they could be.

I didn’t always think this.  I became a Baptist because I was convinced about believers’ baptism and because I was prepared to put up with church meetings.  I was prepared to put up with them despite the clogging of agendas with trivia; despite the way they were dominated by the same few people (my wife kept a tally once – 80 present, 12 spoke of whom ten were middle-aged men including her husband).  I put up with them despite not knowing how to deal with the high emotion that so often bubbled to the surface and despite the fact that I sat through a couple were there were threats of violence.

But now I’m well passed just putting up with them, I’m convinced that if only we learned how to do church meetings they could be a very taste of heaven, an example of the church acting its age, the post-Pentecost age of the democratisation of the Spirit, you know old and young, male and female all getting a good sloshing of the third person of the trinity so that everyone can join in finding out what God wants.

But for this to happen we do need to learn how to fight nicely.  Because fight we will – if by fighting we mean expressing deeply held and widely differing opinions.  Pretending otherwise is daft.  But what does it mean to fight nicely?  Well, I can’t claim to have it sussed but I reckon that at last I’ve begun to learn a handful of lessons.  Here’s just three.

Learn to listen.  If this is about finding out what God wants and not fighting for what I want then I need to remember that God has a habit of speaking through those I least expect.  If we really believe that the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh then we need to find ways to listen to those who find it difficult to speak in public.  Small groups can help here as can a skilled chair.

Learnt to trust.  Trust others to decide on details recognising that they aren’t necessarily going to do it your way.  Trust the membership to raise issues and initiate discussions; the leadership don’t have a monopoly on spotting the leading of the Spirit.  Trust God.  Being God is God’s job not the church’s job; we don’t have to obsess about getting it right because even when we get it wrong God’s good at sorting us out.  Relax a bit.

Learn to wait.  A good deal of our failure to fight nicely comes from rushing decisions.  It usually makes sense to separate listening to each other from making up our minds.  Have listening meetings first and deciding meetings later.

You may say that I’m a dreamer, and yes, perhaps I am the only one, but if I’m not and like me you still believe in church meetings, I’d love hear what lessons you think we need to learn.

My turn to do a month's worth of opinion pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. To check out the Baptist Times as a whole click here.


Revsimmy said...

Thank you for this. Take out the Baptist church meeting stuff, and there are lessons that need to be learned by us in the CofE too. Chairmanship is a key thing here in allowing those who are more reticent to share their thoughts publicly (and in restraining those whose tendency is to talk long and loud). And your 3 points at the end will give food for thought when I plan our next PCC meeting.

Craig said...

and if we learn to do church meetings right who knows we might learn how to do all sorts of assembling better too ... associating, council and Assembly itself