Church Meetings don’t have to be painful…
I love church meetings when members of the church come together to discern the mind of Christ for their local congregation. In over 25 years of ministry, I looked forward to Annual General Meetings and other church meetings where we sought, through prayer and robust discussions, what we sense God is saying to us. Unfortunately I am personally not convinced that the outcomes of many church meeting are in line with the mind of Christ. It’s because we may not fully understand or value the sacredness of these meetings, where we have been in an attitude of prayer and self-reflection.
Why church meetings? In Isaiah 55: 8-9, we read “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your way and my thoughts than your thoughts.” There is no way we can really understand the mind of God unless we are prepared to lay aside our thoughts and ways to comprehend God’s thoughts and ways. So to discern the mind of God, God’s people come together after a time of praying and seeking God, to prayerfully discuss and hear each other so that as a community we can say like the early church in Acts 15 “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and us”.
So if church meetings are a great way to discern the mind of God, then why does it not work in many instances? I have a few thoughts on this.
Firstly, there have been ‘pre-meeting’ meetings taking place where individuals or a group has met to make decisions before coming to the church meeting. This is often the way of the world. But this is definitely not the way of God’s people. Right through the Bible, we read how God is against murmurings and divisive behavior caused by individuals that stirs the people against the ways of God. The biblical way is when an individual has questions or concerns and need clarification, they approach the leadership for that clarification before the meeting. However if he or she becomes an instigator, and starts trying to get a group of people to see things their way before the meeting, the discernment process is destroyed and the will of man will prevail.
Secondly, the meeting is dominated by the loudest voice and the silent people are not heard. To discern the voice of God, everyone needs to be prepared and willing to hear one another and not come with a pre-determined agenda. Again developing a pre-determined agenda, other than the one laid out by the leadership, undermines the process. The elders, collectively, are given the authority to lead and govern God’s people. When the elders calls for a meeting of God’s people, it is to help them determine what God is saying through His people so that they can lead and govern more effectively. If groups of people come together with a decision already made in their minds, it will lead to a human decision, and not God’s decision. That is why the Bible time and time again, challenges us to listen to one another and give preference to each others views and thoughts. Often God’s voice is heard through the minority rather than the majority.
Finally there is lack of submission or respect to those God has put in spiritual authority. We again bring the ways of the world into church meetings where we have in our mind that we have the right to raise a rebellion against those in authority. Unfortunately Baptists are very weak in this whole area and we have staff or members working against the decisions of the Elders or Senior Pastor. Again when there is a lack of spiritual submission to those in authority, church meetings then become a waste of time. I have been at church meetings where factions end up fighting with each other and again the mind of God is no longer sought.
So how should church meetings be conducted? Here are some thoughts.
- Every person need to prepare themselves for the meeting. This means they should spend time praying about this on their own as they try to seek God for His thoughts and ways. Praying in groups are great and should be encouraged. But the danger is that these groups end up discussing and deciding outcomes instead of praying. Besides praying, if individuals have questions and concerns, instead of discussing this with each other to find answers, they need to approach the leadership for clarification. If that clarification needs to be shared with the whole body, then the Senior Pastor or one of the Elders would do that. This helps to keep the church in prayer and together keep seeking God for His will.
- The purpose of the meeting has to be made very clear to the congregation. There needs to be a high level of trust in the leadership as they present the issue to the congregation. If individuals raise concerns or questions about the issue, it is important for the Eldership to present clarifications to the congregation. However, members must not seek clarification with each other as it only creates a ‘feral’ behavior that leads to unnecessary aggression or manipulation of the whole spiritual discernment process, which to me is the most vital part of church meetings. This definitely creates division within Christ’s people. Paul warns against this kind of behavior that divides when he says “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:17).
- When God’s people gather to meet, there needs to be one goal in mind and that is to seek the building up of one another. Words that are spoken are destructive or constructive. I like what the writer to the Hebrews have to say in Hebrews 10: 24-25. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We often use that to refer to our Sunday worship gatherings or the importance of being part of a church. But I think that it is a great goal for church meetings. Don’t stay away from church meetings. Don’t come to church meetings ready to declare war. Don’t come to church meetings to be destructive. Instead come to church meetings because Christ has opened the door for us to enter the most holy place so that we can now draw near to God and discern what He has to say to us. So when we gather, we gather to encourage and build up each other so that we can leave the meetings with the sense that the discernment process has worked and God’s will have been found.
I believe in church meetings. I still pray that I can be part of a fellowship where we take these church meetings seriously, seeing it as a sacred time where as God’s people we gather together to hear the voice of God and to obey it.