Many of us in nonconformist circles have horror stories of church members’ meetings gone terribly wrong. But do they always have to end in bitterness and bickering? I don’t think so.
Here are a few quick suggestions to help set members’ meetings on the right track.
1. Stop calling them business meetings
Business meetings conjure up images of corporate leaders angling for personal gain. Instead, call them members’ meetings, or family meetings, or something else that suggests that we come serving Christ’s agenda, and not our own.
2. Remember that a members’ meeting is for members
A church members’ meeting is not a public meeting, so kindly exclude any stray visitors at the start of the meeting, letting them know they are more than welcome to any of your public weekly gatherings. Visitors have no more right to participate in your members’ meetings than citizens of one country have the right to vote in the elections of another.
3. Aim for accurate membership roles
Trying to conduct healthy members’ meetings without a healthy membership roll is like inviting the fox into the hen house.
We need the wisdom only God can grant (James 1:5-6). We need to rely on the only weapons that have divine power to demolish the devil’s strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4). So begin by praying that God’s Spirit, not the fallible ingenuity of fallen man, would guide your meeting.
5. Recite your church covenant together
Recite your church covenant together if you have one. Every now and then we need to hit the ‘reset’ button. That’s part of what a church covenant does. It draws us out of the ‘me’-dominated world we live in, and helps reorient us around basic biblical truths.
A church covenant is to membership what vows are to marriage: they help define how we’ll live together. Such vows and promises don’t magically solve divisions. But they may just help you more humbly work through such divisions, as you remind yourselves that you’ve promised ‘to work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ and exercise an ‘affectionate care and watchfulness over each other’.
6. Do the most important business first.
What is the most important business? Defining who the church is. Practically, that’s who is taken into membership, and who is seen out. This helps teach that who we are is fundamentally more important than the particulars of whether, for example, we continue to have a Wednesday night dinner.
7. Occasionally remind people what congregationalism is, and isn’t.
Some have the notion that congregationalism is the same as Western democracy, or that it is the byproduct of it. Neither notion is true.
Yes, Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to the congregation (Matt.16.19) when it comes to matters of church membership (2 Cor. 2:6), discipline (Matt.18:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13), and doctrine (Gal.1:6-9; 2 Tim. 4:3). And yes, each member is given a vote. But that doesn’t mean there is anything godly in debate for debate’s sake, or that it’s the right of every member to have their voice heard, or that the elders and deacons serve like a bicameral legislature. Elders are still called to rule (1 Tim.5.17), and members are still called to submit and obey for their own advantage (Heb.13.17).
Playing devil’s advocate or token contrarian is a mark of immaturity, not a badge of honour. We would do well to remind our people that when Paul exhorts Timothy to flee ‘youthful passions’ (2 Tim. 2.22), he’s not thinking first about sexual sin, but being quarrelsome.
8. Be quick to inform, and don’t get defensive.
Many are taught to distrust authority, and that power corrupts. Thus, where information is lacking, scepticism or cynicism may run rampant. Though these aren’t godly instincts, it’s wise to recognise that they exist, and remember that the congregation is rarely privy to all the information you are. So get out in front, regularly informing the congregation of what you’re deliberating and thinking through.
9. Know you will make mistakes.
At end of the day, leading healthy members’ meetings is more art than science. You will make mistakes. That’s inevitable.
So apologise when necessary, and make restitution where you can. And don’t get too discouraged. For though you may feel like you’ve failed, Christ has promised that the church never will (Matt. 16.18). So learn what you can from your mistakes and continue to serve wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord, and not to men (Eph. 6.7).
Brad is the senior pastor of University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The original article appeared in 9Marks.org