There are as many different patterns of church meeting and frequency as there are churches in the denomination. Or so it seems. Sometimes that is a very good thing, as we express the individuality of what God has called us to in our local context.
Whether you have an annual, spring or fall meeting, all three or whether your structure is more informal than that, you will have natural patterns of how you conduct yourself. There is a legal and fiduciary responsibility to deal with issues of the handling and the receiving of reports, the consideration of financial issues, accepting new members, and removing members. All these things are common fare. Many of us will look at different approaches, sometimes focussing on one particular area or another. Again, you are familiar with these patterns.
I want to introduce two fairly revolutionary thoughts as to how we engage meetings. The first is simply placing the idea before you without developing it, which is an observation that Baptists have three ordinances or sacraments; baptism, communion, and as Paul Fiddes from Regent’s Park, Oxford, UK suggests (the last and lasting contribution to the Christian church as Baptists) is the ordinance or sacrament of the church meeting. I will try and explain that more fully at a later date.
The idea of Paul Fiddes’ paper was drawn to my attention by Darrell Johnson of First Baptist Vancouver, and I believe it merits some thought and discussion. Let me build on the notion of the sacredness of our time together in our church meeting. Shannon Youell, our Director of Church Planting, suggested the best way to engage a church meeting is that everyone agrees to have read the reports and the docket before they come to the meeting. Imagine that. Folk actually doing what they were supposed to in the first place! Coming prepared with some questions, but in general with the notion that apart from some queries, comments and prayers of thanksgiving, church meetings are actually about something entirely different.
Shannon’s observation is that church meetings are actually for listening to God. When we set aside leaders in our congregations to manage the money, plan the Christian education, lead worship (you understand my meaning here in its variety); when we set people aside, in a sense we also place trust in them. Church meetings are certainly when questions are to be asked, but the real sense of a meeting should be about finding ways to listen to God (having duly read our reports in full before the meeting). Then we are able to thank God that He has given us the strength we seek to do what He has asked us to do. Our calling and task is then to discern what God wishes us to do next. I would be fascinated to learn from some of you how that attentiveness to God and discernment might be engaged. I will share some of my own thoughts, as well as yours, at some point in the near future. But the challenge remains the same. As we are a God called out people and we must seek God’s wisdom, what does it look like when we come together as a body, when we try to hear what He has called us into the next part of our lives?
Some beginning thoughts…
We are entering the season of preparing for Easter: Lent. Some of us mark this, some do not. For those individuals and churches that do, please avail yourselves of Darrell Johnson’s work for this season. Darrell is from FBC Vancouver and has kindly permitted us to use this material.