Worshipful Business Meetings
by Fred G. Zaspel
What I have in mind here is the annual business meeting that most churches are very familiar with. I don’t want to start on a negative note, but let’s just acknowledge it up front: the church business meeting means many different things to many different people, and it is often the most upsetting and discouraging event on the church calendar. The record, too often, is not a good one. Some consider it their moment for the platform, an event designed to give them opportunity to vent and to express what is wrong and what they feel should be, in which case the meeting becomes meeting to an extended gripe session carried out by the few and endured by the many. God deliver us, but we’ve all seen it.
Then there are those who do not bother beforehand to check the proposed church budget that is posted for members to consider in preparation for the meeting, but having glanced through it quickly at the meeting they now have several points of "studied" (i.e., spur of the moment) criticism that they are very willing to voice with great confidence and with alternative motions made accordingly. Need I say more here?
In both of these scenarios the congregation at large often listens patiently and politely and somehow suffers through it, afterwards, perhaps, whispering a quiet complaint to a friend. It is truly a shameful thing that church business meetings have such an embarrassing record on this score. The church should do better, and the leadership ought to demand better. Somehow I just don’t think this is what the Apostle Paul envisioned for us.
Even on a more civilized level, it has often struck me that while attention has often been given to the business aspect of the annual event, seldom is there evident attention given to the fact that it is a church business meeting. The business meeting offers an opportunity to review the past year, learn from it, and project with vision into the new year. And so my question: What should be the marks of a meeting of Christians come together to consider the work of their local church in their joint efforts for Christ? I don’t have all the answers, to be sure, but I will offer some general principles.
First, we ought to consider the purpose of the church itself, and we should focus our attention and structure our efforts accordingly. This purpose entails "ministry" of all kinds, the goal of which is the advance of Kingdom interests — reaching the lost with the gospel and bringing the gospel to bear increasingly on the lives of all God’s people. The church business meeting, it seems to me, ought to focus on church business as Biblically defined.
Yes, this can necessarily entail mundane questions of how and where to spend money. Should we spend this much on building renovation? Landscaping? How will these expenses impact staff salaries and missionary giving? And so on. Most of these kinds of issues are judgment calls, and for my part I am happy to yield to those appointed by the church to decide.
I recall the first (I think it was the first) business meeting I attended here at RBC Franconia. An expenditure was proposed, and my first response was to question. I didn’t say anything publicly, but I wondered if the proposal was the best one. Then the thought occurred to me that the deacons proposing the matter were duly entrusted by the church to do just this. They have put much thought and work into the matter, and here I’m coming in late to the discussion. My opinion just is not as studied as theirs, I thought. These are good men, and I can easily trust them. And I certainly don’t want to discourage them in their work. So I kept my comment to myself, voted in favor . . . and later came to agree with their decision. It was a good lesson for me. No one advocates blind submission, but a certain trust should be acknowledged and then allowed to influence our thinking.
Still there is more I have in mind, looking for that "ideal" Church business meeting. This may be a new thought for some, but I have often wondered — Would it be too much to ask for a spirit of worship at such events? After all, we are Christians meeting for the purpose of advancing our service for Christ. It seems to me that our church business meetings would be much more honoring to God and much more productive as we do something like the following.
1) What is (and should be) missing from the business meeting is the (often spirited) promotion of personal agendas. This is not the time or place for it. The church will be helped as we maintains proper order in voicing personal concerns, input, and even complaints to the church leadership privately, then allowing the leadership to determine if, when, and how to bring the matter to the congregation. Publicly calling for changes "on the spot" is just not productive and often leaves offense and embarrassment.
2) The leadership should prepare for the meeting ahead of time in order to present a well-thought-out vision for the coming year. This will include more than just financial matters and will focus on the church’s gospel mission.
3) The leadership should post whatever information they deem appropriate for the members to consider prayerfully ahead of time, allowing time for feedback. As far as possible, serious questions and inquiries should be made during this time, allowing the leadership to explain and reconsider if necessary.
4) At the time of the meeting itself the agenda now is something already largely known and enjoys wide agreement. This should help avoid those off-the-cuff, ill-considered questions and criticisms that can create endless and often disruptive debate at the meeting. Any new challenges from the leadership can be presented at this time also, giving ample explanation and clarification of the Scripture-informed vision presented. The focus of attention throughout is one of serving Christ together, advancing his interests together, by his enablement.
5) This kind of "business" meeting, it seems to me, should also be marked by concerted prayer — prayer specifically for the church in its attempt to serve Christ faithfully and fruitfully through the coming year. High on the prayer agenda should be earnest request that God advance his purpose in this local church itself — that he will grow us and shape us to be more like Christ, make us increasingly faithful, and so on, and that he enable us to advance our service for him in the ways outlined by the leadership during the discussion.
The church business meeting — Christians worshipfully seeking the Lord together to advance their work for him. Could we want anything less?