It is 11 p.m. The board meeting is draging on. The members are making an important decision, but Pastor Jim's mind wanders. This would not be so bad, except that he is chairing the committee.
True church board is choosing the sanctuary carpet color. One group wants a bright rust color, the other wants a light beige. The beige group thinks the rust looks too cheap, and the rust group thinks the beige group is crazy to put white in a public place: "It'll be dirty in a week."
Brother Boyce raises his hand, and Pastor Jim reluctantly nods for him to speak. He knows what is coming. Boyce is a wonderful soul who speaks without breathing: "I believe that we need a brighter color than the rust color, and the beige is just fine, but who can tell for sure whether it will hold up under all the traffic that we have in the sanctuary? I am sure that it would look good in my house; well, for that matter the rust would look good in my house, even though I wouldn't have it because I personally believe that it is too flashy. I am not saying that those who want it are too flashy, 1 am just saying that it is too flashy for. . ."
Pastor Jim scans the room. Most members look brain dead. Brother Boyce is famous for his soliloquies. The longest that Pastor Jim ever timed was 20 minutes. Brother Boyce goes on and on and on and Brother Ebenezer interrupts. He prides himself as a down-to-brass-tacks, no-beating-around-the-bush type of person. He says, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Who cares whether the rust or beige carpet looks good in your house? I move we don't get carpet and use linoleum instead. It lasts longer, and nothing is prettier than shiny linoleum. We once had linoleum. Linoleum was good enough when I was a kid, and it is good enough now!"
Pastor Jim immediately shifts from being partially asleep to a state of high anxiety. There has never been a church board meeting without an argument with Brother Ebenezer.
Pastor Jim chooses his words carefully. "I agree with you a little, Brother Ebenezer. 1 prefer to keep the old carpet one more year and use the money for outreach. But our very last vote was for buying new carpet. So I don't think opening it up again is okay."
"We never discussed linoleum. I say we should vote again. Linoleum is a good idea."
Pastor Jim says, "All who favor using linoleum, raise your hand."
At first only Brother Ebenezer raises his hand, then his wife timidly joins him. But linoleum is voted down. Finally everybody gets tired, and since Pastor Jim does not want new carpet, they all go home.
Walking home, Pastor Jim looks at the stars and wonders, "Why do we make decisions in meetings? Why couldn't I visit the sick or do counseling or do anything? I hate meetings! I don't remember Jesus in committees. I can't see Him saying, 'I hear a motion that we go heal the sick by Galilee. Is there a second?' Then again, I'm not Jesus. What would Jesus do with Brother Boyce and Brother Ebenezer? Sometimes I wish I could punch Brother Ebenezer's nose. Is the Holy Spirit in this? I thought I was Spiritled, not committee-led!"
The stars leave the questions unanswered. Pastor Jim is too tired to care.
Pastor Jim raises some interesting questions about meetings. Everywhere in Christianity, groups are making decisions in meetings. The Presbyterian Church is making big decisions about church members' sexuality, and a little church is making little decisions about painting the Sunday school classroom. Because Christians spend so much time in meetings, it seems we need a Meeting Theology. Any Meeting Theology must answer two questions:
(1) How did Bible church decisions? characters make
(2) How does the Holy Spirit fit into group decision-making?
Church Decisions— The Bible often speaks of individual decision-making, as in Joshua 24:15: "Then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve." Scripture rarely shows groups making decisions. Americans view democracy as a God-given right, but defending that position solely from the Bible is difficult.
Throughout the Old Testament, leaders issued decisions by decree. The patriarchs firmly ruled their families. The judges ruled Israel by the commands God gave them. The kings ruled by military and inherited right. Advisers gave counsel, but the decision always came from one person.
One exception may be observed in Moses' appointing the elders as assistants. However, these elders functioned as sole decision-makers dealing with mundane matters. They used their authority to make decisions that relieved their over worked leader. Scripture does not say that they were a decision-making group; they individually attended to the people under their care.
The gospels relate how Jesus led the disciples' as He made the decisions for the group. The group members followed, even when they opposed the direction He was taking. The people had nearly stoned Jesus and His group on a recent visit to Jerusalem. Jesus directed His followers to return, even though the group thought that going back was unwise and that they would be following Him to their death. Yet they respected their leader and followed Him (Matt. 16:21- 23; Mark 10:33-34).
Only the book of Acts shows groups making decisions. Church decisionmaking appears three times. The first time was after Jesus' death but before the Spirit descended (Acts 1). To replace Judas, the disciples set up a guideline: The person must have followed Jesus from His baptism until His resurrection. They proposed two men, Joseph and Matthias. They prayed for guidance, cast lots, and thereby decided. This decision-making process blended intellect and supernatural involvement.
The Holy Spirit and Decision-Making
Can people who sit around discussing and then voting really be God's agents in the twenty-first-century church? It seems that God could have found a better way. Why no more mystical wall writing or talking donkeys?
Developing a Spirit-directed theology of life can be easy. Seeing the Spirit working in an individual's life can be easy. Seeing him guide a person can be easy. But doing the same things for a group seems hard. Are we left to our own devices?
The Spirit leads a church the same way He leads an individual.Think how He has guided you. Think about struggling with a decision. Flashes of great Spirit-filled inspiration are rare. But as time goes by, alternatives come into focus. Some become more logical. The direction becomes clear, and you have peace about your decision. An outsider sees you make a rational decision just as everyone else does. You weigh the alternatives using logic, experience, and acquired knowledge.
The non-Christian uses the same decisionmaking process, because God built this into the human brain. But for the nonbeliever, the process lacks the vital link that makes it great. The Spirit-filled Christian follows the same process as everyone else, except that God gives wisdom and leads the way. To make decisions using logic, experience, and additional knowledge is God-given. Linking it with the Holy Spirit makes it divine.
The same reality exists when groups make decisions. A public school board makes decisions based on its best wisdom, using logic, experience, and the available data. The church board uses the same God-given process but adds an extra, Spirit-filled vitality.
Christian committees exist to find Cod's will. The group chair leads this spiritual search and weaves it into the members' role. The members prayerfully seek Hiswill and are the means by which God communicates His will. The agenda allows ample time for the searching. The meeting room is a place appropriate for conducting the search. This first premise weaves through every part of the meeting.
The second premise is that people are more important than meetings. A Christian spends much time in meetings, so committees do more than just make decisions. Committees also exist to grow and to show the fruit of the Spirit. God worries more about how the chair treats the members than whether the meeting runs efficiently. How members treat Brother Ebenezer concerns God more than which carpet color is selected. The agenda and meeting place must show respect for individuals. For many Christians, meetings are their only mission field.
This article is excerpted and adapted from the practical resource, Making Committees Work, by Mack Tennyson. The entire book is available for purchase at <www.ministerialassociation.com>.