The Words Missing in Today’s Church Business Meetings

yesnoRecently a dear friend and mentor said something to me that has proven to be profound and eye-opening.  He remarked that it has been 15-20 years since he heard something particularly said in a church business meeting.  This one particular phrase has seemingly gone missing from a whole generation of believers.

He said, “You don’t hear anyone say in church business meetings anymore, ‘I disagree with the decision, but whatever the church decides, I will get fully behind it and support it the best I can.'”  Those sentiments of support and togetherness, no matter the vote, is radically missing today.

I believe my friend is on to something huge here.  I have been in many church business meetings as a Southern Baptist, both in my local church and in the churches I’ve served as interim, and I haven’t heard those words in years.  I used to hear them as a teenager when we were made to go to the business meeting instead of our youth Wednesday night Bible study, but that was a very long time ago.

His explanation for the absence of those words is that our culture has changed.  We still do business meetings, but our people are not the same as they were 20 years ago.  We are now a consumer culture.  We believe our voice must be considered and heard on all topics.  We leave comments on social media, give reviews of products on blogs, critical feedback on hotels on Trip Adviser.  We rate our experiences on everything from customer service on the phone to table service at a restaurant.  Then you have the impact of huge TV shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent where everyday people have a voice.

But what we have not been accustomed to lately is losing a vote and still being supportive.  When we lose a vote, we feel entitled to continue the discussion, let our feelings of dissent be publicly known, cause a stir, get a petition started, and even push for a re-vote or a recount…all within the local church.  Yikes?

In church business meetings, where congregational polity is at play, there are always winners AND losers.  When you take a vote, you are giving the people a chance to let their feelings be known, either publicly or privately, and some are going to win and some are going to lose.

Those that win feel as if the majority has spoken and things are moving in the right direction.  Those that lose feel as if they have been personally harmed and they begin to harbor feelings of animosity toward the church, the leaders and their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

The vote might have moved the church forward on a particular issue, but the vote also created sides, teams, parties, divisions, and segments within the church who now feel injured.

Twenty years ago when a difficult vote was on the table, you would hear the words from a wise man or woman before the count was taken say, “I have my opinions about the matter, but whatever the church decides, I will get behind fully and support it as best as I can.”  It was a way forward in unity and harmony.

Those words are not said anymore.  Instead, nothing is said.  Nothing moves forward in complete unity and harmony.  The vote may pass, but feelings of resentment and hostility brew and fester.  Not in every case, but in most.

It makes you wonder why staff-led decision making is growing exponentially.  It makes you wonder why a plurality of elders has become common place among congregational churches.  It makes you wonder why monthly business meetings are being cut from the calendar in lieu of a once-per-year family meeting.

It’s because we have changed.  The culture has changed.  The words we use in the face of a vote have forever changed.

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About shanegarrison
I am a married, 30-something living in central KY. I serve as an associate professor of Educational Ministries at Campbellsville University.

9 Responses to The Words Missing in Today’s Church Business Meetings

  1. Daniela says:

    Baptist business meetings have been a huge adjustment for me. I don’t really get why people feel entitled to vote on things they don’t generally care enough to understand and they end up rubber stamping or abstaining. But if you skip the vote someone gets upset they didn’t have a say. On the other end of the spectrum, I had a professor that told of a church he served in that insisted on a vote over whether to serve rolls with the ham. In my opinion, the church chooses her leaders, pastoral and lay, and should let them lead. Business meetings should be for big decisions and accountability of leaders’ decision making. That’s surely influenced by the fact that I grew up in an independent Christian church with elders and annual “state of the body” meetings. We voted on elders, deacons, moving, new buildings, new large debts, approving budgets and I guess a member could have asked for a vote on anything. The leadership met with anyone who opposed a vote on a ballot to address concerns and encourage the spirit of maturity you’re talking about. So while I think mature Christians can make a congregational model work, I don’t think getting away from it is the end if the world either. Great piece. Thanks.

  2. Ann Mounce says:

    I enjoyed the article and agree with you. If the church body decides something different than I had in mind, it’s time for a person to support the decision of the majority and help keep church unity or at the very least, not create ill feelings. Love one another. United we stand, divided we fall. Good article on how things have changed in church business meetings over the years !

  3. I think this article is brilliant. You are correct that these words are missing and that their absence is a spiritual and practical problem. I would add that corporate prayer is also missing. There is a lack of spiritual preparation before and after the “business meeting.” In our context the sweetest part of our gatherings comes after the business is all done and we spend time praying out loud together. Two meetings ago the amount of time spent doing and discussing the business was equaled by the time praying.

    The article ends with:
    It makes you wonder why staff-led decision making is growing exponentially. It makes you wonder why a plurality of elders has become common place among congregational churches. It makes you wonder why monthly business meetings are being cut from the calendar in lieu of a once-per-year family meeting.

    I wonder are you for or against these things? Inquiring minds want to know…

    • Pastor Bob,
      As inquiring minds want to know, I am in full support of staff-led decision making, the plurality of elders, and yearly family meetings in lieu of monthly meetings. Main Street was obviously formative in my ministry philosophy.

      I do believe congregational polity is in line with scriptural mandates, but not in the form and fashion of representative democracies we have tended to move toward. The local body of believers is not congress or parliament.

      Thanks for the comments on prayer. Main Street is unique.
      Shane

      • You are too gracious. I think Main Street and Dr. Garrison had a lot to pour into each other. I am encouraged, however, that the views you hold regarding the importing of representative democracies have only deepened with your now significant experience leading congregations. Perhaps a move to the Acts 1 meeting may begin to have Acts 2 results again. Lord let it be!

  4. Tim Williams says:

    I find it fascinating that we call them “business meetings.” What is the business of the local church? Deciding on carpet colors? Choosing a new projector? Listening to committees report that they have “nothing to report”?

    How often are the business meetings about strategizing or planning for missional outreach? Or truly grasping God’s vision? Or advancing discipleship? Things that may have eternal consequences. That would be a good time to hear those important words of support that you mention.

    I remember from younger days our Baptist business meetings as knock-down, drag-out “discussions.” You’d almost think folks were going to come to blows. Yet as you point out, once people passionately presented their argument and a decision was made, the church got behind it. If they hadn’t, unity would have suffered and progress would have been hampered.

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