Recently 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.