champion

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I was at a Church Meeting last night (and was immensely blessed by the experience). As a frequent ‘outside observer’ of Church Meetings I have a few ‘hunches’ (not caused by uncomfortable seating):

The way a room is set out may have a correlation with the mood of the meeting. If those leading the meeting are sat behind tables at the front it may suggest that there is likely to be confrontation. If everyone is in rows facing the front it may inhibit discussion. If the room is set out with people in a circle (or a version of a circle depending on numbers and space) it might encourage people to listen to one another more because they are facing each other.

Church Meetings that describe themselves as ‘Church Business Meetings’ have a different atmosphere to those that don’t. If it’s a formal business-style meeting then the approach (with proposers and seconders and lots of voting) may lend itself to more business-style topics. I have not done any research on this but my hunch is that those that are described as ‘Church Business Meetings’ may lead with things like finance and the running of the church rather than what church is really there for. And those meetings can feel more like democratic meetings where strident majority views carry the day rather than discernment meetings where we listen to the small uncertain voice as well as the loud.

Another hunch is that where a Church Meeting is explicitly a discernment process, seeking to listen for what God is saying to the church through one another, the focus of the meeting is likely to be more about mission and serving the community. Those meetings are often characterised by the number of times the meeting prays together about issues and different ways of listening to the gathered community other than just be plenary discussion. And everyone’s comments are listened to and respected because they could be the one God is speaking through.

Last night’s meeting included an epiphany for me. Quite often in the meeting there was a request for people to ‘pray about this’. That’s brilliant. That’s how churches should operate. And we did pray during the meeting. However I wonder how many of those ‘pray about this’ issues remained with people at the end of the meeting, and how many still remember them this morning?

I was given the opportunity at the end of the meeting to feed back to the church what I had experienced (this is something I often do – with permisssion – as a visitor). I remarked on how often we had been encouraged to ‘pray about this’ and wondered whether it might be worth having someone in the meeting designated to record the points for prayer. At the end of the meeting they could remind the meeting about these things (things to thank God for as well as requests) so that the meeting could do what it had been asked to do, and then perhaps those prayer items could be circulated to the church membership for them to continue to be in prayer about them. Of the cuff I suggested that they could perhaps be the ‘Prayer Champion’ and I am not convinced about the name, but I am warming up to the concept.

If you’re in a church that holds meetings, what are they like?

Be blessed, be a blessing

view from my pew 9

Dear Internet

At a recent Church Meeting I was forced to raise three points of order and it seems that I have upset Mr Davenport.

It all began when Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker, our Minister, decided that in one of our all-age services he would pretend to be the Old Testament Prophet Jonah. He came into the service drenched from head to toe, covered in seaweed and wearing clothes that looked Robinson Crusoe had discarded them. He began by saying, “You’ll never guess what happened to me on the way here,” and proceeded to tell the story of Jonah as if he was Jonah and as if we were the people of Nineveh. (If you don’t know what happened you can read it here (there are four chapters).

footMr Davenport, who has been a Member at the church almost as long as I have, objected to this because Revd P I-T was not wearing shoes in church and he thought it was disrespectful. In the next Church Meeting Mr Davenport raised an ‘Any Other Business’ item at the end of the meeting asking for a resolution to be passed that shoes should be worn in church at all times.

It was at this point that I raised my first point of order: did ‘shoes’ represent a generic term for all footwear or did we needed to list all different types of permissible footwear? Before Mr Davenport could respond I raised my second point of order: what about Believer’s Baptisms where the candidates often go into the pool barefoot?

I thought that these were legitimate points of order but before the meeting could address them just at that moment Revd Phil had another of his coughing fits and we had to wait for him to recover before the meeting could resume. When he had regained his composure he asked if anyone else had an opinion about this.

I was very surprised when Mrs Thurston put up her hand. She never says anything in Church Meetings (I assume she leaves it to those of us who know what we are doing and how to raise points of order). But she stood up and said, “I don’t know about whether or not it’s disrespectful that our Minister was barefoot, but what I do know is that my daughter Alice went home after the service and spoke to my husband, Robert, who never comes to church. She told him that there was a man at the church who had been swallowed by a fish and Robert was so interested that he said he would come with us to the next service to see what might happen next.”

With that she sat down to a round of applause from most of the Members. Revd Phil didn’t say anything. Mr Davenport didn’t say anything. And while I was tempted to ask about my points of order for once I decided not to say anything.

After a pause Revd P I-T started to close the meeting. This was when I raised my third point of order.

“Technically, Minister, we need to ask whether there is a seconder for Mr Davenport’s resolution or he needs to withdraw it.”

Revd Phil looked at me and rolled his eyes. He sighed and then he looked at Mr Davenport who went bright red in the face and mumbled that he would withdraw the resolution.

Revd Phil then looked back to me and asked if he could close the meeting now and I nodded happily – procedures had been followed properly and that’s very important to me. You can imagine my surprise when Mr Davenport (who normally shares my love of procedure) gave me a withering look after the meeting.

The next day I spoke to Revd Phil about his failure to follow the correct procedure and he sighed again (is he getting enough sleep?) and said, “Sometimes it’s better to be gracious than correct.”

What did he mean by that?

Yours sincerely

Mr QR Grenville-Stubbs

to vote or de-vote?

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This week I voted. It did not take long. It was not difficult. It was an election for my local Police and Crime Commissioner. The ‘campaign’ has been very low key around here – no leaflets, no phone calls, no posters. I had to look up the candidates for myself in order to make a decision about where to put my ‘x’. If I hadn’t had a polling card I would not have known there was an election at all.

It was tempting to think that my vote won’t make a difference: why should I put myself out by walking around the corner to the local school that was hosting the polling station – it’s only one vote, after all. That thought did cross my mind this morning, but then I dismissed it. Not just because if we all thought like that then nobody would get elected, or even the thought that there are countries where the people are denied that privilege, and when they are given it they vote enthusiastically. There was a bit more thought than that. I have written to my MP several times recently: about the clearing of part of the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, about the way that our Government could do more to help those fleeing persecution, and most recently about the ‘Dubs amendment’ to the Immigration Bill. But if I don’t participate in the democratic process as fully as possible (with whatever flaws I might think it has) then it’s much more difficult for me to voice my opinion with as much integrity as I would like. If my voice is to mean anything then I feel that I should vote.

Of course democracy is not really mentioned in the Bible. Nobody voted for Moses or Joshua, or the Judges, or the absolute monarchs of the Old Testament. In the New Testament nobody voted for Caesar, or any of the Herods, or even Pilate, Felix, Festus or King Agrippa. And the appointment of the early church leaders seemed to have more to do with whether they had known Jesus and the length of a straw (or whatever ‘casting lots’ meant) than democracy.

I believe that democracy has no place in the church (even though it’s the best (or least worst) political process). Don’t get too hot under the collar just yet, please read on because, as we all confess as good Baptists, I believe that if we vote in a Deacons’ or Church Meeting we are not voting democratically (although it looks similar) we are seeking to express what we are collectively discerning to be God’s will. Deacons’ and Church Meetings, at their best, are places where we can disagree agreeably, discuss graciously and then seek to discern wisely what God is saying to us.

In the book of Acts there are two contrasting approaches to discerning God’s will. The first is from the mouth of Gamaliel in the Sanhedrin when they were working out what to do with Peter and the Apostles who had been arrested (Acts 5):

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’

I have often heard Gamaliel’s wisdom commended as a good example of how to deal with a tricky situation. But to me it seems like a cop-out. He did not commit himself to discerning God’s will, he hedged his bets: he uses ‘if’ twice in the last two verses. (As an aside I note that the Sanhedrin had the apostles flogged before they released them, just to make a point and the Apostles rejoiced because they had been considered worthy of suffering for the Gospel).

Then there’s Acts 15 – the Council of Jerusalem – where the Christians tried to work out how Jewish God wanted you to be to follow Jesus. People of opposing views shared their opinions and then they discerned together (we don’t know how) and decided:

22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:

The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorisation and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

I love the phrase “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” as that, to me, seems to capture the essence of how a Deacons’ or Church Meeting should come to a conclusion. Whether or not votes are cast in order to help us discern, at the end we should all affirm “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” and then work to put that into action – even if it’s not our own personal preference – because we believe we have collectively listened to God through each other and heard what he wants. And that’s where Gamaliel’s words, with a slight alteration, make more sense: “But because it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

sunglasses

So, it has been a while hasn’t it my bloggist chums? I hope and pray that you will have had a wonderful Easter, and not just because of a surfeit of chocolate.

I was listening to a ‘discussion’ on the radio today and was struck by how it was set up and the nature of the debate. The producer had clearly got two people with diametrically opposing views and decided to put them together with the expectation that it would create an interesting / entertaining / provocative piece of journalism. But actually all we got was people shouting over one another. When that happens I tend to turn off the radio or change channel – presumably not the effect that the producer intended.

sunglassesIt got me wondering why it is that when we have a debate or a discussion or a discernment process we become more polarised than a pair of sunglasses? Why do we always have to go with a ‘yes / no’ approach? Why can’t we hold things in creative tension rather than having to have a winner and a loser?

I was recently involved in a discussion where I actually found myself in agreement with both of the apparently polarised sides of the discussion. I didn’t want to disagree with either of them. But the process forced me to choose one over the other and I was left feeling dissatisfied.

At this point you may be dismissing me as indecisive or lacking backbone, and you may be right. (Or are you?) But ‘creative tension’ was a phrase that was offered to me when I was inducted into my first church team. It is something that I have appreciated when working alongside people throughout my life. I don’t have to agree with everything someone else believes to get along with them and in the discussing and discerning process of disagreeing agreeably something creative can emerge.

And before you dismiss me completely as someone who is need of therapy to help reconcile internal conflict my understanding of God enables me to hold apparently irreconcilable views in that creative tension. The Bible describes Jesus as being both fully human and fully God at the same time. The infinite and the finite in an apparently impossible paradox. And how can one beyond time enter time? And then there’s the events of Easter when the eternal one dies (and is resurrected) – how can eternity (no beginning nor end) end and begin again? God is simultaneously a God of justice and mercy… and there are so many more. He doesn’t seem to have any problem with paradoxes, and he leaves our small brains smoking as we try to comprehend them.

So why can’t we live with creative tension? It’s more difficult sometimes. It’s messier. It means that we have to be more considerate of other people. It means we have to accept that we don’t have all of the answers. It means that we can’t ‘win’. It means that we need to listen to one another. It means that we need to honour one another.

Is that so bad?

Of course there are times when we need to make yes/no decisions. In a church recently I was asked a question: “EU referendum, in or out?”

I thought for a moment, and then said, “Yes.”

Which may have been a cop-out, or it may have been an attempt at saying that it’s important to make a decision but that my view does not need to distance me from those who disagree. Just because a decision has to be made it does not have to polarise. Surely we can disagree agreeably.

And it’s important. I wonder if one of the reasons why people switch off from church is because they don’t like it when we shout over each other.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

one small voice

One of my guilty pleasures is supporting Ipswich Town Football Club. It’s good for humility and helps me learn to cope with disappointment. A couple of times a year I like to go to watch them at their home ground, and I like getting there early to watch the preparations for the match – watching the teams ‘warm up’ (if I had warmed up as vigorously as that before a match when I used to play I would have been worn out before we started); seeing the grounds staff set up sprinklers (secretly hoping to squirt one of the opposition players as they warm up – it happened once) and then sort out any rogue divots before the match starts; seeing the interaction between the Ipswich Town mascots (Bluey and Crazee (usually messing around too)) and the crowd; and generally soaking up the atmosphere.

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Crazee

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When you arrive early there are not many people in the stadium. If I tried shouting a football chant or cheering nobody outside the ground would hear me – very few people in the stadium would hear me, and those who did might move away a bit. But slowly the ground fills up and the noise level rises. Then, during the match, when the crowd chants together or cheers people a long way away from the ground will hear them. Indeed I have been told that when there were Sunday lunchtime matches a nearby church had to make sure they finished their services before the match started otherwise they would be drowned out by the crowd.

I was reminded of that this morning when I got an email. This is what it said:

Dear Nick Lear,

Parliament is going to debate the petition you signed – “Jeremy Hunt to resume meaningful contract negotiations with the BMA.”.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/121262

The debate is scheduled for 21 March 2016.

Once the debate has happened, we’ll email you a video and transcript.

Thanks,
The Petitions team
UK Government and Parliament

On my own my voice would not have been heard. But when lots of people collectively gather together and raise their voice it can be heard and can make a difference. I think it’s part of what we call ‘democracy’. But if lots of small voices hadn’t spoken up nothing would have happened.

(I also wrote to my MP about the Refugee Crisis in Calais and got a letter back on official Houses of Parliament headed paper – but sadly it was a stock reply that didn’t answer any of the points I made. Still, at least my voice was raised and perhaps if lots of voices speak together someone might listen).

It’s funny how many Baptist churches think that they are democracies because they vote in Church Meetings. People think that it’s all about a majority of people getting their way. Yes, we believe that God speaks through a Church Meeting. Yes, one of the mechanisms for seeking to discern God’s voice is through voting. But it’s not a democracy because God doesn’t always speak through a majority. Part of the art of leading a church is to listen for God in the small voices as well as the loud ones. We also have to listen to him speaking through the unexpected, unanticipated person. We have to listen for him in the still small voice. And when we sense him speaking, it makes sense for us to stop and listen because he seems to enjoy speaking through the small, marginalised, apparently insignificant…

Consider Samuel hearing God speak when he was a small boy; Elijah in the cave sensing God in a gentle whisper rather than an earthquake, storm or wildfire; Mary the pregnant teenager; and of course the carpenter’s son from the back of beyond.

Your small voice can make a difference, and it might be that God is speaking through you. He might want you to join your small voice with others. So don’t be silent. And when lots of small voices join together sometimes the powerful stop and listen (which is a lesson to learn both if you are a small voice or if you are powerful).

Be blessed, be a blessing

a lesson in humility

Jesus face-planted as Nick got it wrong again
Jesus face-planted as Nick got it wrong again

Last night we had a Church Meeting where, among other things, we appointed new deacons (those who serve by leading and lead by serving). Three people had generously agreed to be nominated and I was thrilled that all three had agreed to stand – they are all brilliant Christians who have so much to offer us as a church.

I was upset, therefore, when one of the three did not receive sufficient votes within the meeting to be elected. If I am honest I was a bit annoyed too. And I was very concerned for the person who had not been elected – how would they feel having been willing to stand and then not been appointed?

Immediately after the meeting I was able to meet with the person who had not been successful and was instantly blessed by their grace and wisdom. Her wisdom, faith and humility humbled me. And I had to change my attitude.

At the start of the meeting I read a passage from the Bible and mentioned how we believe that God speaks to us all when we are gathered together. I prayed that he would guide us. And before the ‘election’ I said that it was not a democracy but a theocracy, where we are seeking God’s will together and using the method of voting as a way of discerning that (it’s less messy than some of the methods mentioned in the Bible!).

In our time together after the meeting Silvia (she’s given me permission to use her name) told me that she felt peace about the outcome because it was God’s will. That blessed me more than she could have known, and also made me stop and reflect.

When the meeting voted and discerned that it was not right for one of the nominees and I was upset and annoyed I was actually behaving a bit like a petulant child who did not get his way, and I was actually upset and annoyed with God! Oops.

So a couple of apologies are in order: sorry to God for ignoring him when he had led us and being sufficiently arrogant to believe that I knew better than him; and sorry to the church for not practising what I was preaching and not having enough faith in God and trust in his people that we would get it right.

I need a big badge saying, “Please be patient, God hasn’t finished with me yet.”

The wonderful thing is that God is gracious and willing to give fresh starts when we ask him.

Be blessed, be a blessing

ten proverbs for Church Meetings

  1. God can speak through anyone

    Encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11)

  2. Sometimes God asks you to take a risk, but he never asks you to be unwise
  3. This is not a democracy. Nor is it a dictatorship
  4. Two eyes, two ears, one mouth…
  5. Age (old or young) is never a barrier to God speaking through you
  6. It’s difficult to hear God speak through those who are absent
  7. When in doubt, pray
  8. When confident, pray
  9. Putting your hand up may also mean putting your hand in your pocket
  10. Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin is not meant to be a model for a Church Meeting
  11. Don’t expect your Minister to be able to count