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

the wisdom of youth

In my daily reading from Wordlive we were looking at one of Job’s friends, Elihu. He is the youngest of Job’s so-called comforters and can’t believe the poor quality of advice Job has received from the older friends. He has been sitting patiently and quietly – listening respectfully – until he can keep quiet no longer:

9 It is not only the old who are wise,
not only the aged who understand what is right.

10 “Therefore I say: Listen to me;
I too will tell you what I know.

11 I waited while you spoke,
I listened to your reasoning;
while you were searching for words,

12 I gave you my full attention.
But not one of you has proved Job wrong;
none of you has answered his arguments.

13 Do not say, ‘We have found wisdom;
let God refute him, not a mere mortal.’

14 But Job has not marshaled his words against me,
and I will not answer him with your arguments.

15 “They are dismayed and have no more to say;
words have failed them.

16 Must I wait, now that they are silent,
now that they stand there with no reply?

17 I too will have my say;
I too will tell what I know.

18 For I am full of words,
and the spirit within me compels me;

19 inside I am like bottled-up wine,
like new wineskins ready to burst. (Job 32)

Several thoughts jumped off the page at me. One is a reminder that we need to listen to young people as much as to old people. In church it seems that (wrongly) old age counts more than young age.

I can remember the first church meeting I ever attended where there was a serious discussion about membership criteria. It seemed from the comments people were making that the church was leaning towards a more open membership stance. Until, that is, one of the oldest members in the church stood up and gave an impassioned ‘over my dead body’ type speech. Suddenly the mood in the meeting changed and nobody spoke to contradict him after that and the changes were not made.

On the other hand, at the first church where I was a minister some of the young people who were members wanted to remove the arbitrary age limit that was placed on voting in church meetings. I encouraged them to speak for themselves, to share their heart and speak about young people in the Bible through whom God spoke and acted. The initial opposition melted away in the face of their passionate, articulate presentation and the rule was changed almost unanimously.

The second thing that struck me from Elihu was his phrase about being like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins about to burst (a bit like when you put Mentos in Coke – see this link for an example). Jesus used the same image to describe how you can’t contain the new relationship with God that he had come to offer to the world in the old structures of Judaism. New wine was placed in new leather ‘bottles’ that were pliable and could expand as the wine continued to ferment. They would expand to bursting point.

I am challenged to consider whether I am bursting to tell people about Jesus and the new relationship with God that he offers. Or am I content to leave that to those who are more gifted, more extrovert, more confident, more enthusiastic?

I don’t remember Jesus placing caveats on ‘go’ (Matt. 28:19).

Please God, fill me with your Spirit until I am about to burst…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

deacons

Tonight we have a Deacons’ Meeting. I look forward to them as they are opportunities for us to seek God’s will together andI enjoy the company of all of the Deacons. They sometimes go on a long time. They very occasionally get side-tracked into trivia. We always try to focus our minds on our church purpose:

To follow Jesus Christ and make him known.

If it doesn’t fit in with the purpose statement it is not a high priority. As the person who usually chairs the meeting it is my task to try to keep us focused while enabling everyone to speak and share their thoughts so we have as many opportunities as possible to hear God speak to us through one another.

We don’t often have a formal vote when making decisions. Usually we work on the basis that we can reach a consensus. On the few occasions when we have not been able to come to a view we have taken that to the Church and said, “We don’t know, what is God saying to all of us in this?” Those have been great occasions as we have sought together to discern God’s will.

Why am I telling you this? Partly because I am blessed and encouraged by these meetings and I wanted to let the world know that Deacons Meetings need not be dreaded. All of our Deacons are godly people who seek to use their intellect, experience, skills, gifts and discernment in listening to God. I know that helps!

I am also telling you partly because I have been reminded today of how important it is to listen to God and how easy it is to ignore him, even when he is shouting loudly at us, because we have already made up our minds what we are doing.

“Thy will be done” is a very significant part of the Lord’s Prayer!

In American churches they sometimes refer to Deacons as ‘The Church Board’

“There will be a meeting of the Board immediately after the service,” announced the pastor.

After the close of the service, the Church Board gathered at the back of the auditorium for the announced meeting. But there was a stranger in their midst — a visitor who had never attended their church before.

“My friend,” said the pastor, “Didn’t you understand that this is a meeting of the Board?”

“Yes,” said the visitor, “and after today’s sermon, I suppose I’m just about as bored as anyone else who came to this meeting.”

show and tell?

I am a (very) part-time chaplain at Essex University. Today I took part in a ‘Learning at Work’ day at the Uni. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it is a grown-up version of ‘show and tell’. Now that is underplaying it badly, but the idea is that if you have a passion / skill / interest you can offer to share that with other University employees throughout the day.

I offered to give some advice and training on learning and performing magic tricks. Amazingly a few people decided that they wanted to attend the session so this morning I spent an hour and a half with half-a-dozen people from different departments of the University exploring some of the principles of magic tricks, teaching some simple moves and offering some advice, as well as showing off some of my tricks.

I felt it went okay – nobody fell asleep and all said nice things at the end. On reflection I did not invite them to say who they are (oops) and should have given much more opportunity for them to ask questions / make observations. Even though they learnt some tricks it was not as interactive as it should have been.

But on my way to the University I had an epiphany. (It didn’t hurt!) I realised that this is a good analogy of how churches work. We all bring our skills, experiences, personality and talents and share them with one another. We can all learn from one another. That is part of what Baptist Christians mean by ‘the priesthood of all believers’. We believe that God can and does speak to us as a gathered community through anyone and everyone who is there. That’s Church Meetings / Congregational governance at its best.

And… great summary of how we share our faith could be ‘show and tell’ – show the difference Jesus makes in your life and tell people about it too. Perhaps we need new words for the classic ‘Go, tell it on the mountains…’

“Show and tell it in the workplace, in our homes and everywhere…”

Join in at the back!

A teacher invited her class to bring in something that related to their faith for ‘show and tell’

A Jewish girl brought in a candlestick and spoke about Hannukah (Festival of Light)

A Hindu lad brought in a statue of one of their gods and spoke about their prayer rituals.

A Baptist lad brought in a pale green plate and spoke about ‘Bring and Share lunches’!

Church meetings

Church Meeting tonight. They seem to come around quicker and quicker. I have to say that they are a pleasure at our church. (I have to say it because it is true, not because someone is forcing me to or because it’s my job to enjoy them). There’s a sense of family and a desire to discern God’s will rather than factions fighting corners that I have heard about in some churches. Long may this continue.

See full size imageWhen I first became a Church Member (when I was a teenager) I can remember sitting through what seemed like interminable business meetings where people I had not met stood up and spoke for a long time. It was almost always the same people. It seemed like they almost always said the same things. Now I do realise that this caricature has been shaped by teenage boredom thresholds and the passage of time. What concerns me now is that I never had the courage to stand up and say anything (even if I had something significant to say). I was scared and intimidated. Not a good state of affairs.

Years later I joined the Baptist Union Council as a representative of Sussex Baptist Association. I distinctly remember as I was being given a lift to my first Council meeting being told not to say anything, just to listen and observe. It seemed like good advice, but towards the end of one debate I felt very strongly that I should say something. My mouth went dry, my heart started pounding and I wrestled with whether or not I should say anything. The chairman was about to close the session when I gingerly put up my hand. He was a bit exasperated at this late addition to the debate but allowed me to speak. I said my piece and sat down quickly, heart still thumping and red in the face.

I have gained in confidence since then and am normally happy to speak my mind in public (perhaps too happy!). But I hope and pray that nobody at our Church Meetings ever feels intimidated or frightened. We believe that God speaks through everyone and anyone and we need to hear everyone’s voice. We also need to recognise how much it takes for some people to speak in public. We try sometimes to split into small groups to enable people to speak more freely and then share back in plenary sessions but I am always open to other suggestions about how we can enable people to speak what they believe God is asking them to say. If you feel God has something for you to say, please don’t hold back: in the Bible he spoke through children, through young people, through outcasts, through untrained peasants, even through a donkey!

Church jokes
After a church service on Sunday Morning, a young boy suddenly announced to his mother, “Mum, I’ve decided to become a minister when I grow up.”

“That’s okay with us, but what made you decide that?”

“Well,” said the little boy, “I have to go to church on Sunday anyway, and I figure it will be more fun to stand up and shout than to sit down and listen.”

Fred walked into the pub with a black eye.
“How did you get that?” asked Joe.
“I went to church,” said Fred.
“You got a black eye for going to church?” exclaimed Joe.

“Well,” explained Fred, “I was sat behind Mrs Arbuthnot, and when we stood up to sing the first hymn I noticed that she had her skirt tucked into the top of her knickers. I leaned forward and, as gently as I could, I pulled it out for her. Just as I was finishing she turned around and punched me in the eye.”

A week later Fred came into the pub with a second black eye.
“How did you get that?” asked Joe.
“I went to church,” said Fred, sadly.
“You got another black eye for going to church?” exclaimed Joe incredulously.

“Well,” explained Fred again, “once again I was sat behind Mrs Arbuthnot. When we stood up to sing I noticed that once again she had her skirt tucked into the top of her knickers. Mr Entwhistle next to me noticed too, and he leaned forward and, as gently as he could, pulled it out for her. Now I know she likes her skirt tucked into her knickers, so I leaned forward and tucked it back in for her…”