As I write this, we are gearing up for our regular quarterly members’ meeting. So often in ministry, members’ meetings can seem like inefficient incursions into the real work of ministry. Yet another thing to do that many won’t enjoy and will certainly slow everything down. Who in their right mind becomes a pastor for the joy of leading members’ meetings?
But that sort of thinking is always a mistake. Efficiency is not our number one goal. There are other factors that should be driving the way we make decisions beyond what gets my views implemented fastest. And though most of us did not go into ministry for the joy of leading members’ meetings, at least some of us presumably took the job because of the people. Members’ meeting are one way (though I admit it rarely feels like it) of loving our people, including them in the work of the church and ensuring their participation.
So, in no particular order, here are a bunch of reasons we should want to hold onto our members’ meetings.
It demonstrates love
That was the controversial passing point I made in a paragraph or two above. But in what way can a members’ meeting possibly demonstrate love for the members? Simply in this: openly and clearly including them in decision-making. If I don’t care about my members, I can demonstrate my dismissive attitude in all sorts of ways to them. But one such way is to ignore their views, opinions and insights on matters related to the church.
Imagine what that might look like in a marriage. A husband or wife unilaterally makes life altering decisions about selling the house or moving to a new area without even consulting their spouse. You could forgive the one kept in the dark from assuming their partner does not care very much about them or their feelings such that they never even asked what they thought. The same is true for church members. One way we demonstrate our love and care for the members is by seeking their views and keeping them informed of plans that they have the right to help shape. The means we tend to use for that are members’ meetings.
It recognises church order
It is our conviction that the church is to be elder led and member ruled. The upper house (for want of a better term) is the church membership. They elect their elders (and remove them when necessary) and they affirm members (and remove them when necessary). It is the church membership as a whole that has ultimate authority in the church. But the church members recognise those who are qualified to lead and then give them the right to lead by electing them to office. The membership have the ultimate power to remove their leaders, but their leaders are given the consent of the members to actually lead.
In practice, this means the elders ought not to be hived off making decisions in a corner and not bringing them before the members. if we are to recognise proper church order, the members only know whether the elders are leading biblically if the elders actually lead in view of the membership. Members’ meetings are designed to recognise proper order. The church leaders are bringing their plans and decisions before the church so that the whole church may see them, approve of them and, by consequences, consent to them. It is the opportunity for the church to bring the elders’ decisions under scrutiny. If the church body really is the upper house, so to speak, then we recognise proper church order by bringing the decisions of the leadership before the members so that they can continue consenting to that very leadership.
Holds leaders to account
Whilst plural elderships are one means of holding elders to account, so that no one person can simply act and do with total impunity apart from the views of anyone else, members’ meetings are another such check. A refusal to stand before our members and own our decisions suggests one of a number of possible things.
It could signal a belief that our position isn’t very well thought through and won’t bear scrutiny. It may signal a belief that most people will not agree with us and a desire to duck their disapproval. It may signal contempt for the people, whose views we don’t much respect at any rate. There are other possible motives – some more or less sinister than others – but none of them especially good.
If we really care about the health of our churches, scrutiny on our decisions and ideas we haven’t thought through properly should be welcome lest we end up leading the church down paths that will damage it in the end. If we are concerned that a majority of people won’t agree with us, we must take some responsibility so far as our efforts to teach them biblically are concerned. We can’t think that highly of our own teaching ability if we are convinced people will constantly block what we want to do. If we are asking those questions about our ability to teach, they come with implications for our qualification to be an elder. if we hold our people’s views in contempt – thinking people may stand against us because they’re effectively idiots – again, we might be in the wrong role altogether.
We should welcome the scrutiny of the people God has given us to care for. If we don’t want to damage the church, we should want our half-baked ideas to be scrutinised. If we know our hearts are sinful, we should welcome the opportunity for people to catch our sin before we have noticed it. If we know we can deceive ourselves, we don’t have a monopoly on knowing the godly course of action or doing what is biblically wise. Accountability is, therefore, good.
It increases participation
Actively involving people in what we are doing and the decisions we are taking increases their participation in church life. If you know that you will never be called upon, you will never have a say, your thoughts are not required, it can’t be that surprising when people also see no need to serve. That is for the professionals and the leaders. They take the decisions, they must wear and enact their decisions.
But if people are involved in a discussion about what we are doing, they are more likely to feel ownership over it. That doesn’t mean we never present what we think ought to happen. But it does mean, as we present it, members can question, challenge or seek to alter what we present. There is active participation in the decision-making process.
As members take an active role in decisions taken, they are more likely to see the need to make sure whatever decision is taken is enacted well. Which means everyone recognises they may need to serve, they may need to make whatever part of the decision they helped form be a success. They may need to roll up their sleeves because it’s not just the leaders who decided, we all did, and so we all share in the success or failure equally. Collective decision-making – whatever form that may take in practice – increases the likelihood of active participation in enacting whatever decision is ultimately reached.
There are many other things we might say. There are lots of other reasons to love your members’ meetings. But here are just four of them. Maybe next time you have a members’ meeting, bear these things in mind and look forward to it. They don’t need to be a burden, they aren’t intended to ruin church life, but are there to help everyone flourish as God’s people in that particular place.