Monday, September 25, 2006

Gathering and listening

I'm just back from a stimulating church weekend away with a neighbouring church. I was leading the conversation on how we live as Christians and do church in Mcworld. As well as me talking, the church worked in groups applying the message from Philippians to their local situation.

So much, so common - it happens at church weekend up and down the land.

But I started wondering half-way through the weekend - in the light of the discussion on this blog about membership and church meetings - how this process differed from a regular church meeting where God's people gather to discern the way ahead.

Stuart from Kirkintilloch Baptist Church (hi Stuart - really nice to hear from you - greetings to everyone there!) points out that church meetings are more than a check and balance. They should be places of creativity and insight. He suggests that leaders ought to be creating a culture of participation and teaching participation as a spiritual discipline (I like that phrase very much).

I think the spiritual discipline of participation was on view over the weekend I've just returned from. People seriously and intelligently wrestled with what the Scriptures were saying to them in their particular context. And it was not just general stuff. Some of the feedback from the groups indicated that people were really seeking to apply insights to decisions the church has to make about its future direction, structure and organization.

It was like being at an exciting, extended church meeting.

Of course we were away for a whole weekend, eating together, walking and playing together, laughing over coffee and chocolate late into the night. Out of these relationships came honesty and engagement. That can't be replicated in an hour on wet Wednesday in the church's back hall.

But the group work part of this can. What if church meetings become just part of a consultation process that also includes home groups and other small group gathering where people share out deepening relationships. Creativity and insight can be encouraged there far more easily than at church meetings. Participation can be taught and modeled over a long period of time. People cane share in the security of knowing they are doing so among friends (sadly, not always true at church meetings).

Perhaps no important business relating to the direction or the mission of the church should come to church meetings until it has been thrashed out in home groups over a couple of sessions. Would that improve participation and decision-making?


Wulf said...

In theory, yes. In practise, while small groups can be incredibly creative, they can also act like heatsinks, dissipating energy.

I have seen the small groups in my church do some great things, for example in "Cell-ebrations" where we have gathered together for an evening or taken over a morning service, with each group contributing to the proceedings.

Developing ideas and discerning direction is something that hasn't succeeded so clearly. We do try, because we do believe in the importance of encouraging everyone to be involved (and the blessing of hearing what God seems to be saying confirmed from several directions) but I think the process can be hampered by taking place over a longer period of time which, in most cases, allows the iron to cool.

Any thoughts on turning the concept from a noble idea to an effective solution?

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that participation takes more time in proportion to the number of people involved and so patience requires to come into the equation perhaps particularly from those of us in leadership who may already have had a variety of opportunities to talk an issue through at various levels. Perhaps though this also flags up the question of whether what we are trying to do in larger churches is to create that which can only take place (although may not necessarily happen)in small groups - that is focussed, owned, relevant, creative Spirtied discerning conversation. That said, I find Simon's suggestions about how this could perhaps be done appealing. Yes, time and energy required will continue to be heavy but I suppose one issue will be whether we think that the process of how we make decisions is as important to the long term formation of the church as making the right ones.