Friday, September 29, 2006

Membership - what's at stake?

Membership and church meeting matters appear to be rising up the agenda of a number of groups within Baptist life at the moment. Some other bloggers - notably Andy Goodliff and Sean Winter - are addressing it and the mainstream network has raised it as one of the issues to be faced by an apostolically-focused movement.

For me the issues still boil to two big questions. Firstly, how can everyone who feels that they have a stake in a church be included in decision-making. And secondly, what decisions ought to be being made when the church gathers to talk 'business' (I don't like that term, but you hopefully know what I mean!)

I don't think that everyone who could be defined as a stakeholder should have a say in what the church does. For example, the parents of children who come to brigades could be said to be stakeholders in that they have a stake in brigades running well. But they do not have sufficient involvement in the rest of the life of the church to have a say in how it's run.

But there are people who join in church activities regularly - attending services, home groups - and give to the offering whenever they are there who, it could be argued, ought to be heard or consulted in some way about what we do. After all, something has attracted them to the church, something is keeping them - at the very least we should be having a conversation about what that is.

Perhaps their views can be represented by well-informed and in touch leaders who are mixing with those on the fringe and slightly further in.

Some suggest that churches are not democracies and argue that leaders should lead. After all, they say, God has anointed them for a task, they have been appointed to it by the church, so the church should let them get on and do it. The church meeting is then about vision-casting - the appointed leadership informing and enthusing the gathered church about where they feel God is taking them.

This is an attractive model and it clearly works in some groups. But it's not without problems. It's all very well casting vision but what do we do when the church throws it back at us and tells us it doesn't think we've listened hard enough to what God is saying?

The church is not a democracy - though I'm not sure democracy is such a dirty word, is it? After all, our Baptist forbears were among those who campaigned for greater political democracy during the English Revolution on the basis of their belief in the equality of all men (women tended not to be included!).

But vision needs to be owned by those who are expected to fund it and do at least half the work required to make it happen. At the very least common sense suggests we ask them beforehand if they think it's a good idea.

At a more theological level, of course, Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 2 is that we have the mind of Christ between us, not in us individually. I never cease to be amazed that Paul in that letter never once tells the leaders to sort the church out. He tells them all to unite and come to a common mind about how they should live based on what he says.

Indeed I have a feeling that our views of leadership are out of step with the New Testament, based as they are on a reading back into those texts, of practices derived from much later times. I'll blog about this separately.

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