Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Disciples and membership

I am enjoying this discussion - thanks to everyone's who's commented; plenty of room for more. I think the passion and intelligence of the comments suggests that this is a key issue facing our Baptist churches.

I agree with Stuart that we want to promote participation, that meeting is about more than just consultation. We need to unpack what the word 'congregation' means, I guess, so that we can put flesh of the bones of belonging and discerning the mind of Christ together.

I get nervous when I hear talk of leaders leading and churches being envisioned by them. I've met too many walking wounded from such situations to think that the model's basically ok providing it's properly managed. I think it's flawed. I just can't quite put my finger on why!

At the same time, I'm beginning to think that our decision making is a but thin when a two thirds majority of members present and voting actually represents only 10% of the church membership. Of course, I have reservations about 'voting' as such but rules and charity law mean that certain things have to be decided by a recordable consensus (a vote by any other word!)

We're planning to try the idea of meeting over lunch on a Sunday to see if we get more participation.

But my key concern is not so much about how we do 'business' (though that's important), it's about how we get participation so that our church becomes a place that makes disciples who in turn are disciple-makers. It seems to me that that is what church is for at a fundamental level and that membership and meetings of members are a way of organising things to make that central purpose happen.

So I agree with Wulf that we need to get back to talking about this so that we are able to reflect Jesus to our neighbours in a meaningful way. Everything we do as a church should aim for that - including how we organise belonging and how we make decisions as churches.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is a bit simplistic given the depth of some of the other comments but this discussion set me thinking as to why I became a member. To be honest I'm not sure - it just naturally followed my baptism - I'm not sure I even questioned it. It's a while ago and lifestyles and time commitment have changed now but Simon's comment about discipleship did trigger a distant memory. When I became a member there was a discipleship course involved - one on one for as many weeks as we both felt necessary. She wasn't my minister just a member of the 'congregation' who'd been there a bit longer - a sort of mentor if you like. There was a programme of bible study but it was designed that you tailored it to what you want and I could speak to her about anything at all - including where the pigeonholes were - daft maybe but a safe haven in which to start to grow. The course finished years ago but I never been asked to do anything similar and yet we both benefitted immensely and I for one would welcome the opportunity to be there for someone else. This never took the place of developing friendships but sometimes especially in a big church a familiar face can make all the difference to feeling like you belong - and not just for the first few weeks after which everyone thinks you've settled in and therefore can move on to the next new face.

Pete Lev said...

Thanks - appreciating these posts (even though thus far I have only "lurked" rather than joined in!)

Wulf said...

The problem is that a church meeting sets itself almost impossible goals. If you can overcome the apathy that prevents a large proportion of people not being able to make it, then you have to cope with the fact that many of those present won't be particularly well prepared. Even if you have, through the application of teaching gifts, helped the majority of them to be well prepared then how do you make time for everyone to be able to express their views (including those who aren't eloquent or confident in larger groups)?

Church meetings can start and finish discussions (and voting is a practical mechanism) but developing them probably needs to be done through the network of relationships that should exist if we are together as a body of disciples and not a weekly huddle of pew-warmers.

Anonymous said...

When I was minister at Kirkintilloch
(I am now teaching at Scottish Baptist College)I used to encourage people (as indeed I now try to do in classroom)that what they say will not be taken or treated as their 'last word' on any subject but that it is in the 'conversation' that we needed we can find discernment. Accordingly I encouraged them to be: Open to speak, Open to Listen and crucially Open to Change their Minds. These things probably need to be taught and encouraged and supported if they are to happen - and this is perhaps where leadership functions - ensuring the context for genuine conversation. If these are outward activities Steve Langford a minister in Orkney has recently spoken about people Listening to God, Listening to Self and Listening to Others in the process of decision making and discernment. These processes perhaps emphasise the inner dimensions that are also necessary to support Spirit filled conversation and discernment. Again, perhaps the responsibility of leadership as well as ensuring the context for conversation is ensuring that the content is concerned with matters related to personal and communal Christian living the concerns of both Simon and Wulf.

Anonymous said...

Simon good thoughts. I wonder if we try and make decisions too quickly and some things need to take a few church meetings to talk and prayer over. often we too impatient. this might allow more to participate and more to understand the decisions that need to be made. The church meeting is part of a way of being rather than something we do. we gather together to discern the mind of christ - this is our baptist way of life. I think there is also a role for some to help narrate the church's story theologically. to help the church see the decisions they have made, are making and will make as part of God's story for this congregation. To help the church see financial issues as theological issues

Wulf said...

Time is an important factor. For even a relatively small church (mine has approaching 50 members), reasonably healthy representation at the church meeting means that you can't take a conversation very far on any given topic. We meet every other month so, practically, many decisions need to be made in other ways or else we'd get nothing done!

My desire is not to try and solve this by having more meetings but to encourage people to spend more time informally meeting together, building and belonging to the church by being in fellowship (and thus, picking up that wonderful phrase Andy used, developing the church's story).

Anonymous said...

Hi there, have picked up this discussion to now put some discussion into the Scottish context on my own blog. www.thewordatthebarricades.typepad.com

Anonymous said...

Gosh, so many issues going on within this fantastic blog. Here's just a couple of thoughts,
I wonder if the size of the church makes a difference in how we in church view our role in the life and business of the church. I can imagine that in a church of perhaps 50 or so members, the sense of responsibility to one another and family is stronger. Once there is a real sense of belonging within a family as apposed to membership then perhaps the longing for the best for others as apposed to fighting ones corner starts to be worked out. I think Jane has made some very important and interesting points that could certainly put a different slant on ones attitude to decipleship.

I think another issue here is that today many more followers of Jesus do not stay in the denomination which they were in when they made their commitment. So to someone who hasn't been brought up in the Baptist system of membership and buisness meetings it can be a very negative experience. It can at times appear that someone being in Christ is not as important as being in membership. I know from my own experience of not being allowed to participate in the full life and business of the church until I had become a member sent out a very negative message to this young follower of Christ. The fact that I have a real and active life in my Lord Jesus really didn't seem to give me permission to see myself as part of my new church family, it was membership that gave that which I found very sad and still do.

So yes I see a flawed system and as an individual in a very large church I see it as my responsibility to counteract that by doing all I can to make all feel loved and included in the family of Christ regardless of membership status in the bounderies of the Baptist system.