Over a cuppa yesterday afternoon, a friend quipped that membership was really all about ownership. And I thought, 'yes, she's right.' However, she had meant the quip negatively, whereas I was looking at it as a positive thing. Wonderful thing the English language!
Her argument is that some members think they own the church and, more particularly, its ministers. She's right, of course. Many Baptists do think membership and church meetings are a way of exercising power and ensuring that the church and its ministers do exactly what they want - hence giving them ownership over the church. And this is what leads many people to throw their hands up in horror and exclaim their antipathy to church meetings and membership in all their forms.
My immediate thought when she said it was that ownership is a key word in this discussion about belonging and membership. How do we create a sense of 'ownership' among those who belong to our churches? Of what does such 'ownership' consist? It seems to me that people express their belonging to an organisation by feeling that in some way they own its programme - ownership often being expressed in a willingness to fund the programme.
So, where does this word fit in our thinking about membership?
Monday, October 02, 2006
Members, meetings and ownership
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Not so long ago, I remember reading an article by an American pastor who described how his church had completely discarded the 'member'/'membership' labels and replaced them with 'partner'/'partnership', because he felt that they better convey a sense of active involvement in, and responsibility for, the God-given mission of the Church.
I have to say that I like the idea, but I don't know whether the average Baptist church membership would agree!
The difficulty with changing the labels is that you create a larger gap between what you are calling the thing and the good examples that have been set in the past while still not necessarily leading to decisive improvement in the attitudes that stop it working ideally in the first place.
Membership, ownership, leadership, stakeholdership: what we need to come back to again and again, individually and as a body, is the challenge of Christian discipleship, making choices to follow Jesus, strengthen and encourage those who are walking in the same way and demonstrating his message of truth and love to those who have not yet really seen him.
Enjoying folowing this discussion. Need to get this blog down as one I read - if I can remember how to do that!!!
Here in Scotland at a number of levels I have also been involved in discussions about Church membership/meetings/leadership - with these three things going together.
Sometimes the argument is that 'strong' leadership is much more effective than congregational leadership - I hope that what is meant by that is that it is more effective for the Kingdom!
However, rather than endless debating among different approaches I can't help but think that on this issue we need to make our choices and commit ourselves to a way that we will then be willing to submit and work with through good and not so good.
For me part of being the 'baptist' is committing myself to learning to work this way that is in 'congregation'. Are there other ways sure - but this is part of the 'baptist' way, a part that I find I want to learn to be part of and participate meaningfully in.
I do think that congregational life is more than consultation but has to be about participation which brings with it ownership for the decisions made and responsibilty for their consequences. The response is - but the people don't get it - well maybe if this is the way we are committed to we need to work harder at explaining and helping people get it - rather than abandoning this as a method and choosing instead a leadership priesthood model where a few will decide the will of Christ for the rest that they then have to follow. Maybee folks should not Baa! too easily and be and be allowed to be mature followers.
I think I am ranting...
Enjoying this discussion
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