The first is that a lot of people are joining in. More are attending our mid-week central gathering than usual, others are emailing ideas or collaring us at church on Sunday to express a view or ask a question. This is all great - though collating it all and getting that disseminated to others is a challenge!
The second is that people are talking and listening to each other. There was a healthy degree of honesty last week and even disagreement that didn't descend into rancour. I had the sense of people expressing their view and then, on hearing a contrary view reasonably stated, pausing to reflect on whether they should amend their view. This is progress, I feel.
Over on Stuart Blythe's excellent Word at the Barricades, he reflects on whether we should count as members those who turn up to discuss and discern what God is saying to the church. I like this bottom-up, non-institutional approach. Stuart says:
maybe members should be recognised as those who attend the meetings to share in
the discussing and discerning! To put that differently, if we consider that
the practice of communal discernment is important, if that is a conviction, let
us make it more important in practice not less.
I like his phrase 'communal discernment'. It strikes me that this is what congregational government ought to be about. It seems to me to be what Paul argues on 1 Corinthians 2 about us having the mind of Christ.
I do have an observation/question about it, however, and it's this: people seem to have a default position that they do not want to things they find comfortable and familiar to change. We want new people to join the church but we don't want the way we do church to be affected by that. So when those people gather to 'communally discern' they tend to think that God is interested in maintaining the status quo, the way we do things here. After all, at some point in our history, we have communally discerned that this is the right way to do things.
So it seems to me that the role leaders have in congregational government is to bring the bigger picture against which communal discernment now must take place. And that bigger picture is especially informed by scripture and culture and particularly the reading of scripture in the light of the cultural situation in which we must embody, incarnate our gathering called church.
So it seems to be that communal discernment has to be about hearing Christ in the scriptures and the wider world as well as about hearing Christ through one another gathered to chart a way forward.
Getting people to change long held views is perhaps the first step towards getting people to change practice so well done if people are re-thinking thier position on things in light of participation!
I might be wrong, but I am finding people resist change not because it will be unscriptural but rather as you say from a sense of being to be made uncomfortable. In fact, if people did allow themselves to be searched by scripture (very uncomfortable) their communal discernment will be of greater effect. However, I am suprised how among evangelical protestant believers there is a lack of understanding about the scripture. We assume most hold to the same views as us but as I shockingly have found many don't for various reasons. Has our over emphasis as evangelicals on conversion at the loss of discipleship led to this?
Continue to follow your dicussions with interest.
I do think that 'leadership' has a responsibility in communal discernment - and that is to help people do it in a 'disciplined'way. Up to now I have thought of this discipline (with thanks to the contribution of others) of involving the outward disciplines of - Being open to listen, being open to speak, and crucially being open to change our minds and in dynamic with this the inward disciplines of listening to our own voice, listening to the voice of others and listening to the voice of Christ. Yet what you raise are issues of alternative voices - culture and the world. Perhaps indeed leaders should bring this perspective. I wonder further what would happen if we invited to our meeting alternative voices of local people - not part of the Church - not to discern with us - but to help us listen to the world and culture as it sees us so that in turn we can then discern. This I suspect, however, might be a step too far for some who would become defensive or want to convince them without actually really listening.
My present problem is finding a place to try some of this...
I am inspired by the idea of facilitating hearing the voices of others outside our church communites as part of our discerning processes. I recognise the frustration of finding the place for it, but am left with the question "If we don't, who will?".
In terms of practice we know so litle of the Church in those first few years after Jesus' resurrection, however there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that its work was rooted in responding to the physical, spritual and health needs of those immediately around the Christ-following community. If Peter and John hadn't heard the plea for help at the beautiful gate they couldn't have reponded. It was more than the voice of the beggar in the plea, it was also the Spirit's guidance.
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