By Amber Riggs
Few things are worth packing four children under the age of 10 into a vehicle and driving 2,058 miles across the country…and then back. Amazingly, for my family, four riveting days of – wait for it – church business meetings happens to be one of them.
We have this belief that church business meetings are unique – and valuable – experiences of both worship and ministry. Particularly when they involve brothers and sisters in Christ from diverse ethnic, cultural, generational, and geographical backgrounds.
Yes, I’m talking about a room full of hundreds of people taking turns at a microphone, making and seconding motions, debating, hashing out semantic details, and casting votes.
As a form of worship, church administration is an act of being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2) to embody the image of a God who creates order from chaos (Gen. 1:1-2), administers gifts to the Church (Eph 3:2) – including gifts of administration (1 Cor. 12:27-28), and then asks us all to faithfully administer these gifts for the purpose of serving others (1 Peter 4:10).
Church business meetings are one aspect of acting out our worship through the ministry of church administration.
A PARTY PLANNING CHURCH
The business of ordering the inner workings of the Church reminds me of planning a huge family celebration, complete with grandparents, cousins, that crazy uncle, and all the fixin’s. The celebration is similar to the visible ministry of the Church. But it is the critical planning that resembles the ministry of church administration.
Since my local family includes seven households in a 20-mile radius, I experience the following fairly frequently: Someone in the family pops up – usually via Facebook – and makes a motion, “Let’s get together to celebrate x, y, and z!” Someone else seconds the plan, and then over the next few days, our conversations are consumed with hashing out a date, location, and menu.
MENUS HAVE TO BE PLANNED AND DECISIONS MADE
Now, this planning sounds simple, but it is often difficult to find a date that works for everyone. And two or three homes will volunteer to host. Menus have to be planned and decisions made about what is best for the entire group. If you really want to drive that crazy uncle even crazier, you discuss all of this via text message, thereby trapping him in a seemingly endless barrage of notifications.
Yet after the details have been hashed out, all of the planning pays off. In working together, everyone is able to contribute to a day of laughter and fullness that would have been impossible for one person to accomplish or experience in isolation. There is a sense of “this family is important, and it was worth the effort to come together and celebrate” – in a way that none of us could have done on our own.
Likewise, church administration does the work of party planning. It is the ministry that examines the goals of more visible ministries and maps out a strategy to effectively steward that vision.
The Church is family, too. In fact, Jesus flat-out calls us one. We could say that denominations make up tribes within that family, each with its own unique tribal culture and traditions. Yet even the tribes have a broad geography of encampments (regional districts) and family units (congregations).
Congregations within each denomination have shared values. Some of these values can – and should – be acted out and accomplished at a local level. However, many of these values require collaboration with a larger network of congregations that share these values. These common goals and needs are simply too big a work for any one congregation to do alone. Thus, they become shared responsibilities. Congregational partnerships within denominations also provide the critical support and accountability for local leadership as prescribed in the New Testament.
WE WORK TOGETHER
And so we work together within denominations to discern and articulate shared doctrine and then to publish materials that communicate our unique theology for those inside and outside the denomination. Together, we work to train pastors and other leaders. We work together to provide a transparent financial system of employing those leaders and provide legal protection for our congregations. We work together in the global mission of reconciling creation to Christ, forming trusted partnerships with believers around the world. Together, we explore common challenges to 21st-century faith and strengthen one another to meet those challenges.
We’d like to think we could do this without church business meetings.
And perhaps we could.
But it would be a mess. If it was a family celebration, we’d wind up with 5 desserts and no vegetables. Half the group would end up at one house while half would be at the other. And the life-of-the-party uncle would be home because he never got the memo.
THE BLESSING OF BYLAWS
Just as my family has found ways to more effectively coordinate family celebrations (e.g. no more text message threads), churches hold meetings to modify their bylaws for the same purpose.
Even the apostles had business meetings (Acts 15:1-33). Not only did they appoint leaders, they made a claim that we might choose not to believe were it not recorded in the Bible: they actually asserted that the Holy Spirit is an administrator who graces members of the Body of Christ with administrative wisdom and ability to strategically organize the Church’s mission of reconciliation.
Administration can sound terribly un-spiritual, yet many gifted administrators can testify to the thrill of being part of thoughtfully weaving God’s ways into the principles that govern how we make decisions and partner with one another for the sake of the gospel.
Furthermore, God’s mission isn’t just a spiritual mission. It is also a physical mission. Jesus didn’t come merely to save our souls. He also came to redeem and restore our bodies and the earth from which our bodies came. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that He gives us physical resources to accomplish this physical mission. Human resources, property, and finances are three of the physical resources that God has entrusted to the Church for the purpose of carrying out His mission. Like the servant in the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30), we are expected to steward these resources with intentionality and wisdom.
A church’s bylaws – its structure for making difficult decisions based on shared values – have a huge impact on how efficiently and effectively the church stewards its resources and carries out the collective work of ministry. It can either streamline this work or fill it with roadblocks.
APPROACHING BUSINESS WORSHIP
If you have the opportunity to participate in a church business meeting, recognize it for the act of worship that it is. First, remember who God has revealed Himself to be. Next, respond by laying pride, deception, anger, and divisiveness at His feet. Finally, anticipate what He wants to accomplish through a Church body who is committed to working together in love.