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DULUTH, Ga. (BP)--One church sign revealed, "Today's sermon: What is hell like?" Underneath the sermon title were the words, "Church business meeting tonight."
Some church business meetings have been alarmingly similar to the place of torment.
In Dr. W.A. Criswell's famous sermon, "The Old Time Religion," he tells about a church conference or church business meeting he had in the church he served as pastor when he was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"We had a man in our church," Criswell said, "who was born in the objective mood, negative case. No matter what we were considering he was 'agin it.'
"At one church business meeting we were discussing the prospect of building a fence around the church cemetery, and this obstreperous, cantankerous, argumentative church member rose to state his position on the matter at hand.
"He vociferously exclaimed, 'I am agin it! I am agin it! Why should we build a fence around the cemetery? Do you know anyone in the cemetery who can get out; and do you know anyone outside of the cemetery who wants to get in? Why build a fence around the cemetery?'"
Your church probably doesn't have anyone born in the objective mood and negative case, but I have encountered a few people like that in the course of my ministry.
I have presided over heated discussions regarding who should be in charge of the thermostat in the church worship center, the color of the carpet in the church, and whether or not to buy an electric typewriter or just keep the old manual Underwood typewriter for the church secretary.
The minutes of one church business meeting recorded the following: "The committee charged with reducing the electrical costs in the church building reported that they had been standing outside the bathrooms after services and reminding people to turn out the lights as they leave.
"Mr. Tom Brown objected that this might create the wrong impression with visitors but was quickly shouted down by Deacon Holstein who opined that anyone who couldn't follow a few simple posted rules weren't the kind of people we wanted around this church anyway. After another thirty minutes of discussion, the matter was tabled until next month."
It is true that wherever there are two Baptists together you could have up to three opinions on any given subject.
A blogger from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada has obviously been around a church business meeting or two. He observed, "Local churches all over the world are shattered so often that it is almost an expected result. Pastors are fired, members storm off, staff members take a group from one church to start another just down the road. Business meetings become filled with yelling, fighting, and screaming, believers taking sides against fellow believers. Then there are power plays, deception, and alliances that would make reality TV look sane."
I have a few rules I would like to suggest that churches employ for their business meetings.
First, non-tithers should not be allowed to speak or vote at church business meetings. If that rule seems unfair then the time allotted for members to speak should be in direct proportion to how much they give. For example, a person who gives 2 percent of their income to the church should be given the opportunity to speak for 20 seconds, the person who gives 4 percent should be allotted 40 seconds, the person who gives 10 percent for 1 minute and 40 seconds and the person who gives 20 percent should be allowed to speak for 3 minutes and 20 seconds, etc.
Second, no one should be allowed to speak or vote at the church business meeting who is more conversant with the church constitution/by-laws and Robert's Rules of Order than the Bible. I have known deacons who could quote Article III, Section 4, paragraph 6 of the church constitution, but couldn't find the Gospel of John in the Bible.
Third, the only members who can speak or vote at church business meetings should have at least a 75 percent attendance record. In other words, if the church has Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening worship services or Bible studies each week or 12 such meetings a month, a member should be in attendance for nine of those meetings in order to participate in a business meeting.
Having this rule will prohibit conniving members from importing scads of inactive members for crucial votes -- like for the termination of a pastor.
Fourth, a man who is silenced and controlled by his wife should not try to make up for his lack of authority at home by attempting to assert himself and control the church business meeting. Unfortunately, some men are as bold as a lion at a church conference and as meek as a lamb at home.
Fifth, some church business meetings should be held in a wrestling arena or hockey rink, because there is nothing spiritual about them and they hardly qualify to be held in a "house of prayer." Half Nelsons and flying pucks are more likely to be seen in some church business meetings than grace and unity.
In case you think the preceding suggestions are manifestly unspiritual, I want you to know that I have written them facetiously or tongue-in-cheek -- well, maybe somewhat facetiously. Others of you may be cheering the suggestions because if they were employed, your church business meetings would be significantly improved.
Here is the question: What kind of impression would an unsaved person get about your church if his only exposure to it were a business meeting? Furthermore, if the resurrected Christ were to visibly walk into your church business meeting would He feel at home in His Church?
May the Lord be exalted in your church's next business meeting and in the Southern Baptist Convention's business meeting in Louisville this month. Why? The media will show up as usual and the world will be watching and quite often the only impression the world gets of us is the impression they get of our business meeting.
Gerald Harris is editor of the Christian Index.