It could have been terrible. It could have been nasty. People could have come away hurt. It could have damaged our church’s witness in the world. But thanks be to God that it didn’t go that way.
I’m talking about the special regional board meeting we had this past Saturday. For the uninitiated, the region is our middle management—between the local churches and our national organization. Our region is in the midst of some major transition right now. We’re not alone in this; all of our church’s regions are going through similar struggles, as are the “middle judicatories” of just about every church denomination. And it’s a lot more common than we’d like to admit that these struggles often result in criticism being focused on our leaders—in our case, on our regional minister—and often in the less-than-loving removal of those leaders.
This could have happened in our meeting on Saturday. The meeting was called by a board member who wanted us to talk about whether or not the regional minister’s leadership was appropriate for our region’s needs—and between the lines we understood that a decision was desired whether or not we wished his leadership to continue.
When I first learned about this meeting, I mentioned it to my husband, who has not been as deeply immersed in church life as I have been since childhood. His response was, “It amazes me how you church folks can be so un-Christian sometimes.” And he’s right! It could have been this way Saturday. I went to the meeting unsure whether we’d behave like Christians or something else.
But it turns out that the meeting was very constructive, and we all behaved lovingly, not just toward one another but toward our regional minister. Yes, there were criticisms, things that will need to be addressed; but we were able to see that all the blame for our anxiety and uncertainty about the future could not be laid at the regional minister’s feet. When it came time for the regional minister to join us, after we broke for lunch, we determined what would be the best way to communicate with him, so he didn’t feel like he was being ambushed.
What was different in this meeting than in so many other meetings that are called for the same reasons? The only thing I can think of is that this meeting was bathed in prayer. Folks were praying for us and for the meeting itself for weeks beforehand. We began the meeting in prayer and ended with Communion. We had an extended time of prayer after lunch, before the regional minister joined us.
The fact of the matter is that we Christians cannot always behave like Christians on our own. Real and human fears, desires for power and control, and other issues often interfere even with our best intentions to be Christlike. But if we call upon God, and commit ourselves to being led by God, it can happen.
We still have anxious times ahead of us. But we now know that if our conversations and discussions are surrounded and infused with prayer and a desire to do God’s will, we will be all right. Thanks be to God for guiding us and for helping the Christian Church be truly Christian.