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5 questions pastoral candidates must ask: MQ4-about business meetings?

So, the "one another" passages in the New Testament provide a moral and ethical framework for personal relations between believers. Yea, verily, they are an expression of the character of Christ being formed in every Christian. Of course, they are suspended by many congregations during business meetings. You know there's a business element in administering the mission of Christ's church. MQ4, that is, the fourth MUST ASK question of pastoral candidates to the search committee involves questions about business process systems in the church.

Once again, there are layers in questioning how the church accomplishes the necessary administrative matters that enable the mission. As a result, questions about them can appear in serveral forms, even requests of the candidate to the search team or church leaders. Here are a few suggestions---

1. As mentioned yesterday in the discussion of MQ3, the MUST QUESTION about the constitution and by-laws of the church, the candidate should read and study governing documents to obtain a general over-view of the mandates that should guide their business decisions, reporting of data, election of officers, transfer of property, incurring debt, frequency of meetings, and other information regarding business functions. The constitution and by-laws portray how these things are supposed to happen.

2. The candidate should ask the entire committee to tell him about the last business meeting. Here's where some translation skills of non-verbal communication may be valuable. Often, the interplay or eye contact of the members before actually answering are a significant clue as to the business practices of the church. Then, allow them to describe the last conference, and the general flow of most meetings.

3. A request to review the minutes is not out of order. Even more, a Podcast review will give the candidate first hand experience with how business meetings really happen. Many congregations are in denial about their business and reporting functions. To see a live meeting will dispel any pretenses regarding their business practices.

4. Here's a stretch of thin ice. Be careful here. If the constitution and by-laws indicate that the pastor is the moderator of church business sessions, you may want to question them further about why this procedure is in place. I was the moderator of monthly business meetings in one of my pastorates. It was a clumsy, awkward procedure that often fostered ill intent into the meetings. When I felt the need to speak to an issue I had to surrender the chair, and the the group had to elect a substitute chair. Of course, I didn't speak to every issue, especially those that were routine matters. But, I remember my first meeting when a member rose out of the blue and propsed that we stop giving to the SBC Cooperative Program. I couldn't let that one pass without pastoral comment and leadership. But, it was a time-consuming, cumbersome to relinquish the chair and follow Robert's Rule of Order in continuing the meeting. Yuk!

5. The constitution and by-laws, Robert's Rule of Order, and other references provide good guides for conducting meetings. However, Scripture is the definitive guide about relating to one another. There are many passages bearing on the internal relationships within the church body. They should be the rule for business meeting conduct. Even more, "But all things should be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40) should over-rule human emotions and even secular guides.

In my experience, church business is one of the most difficult traditions to address in streamlining the mission of the church (the most imbedded traditions are business, budgets, buildings, by-laws, bulletins, and buses, in case you were wondering). Since trust is key in the relational connection between believers, the business plan, conduct, and reporting should be administered in confident, trusting ways. In many instances every business meeting is divisive to the body, especially when the church is asked to vote on peripheral matters. One pastor told me that every time the church family raises their hands in a vote, division occurs and is publically expressed. As a result, many churches no longer conduct monthly meetings, but are on a quarterly calendar. Northwood Baptist Church has an annual meetting, plus a November called meeting to approve the church budget during a morning worship experience, and a procedure for calling special meetings as needed. Financial data and committee reports are distributed as needed as well. And, the books are always open for church member review.

Baptists have long been noted for congregational polity. This kind of governance is exercised in many ways as churches express their business functions in various forms of leadership. Elders lead many congregations, deacons are the business administrators of a good number of churches, while others operate under a church council system, or are committee led. As a result, congregational polity is achieved through election of officers, the committee structure, approval of budgets and church indebtedness while the ministry organization deals with routine matters of mission. I mentioned earlier this week a church that didn't purchase a new high-chair for the social hall because the expenditure had not been approved in conference. It was an extreme application of congregational polity. At the least, however, the calling of a pastor, transfer of real property, approval of an annual budget, or loans should require a vote of the church.

Several years ago Chuck Colson wrote The Body: Being Light in the Darkness with Ellen Santilli Vaughn (Word Publishing: Dallas, 1992). One of the chapters was titled Extending the Right Fist of Fellowship. Most of us laughed at the title. It was funny because it struck a chord of familiarity to us. This terminology was a word picture with which most of us could identify. We've either experiencd what our staff called the dark under-belly of the church or have had heard episodes from our colleagues that would make incredible reality TV. Church life can certainly get ugly at times. Someone told me recently they were tired of all the chiurch drama, especially at business meetings. I told them there was no church drama---just people drama. And, it shows it's ugly face everywhere.

That's why pastor candidates should ask about business meetings. Church leaders are talking today about why so many younger people are moving beyond our traditional denominational boundaries. The answer usually isn't about theology or mission or even methodology. More often the disconnect is about the incongruity of expressed faith and the internal systems by which we operate. And, there is no darker side to our paradigms of church than the business meeting, where believers quibble, strain at gnats, play power games, attack one another, and dishonor Christ by conduct unbecoming to him.

So, it's just another MQ. And pastor candidates better be sure to ask it.

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