Points on the Triangle: Individual Experience

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

In the last two weeks we have been exploring a conversation triangle – one way of visualizing where church board discussions get stuck and how they can be helped to move deeper.  Every group conversation has at least at three points:  content, individual experience, and common work.  We discussed content last week and will address common work next week.  This week, though, we want to talk about the role that personal experience and expression play in the group discussions and discernment of church boards.

No one comes to a church board meeting ready to serve the church at a complete remove from the rest of their life.  We walk in carrying the joys, concerns, triumphs, tragedies, accidents, and, most of all, the worries of the day – and our thoughts and feelings inevitably insert themselves into the conversation.  This is what it means to be human, in a group of fellow humans.  Acknowledging and providing space for personal expression is not a sideline or disruption.  It is a responsibility for any gathering of Jesus followers.

And yet, if the meeting stays there, or is limited to just one or two voices speaking through the lens of personal experience, the group will struggle, and the conversation will begin to feel … stuck.

This week marks the 200th anniversary of the premiere of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  As pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim has written in honor of the occasion, this classic work reveals Beethoven’s profound interest in humanity, understood in the broadest and deepest terms.  Barenboim observes:

(Beethoven) was concerned with moral behavior and the larger questions of right and wrong affecting all of society. Especially significant for him was freedom of thought and of personal expression, which he associated with the rights and responsibilities of the individual.

… Music on its own does not stand for anything except itself. The greatness of music, and the Ninth Symphony, lies in the richness of its contrasts. Music never just laughs or cries; it always laughs and cries at the same time. Creating unity out of contradictions — that is Beethoven for me.

Music, if you study it properly, is a lesson for life. There is much we can learn from Beethoven, who was, of course, one of the strongest personalities in the history of music. He is the master of bringing emotion and intellect together. With Beethoven, you must be able to structure your feelings and feel the structure emotionally — a fantastic lesson for life! When we are in love, we lose all sense of discipline. Music doesn’t allow for that.

But music means different things to different people and sometimes even different things to the same person at different moments. It might be poetic, philosophical, sensual or mathematical, but it must have something to do with the soul.

Creating unity out of contradictions.  That is an excellent description of Beethoven – and of church boards at their best. Our boards seek to bring “emotion and intellect” together, to allow for Spirit-fed leadership. And yet, as Barenboim notes, You must be able to structure your feelings and feel the structure emotionally.  To put it another way, personal expression and exploration need structure.  There is a discipline to participating together in a deep and meaningful board discussion.  What Barenboim says about music applies to church boards as well:  When we are in love, we lose all sense of discipline. Music doesn’t allow for that.

The following passage in 1st Corinthians is often used in church liturgies and referenced in passing whenever we talk about Christian community.  But familiarity should not dull us to the depth and complexity of what Paul is presenting here.  One body, different members is a recipe for a lifetime of board discussions.  We all have need of one another, as individuals with different gifts and perspectives.  But a board must function as one, guided by God’s Spirit, to be effective.  In this text, care of the individual actually leads to a unity of spirit, purpose, and vision.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect, 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.    (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)



Think back to your last church board meeting.  What was a thought or worry from your own life that walked with you into that meeting room?  Did it help you in the meeting – or hinder you in the meeting?  How could that have gone differently?


What does Barenboim mean when he says, “Music never just laughs or cries; it always laughs and cries at the same time.”


Barenboim talks of music as providing a needed structure or discipline that allows for the unity of emotion and intellect.  What do you think he means by that?


What structure or discipline is available to you in church board meetings to help you, as a group, engage personal emotion, expression, and experience – and keep moving?


What answer does Paul give to that question in 1st Corinthians?

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