We had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours recently with a gifted group of church board leaders. Among the several questions we discussed with this group, one seemed to register most deeply, judging by people’s widespread sighs, forward leans, and nods of assent.
How do we stay in the room with people with whom we disagree and/or who hold such divergent world views to our own?
This is a key question being discussed everywhere in our society right now. But for church boards, it is not theoretical. The ‘room’ is real. And the division and harsh rhetoric that describes our life as citizens has literally infected the air in that room.
Church boards don’t have the option of making this some sort of twisted sport, with one side trying to score points against the other. Church boards need, among many other priorities, to create an atmosphere in the room that allows them to …
… discern the movement of the Holy Spirit…
… support the deployment of church resources to community needs…
… witness to their congregation (and beyond) the love, justice, and unity of Jesus Christ…
… help support their pastors in a spirit of healthy mutual accountability…
… and, if that is not enough, nurture a deep, loving trust among the board and congregation.
How do you do all that—and stay in the room—when disagreements overshadow the best attempts?
One option is to leave the room together.
In a pre-pandemic post of January 2019, we suggested moving church meetings outside the church. We were thinking of mission committees in particular—but why not start moving your church board meetings elsewhere too? How might a simple shift of venue help to refresh the air and the conversation for your leadership circle?
A change of venue is central to Luke’s Gospel:
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:1-9)
A change of setting for your church board may not have all these high aims. But it is compelling to ask … why did Jesus send disciples out two by two in Luke’s account?
Up until this point in Luke’s Gospel, the disciples had largely been with one another and watching Jesus. You can imagine, what with the disciples being human and all, that by now some annoyances, second-guessing, rivalries, and disagreements had begun to infect the air. With this one deployment, Jesus changed the air.
- Out in the world in pairs, they had to learn collaborative work together.
- They were told not to carry a purse or wallet (or report, study, motion, or angry email)—they had to meet people in their need and respond.
- They could not just think about ministry in theory; they had to engage in the ministry of healing where they could and receive people in peace.
- Most importantly, they were sent out to discover, as we must, that the real resistance to God’s love is not among church members with whom you disagree. Being sent out as “sheep among wolves” has a way of focusing the mind and heart on the urgency of the gospel message, in a world that is often hostile yet still spiritually hungry for that word.
Moving your church board meeting out of the usual space is a much smaller challenge than this. But, if you are working on how to stay in the room with those with whom you disagree, think about changing the room … and see what opportunities for peace and healing arise.
When in recent board-meeting history has the air suddenly changed in the room, for better or worse?
Where could your board meet next time that might open new opportunities for peace and healing—both for the board and for the world?
How would you send one another out toward that meeting? What would you be sure to carry? And what would you leave behind?