The papers are shuffled. The chairs scrape into place. The low-level chatter comes slowly to a pause. The coffee has been sipped. It’s time for the meeting to begin. You look around and work out how the meeting will go. Will it stay on time? Will there be any drama? Will I get across what I want to? I wonder what the football score is?
Meetings can be dull. I wonder what coping mechanisms you have developed over the years to cope with the tiresome travails of interminable meetings? In the church we are guilty of perpetuating the need for meetings. Almost to the point where everyone is unaware of why they happen in the first place! The BCC show W1A brilliantly satirises the aimless sycophancy of some meetings – production meetings in the show are punctuated by inane mumblings and thoughtless reactions to a pre-arranged agenda. Ring any bells?
Maybe your meetings are otherwise. Maybe they are fantastically run, creative, thought-provoking and always achieve their aims. Maybe. I find the idea of some meetings intriguing: How do certain national leaders behave in meetings? How did the England cricket team’s Ashes debrief meetings go? Any meeting behind a closed door holds a moment of mystery for us.
In the church we have loads of meetings. Meetings to plan things. Meetings to discuss things. Meetings to choose things. Meetings to brainstorm things. Meetings to network. Meetings to feedback. Meetings to arrange meetings. Meetingszzzzzzzzzzzzz – sorry, I nodded off for a moment….
How can we use meetings effectively and efficiently in our Christian mission? Let’s explore some ways that we could make our meetings as relevant as possible. We will use Acts 15 as a blueprint for good, positive mission-focused meetings.
Where? is important
“Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem. (…) When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders.. ” Acts 15:2, 15:4 ESV
Paul and Barnabas were keen to spread the news of the Gospel to all people – they wanted Gentiles to take their place in the church. They knew that there were certain barriers to this happening; cultural and religious matters which could prevent this expansion. They promoted their cause at a meeting! The Council of Jerusalem was the place to be. Everyone who mattered was there, from each wing of the fledgling fellowship of early Christians to the hardline Pharisaical thinkers. Paul and his friends got their timing just right. For us it might be a challenge to know where and when to discuss things that pertain to the church. Maybe we could find a local forum that is already meeting to promote our cause or to tell people what we are doing. It may be that your local council has an open part to it’s meeting. It would be brilliant to go there and speak clearly of the life and good news that we can share with those in our community.
When? is important
Just before Chapter 15, we read that Paul had “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles”. (What an excellent phrase.) This was due to the work that Paul had done in spreading the message amongst those who didn’t believe. But in the Council of Jerusalem, Paul and his friends give a passionate discussion about how they could overcome the issues that could potentially divide the church. Both Peter and James speak about the covenant faithfulness of God and work their way towards a resolution. This meeting was timed to coincide with the effect of growth in the church. Growth lead to certain growing pains and a possible split in the church. The early apostles met together at this time to find common ground and to best move the church forward.
Who? is important
All the important people seemed to gather in Jerusalem for this council meeting. The apostles (Paul, Peter, Barnabas, James etc), the elders of the church in Jerusalem, believers from the Pharisees and other members of assembled church. A real mix of insiders and outsiders, the leaders and the led, the important and the less-so. We read that there was “much debate” between those who were there. This is an encouragement to us in our meetings, because we don’t always see eye-to-eye with everybody. Healthy disagreement is good, as it helps us to see things from other perspectives and discover a richer understanding of the things we might be in disagreement about.
What? is important
At the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 it was religious practices such as circumcision that was high on the agenda. It could be that we have other, more pressing matters to discuss at our meetings. Let us make our meetings be part of the vibrancy of our mission life together and not just a dull necessity. Let’s meet in the key places, let’s meet at the right time for our community and people, let’s do our best to include the right people, let’s include some prayer, let’s include the views of as many as possible. May our meetings be positive, full of God’s Holy Spirit and worthy of God’s mission in our church life. It could be that the where, when and who of our meetings follow the blueprint of the council of Jerusalem and lead to the kind of growth that the early church saw!