Thursday, December 01, 2005

Congregational Meeting

Tomorrow night at 7:30 is the Congregational Meeting. I hear that some people do not attend because they do not feel like decisions are already made. Here is why you should attend.

1. As a church member you vowed to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability and to submit yourselves to the government of the church.

2. As a church member you do have a say and opportunity is given for it.

3. As a church member you have the responsibility to encourage and support decisions, not merely speak out when you have objections.

4. If enough do not attend (150), no decisions can be made, as happened at the Spring meeting.

5. At this particular meeting, the first report of the Strategic Planning Committee will be given. This strategic planning is probably the most critical process taking place in the church and will affect the direction of the church for the next ten years. If you want to have a say in this process, now is the time to come.

6. The more the merrier. We like you! It's fun to have the body of Christ together, and the more the merrier.

7. You'll miss Phil's attempt at delivering a joke!


Anonymous member said...

According to the PCA Book of Church Order, Chapter 25, Section 3, "[t]he quorum of the congregational meeting shall consist of one-fourth (1/4) of the resident communing members, if the church has not more than one hundred (100) such members, and of one-sixth (1/6) of the resident communing members if a church has more than one hundred (100) such members." According to the 2004 annual report of the church, we have 1743 communicant members. 263 are in Parish 20 (presumably non-resident), leaving 1480 "resident communing members". We need (1/6)*1480=247 members present to conduct any business. Please everyone, attend!

2:25 PM  
Anonymous sdf said...

I'm wondering if it would be a good idea to impress upon each membership class the responsibility to attend congregational meetings.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous JBible said...

Well, actually Phil hasn't consistently carried on the Boice tradition of telling a joke at the beginning of each meeting, so you may need to make a special request Marion. :)

One of my favorite memories of Dr. Boice was sitting at a table next to Linda and Jim during a congregational dinner before the meeting. Linda and I were having a lovely chat & she tried to get Jim's attention so that he could hear something we were discussing, but he was bent over a piece of paper studying it and was so intent he didn't even hear us. I joked to Linda that he was probably working on his joke. To our suprise and mirth, when Linda finally got Jim's attention, he said, "I'm sorry Linda--I was working on my joke." The best part of Jim's congregational meeting jokes was the pleased look on his face after he told them.

9:21 AM  
Blogger pduggie said...

In reflecting on this I wonder how the impact of the Canales decision plays into this.

Its one thing to have a budget to vote on or elder to elect, and another where a congregation is asked to vote to do something without being actually told why it is doing so.

I wonder why we have to have congregational meetings to vote on these matters at all? Could we not vote on a budget or elect elders via a mailed in ballots? That would help those who can't make meetings for legitimate reasons but desire to have their vote counted.

The trend at Tenth in what business is conducted at congregational meetings seems to call their tasks into question.

1) We used to have the possibility of open nominations for elder from the floor. That was (wisely) removed since such nominations would not be vetted.

2) We used to have the pastors salary as an open part of the budget, and now its a single staff line-item that conceals the actual pastoral salary.

3) And of course there is the unprecedented step of asking us to vote to dissolve the relationship with Canales without knowing exactly why.

It strikes me that these steps would have been impossible or very difficult to implement in a smaller church, which raises the question of what about being a big church makes it appropriate.

With #2, if we only had one pastor, his salary would not be subsumed in an overall line item. Or in the case of #3, it would be doubtful that a smaller size of the church would have permitted the secret to stay that way.

I fully support the idea of elected elders representing my interests in the decisions of the church. But if most of these decisions are (rightly) out of my hands, then the meeting to approve them becomes simply a kind of ritual. And ritualism and formalism has always been suspect in Presbyterian and reformed theology.

See you tonight!

10:33 AM  
Blogger M Clark said...

It seems to me that we take a wrong approach with these meetings. A recurring theme is that if I as an individual cannot change things - who is elected, the budgets - then why attend? And it is the ability to actually make changes that seems to be the issue. In truth, any individual member can speak up and oftentimes individuals do. Any individual can try to persuade the majority to side with his perspective. Because the individual fails, he then feels powerless. Because he feels powerless he protests that he is not heard, and then he questions why he should attend.

Why attend if you cannot actually change the outcome? Because encouragement is as important, if not more important, than being impowered to change decisions. By not attending, you send the message to the nominees that you don't care whether they are elected or not. You tell the church you don't care about the mission work of the church or its ministries. You don't want to listen to those who have spent months of diligent labor to bring worthy candidates before the church or to bring budgets that carry on the church's mission work and ministries. You send the message that since you can't make changes, their work is not worthy of your time.

You ought to come so that you can publicly make clear to your brothers and sisters that you want to be part of this body of Christ with them; that you appreciate the labors of those entrusted with representing you in preparing these candidates and budgets; that you appreciate the ministry of this church; that you support the officers raised up by God to serve this church; that...

1:09 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

Well, I'm not coming (though I'd like to), but I've been sick all week, am medicated up to my eyeballs, and need to get some much-needed rest.

Still, I think Paul has a point, especially in a congregation our size, a point that is borne out by economics or game theory: the larger the number of individuals, the less difference each individual feels that he or she can make, not only in terms of decision-making, but also in all those other things that were listed such as encouragement, appreciation, listening, demonstration of care and concern, etc.

After all, what are the chances that I, as an individual, will be missed if I don't show up? Aren't there 1200 other people to do the encouraging and appreciating and so on? These are classic difficulties in any kind of collective action (e.g, national elections, large corporation, stockholders, etc.).

Of course, there are all kinds of other factors too, related to American culture, individualism, geographic diffusion of the congregation, how tired people generally are by a Friday night, toddler bedtimes, etc. An economist, political scientist, or game theorist could likely make all kinds of interesting observations about the effects of those things on events such a congregational meeting.

I do wonder, though, if a congregational meeting is the best way to accomplish all that Marion suggests a congregational meeting is supposed to accomplish, especially for a congregation of our size and nature. Having presented reports to congretational meetings, especially fairly far through the list of reports, I can attest that "listening" and "appreciation" was not exactly the vibe I was getting from the folks gathered there. :-)

Perhaps a series of smaller, localized parish-based meetings would be more effective. I also know of (non-PCA) churches which don't have congregational meetings at all, but have elders and pastors do home visitations over the course of a year to get feedback from members (and thus can also include regular attenders in the process too).

Anyway, perhaps we need to "think outside the box" and come up with better ways of handling congregational business so we don't have to beg, cajole, and guilt-trip people into attendence.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Chuck Boyce said...

Yeah, I've been to a few of these, and I too failed to pick up on a "listening" and "appreciation" vibe.


I'm not from a Reform culture (or even Evangelical culture) so the whole thing seems a bit foreign to me - but I respect the effort involved.

I'm off work at 6:45pm, so maybe I'll show, but my energy level after a grueling week of travel and too much work may dictate otherwise.

My thinking with this type of thing is: we trust you, we know you have already made plans, go ahead and do what you you're planning to do.

As a technologist, it seems we may want to consider how technology could take these types of activities and events and allow a large dispersed population to more fully participate. Just an idea.

Have a good day all!

4:12 PM  
Blogger M Clark said...

Good dialogue here. The main dilemma is that unless 1/6th of you show up, we cannot elect officers. These are the rules of the PCA's Book of Church Order. And absentee votes are not allowed.
We don't have to have congregational approval of the budget, though it makes sense to get it and our Tenth Church bylaws could be interpreted to mean we must have adoption at a meeting.

I think Joel is closer to the solution of parish wide meetings. We are planning such meetings inbetween the elders' retreat January 13-14 and the March congregational meeting. The purpose of which is to have dialogue over the strategic planning ideas.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous JBible said...

Just one quick note commenting on Joel's comments. I understand what he is saying about large groups & individuals feeling they don't matter. But one key difference between all the groups mentioned and the church is that the church is the body of Christ & is organically united. And if we truly understood that, I think it would have a lot of practical ramifications - one of which is realizing that each member is vital.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

I hope the meeting went well last night. I assume there'll be some kind of summary report on Sunday or on this blog.

Now, regarding jbible's comment, I certainly happily embrace the truth that each member is vital to the body. Thus she makes a good point.

But [a] I was making a descriptive observation about the sociology of groups that will tend to operate, especially as the group gets larger, whatever our theology might otherwise tell us.

(Parenthetically: That theology, by the way, was just as true for the apostle Paul quite apart from any evidence of first century congregational meetings and likely often involving city-wide churches with a multiplicity of house-parishes. This suggests that congregational meetings are simply one contingent and pragmatic means of expressing and facilitating that body-vitality.)

Also [b] if each member is in fact vital, then isn't it incumbent upon the organism of the church (through her leaders) to find ways in which to emody and implement that vitality in practical and visible ways when it comes to conducting the business of the congregation?

The question then is whether the forum of a large congregation-wide meeting is the best way of doing that with regard to a number of matters and circumstances (recognizing that, e.g., officer elections might require some kind of congregation-wide meeting).

I don't have an answer, but it does seem to me a valid question whether the present way of doing things is really the most effective in accomplishing the desiderata that Marion outlined. But now I'm repeating myself. See you Sunday!

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Karl Russo said...

Unfortunately, Joel, there was no meeting last night. We were about 75 people short of a quorum. The non-meeting lasted until about 9:45pm.

As a PhD student in economics, I appreciate the problems of collective action and free riding with large groups of people. If everyone "benefits" from the new elders, budget, strategic plan, etc that is passed at a meeting. then why bother to bear the "cost" of attending? Of course, this is a great opportunity for the church to bear witness that it is not like the world and can overcome these free riding problems due to the shared interest in the life of the body of Christ (nod to jbible).

Of course the situation is not exactly as presumed. It would be great, Chuck, if there were 1200 other people there to fulfill the obligations they took upon themselves when they joined. However, last night was one of the "best" attended meetings and we had about 170 people.

As to Joel's comment on city-wide churches in Paul's day, the largest city BY FAR in that day was Rome, population less than 1 million. Tenth draws members (except for congregational meetings) from a region with a population more than 6 times that. The average city was probably smaller than the entire population of Parish 1. Maybe our problem is that we need to follow more consistently the model of Paul. If Galatia was big enogh to have multiple churches, surely the Delware Valley is.

Also, there is evidence of congregational meetings in Paul. The churches clearly met to receive the letters he wrote, as they were addressed to the entire church, and most people couldn't read them on their own. While we have no votes on budgets, we do see an example of a meeting for church discipline in II Corinthians 5. Paul writes about the man sleeping with his stepmother being punished by the "majority". There had to have been a countable group of people, of which a majority conducted church discipline. It is doubtful this was done at Parish meetings.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Chuck Boyce said...

Hi Karl,

You responded to me on the following discussion thread comment:

"After all, what are the chances that I, as an individual, will be missed if I don't show up? Aren't there 1200 other people to do the encouraging and appreciating and so on?..."

These were Joel's remarks, not mine.

I just shared that I was exhausted after a long week and that I might not have the energy to attend. What turned out was that I didn't get home until 7:15pm and by that time I had enough energy to make some dinner, do some dishes, and call it a night. I hope that those who were able to attend had a good time.

Take care,


11:17 AM  

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