These meetings are dry, contentious, and sometimes crucial for discerning God’s will.

The room felt like a balloon about to burst at the meeting that night. The church council was assembled to make a decision destined to divide the church. People sat on one side of the aisle or the other, based on their vote preference. It was like a grim wedding.

Representatives from the two factions made speeches in support of their proposals, couching their criticisms of the other side as compliments and prayer requests. After what seemed like a never-ending discussion, it was time to decide.

What was the topic up for debate, the issue for which people were ready to leave their beloved church? The naming of a new building. Some wanted it to be named after a lovely saint who had just passed—Mr. Joe—and others wanted it to honor a living saint—Mrs. Divine.

The tension was high because everyone loved the church. No one actually wanted to leave, but the fighting got so heated they were on the brink of hurting themselves and the church.

A Biblical Process

Every time a major Christian denomination or local church gathers for their business meeting (I recently reported for Christianity Today on The United Methodist Church doing just that), people hurl critiques about that method of discernment. Surely these stilted, bureaucratic proceedings can’t be effective or holy. The process of motions and amendments and points of order is a far cry from our typical discernment process which might involve personal prayer and, in my case, a good cup of coffee.

How could the Holy Spirit speak through something as dry as a committee meeting or as acrimonious as a church council? Or if you want to phrase it in the terms of an angry Twitter user, “You can’t take a vote on God’s will!”

As it turns out, …

Continue reading