Friday, April 17, 2009

Not Another Meeting

Meetings, you gotta love 'em. Well, you don't have to love them but if you are a person who has to go to lots of them, if you don't try to see the bright side of meetings, you are going to be pretty miserable most of the time. I am a pastor and my life is full of meetings. You can curse them, try to make the best of them or discover your ministry in them! That's right. Ministry and meetings, believe it or not, they do have a relationship.

Most people hate meetings, church meetings, I mean. They find them boring and make up excuses not to attend. Our church has business meetings four times a year and sometimes we can't even come up with a quorum. Sad, but true. My vision for the ministry of meetings has been helped by MaryKate Morse, a professor of leadership and spiritual formation at George Fox Seminary. In her book, Making Room for Leadership, she has a chapter on how we "take up space". She writes that people generally like to have about 12 feet of personal space. She calls this public space. In church, worship is a public space experience. Even though we might be sitting closer than 12 feet to someone else (but not closer than 2 to 4 feet normally) we are essentially having an individual experience (with God hopefully!). We are not there to interact. The person or persons up front are largely unknown to us unless we have other "space" experiences with them. We may be inspired by a song or sermon but "the long range cementing of that change depends on more intimate and consistant interactions."

Morse's second space category she calls "social space". This is a setting where people maintain a distance of 4 to 12 feet between each other. This is small group space. Meeting space. At this distance you can see someones expressions, have a normal conversation with them but you are not touching. You are close enough to read someone's body language. Social space is for interaction. You can get to know someone. Morse says Christians tend to believe that God does his best work in public spaces, big public events like worship services, and other special music or speaking events. Big crowds mean God is doing something big. On the other hand, God wouldn't waste his time showing up at a meeting (so why should I waste my time showing up?). Morse says, " it is in the social space where God often moves in the hearts of those meeting together. It is in the social space where the potential for deep change can occur because everyone's true character is observed and engaged." Generally speaking, she says, the fewer the number the greater the chance each person will take responsibility for the value and mission of the group. So, for instance, instead of feeling bad "so few showed up" we should be excited about what God is going to do in the few who did show up! They are the ones who are committed to being part of God's mission in this place, at this time. Morse says smaller groups have higher productivity and offer the potential for greater satisfaction.

Then, she says, public space allows you to see and hear a leader but rarely get to know him or her. In social space, the meeting room, how the group gets along is more important than how they get along in public space. How a leader interacts in social space is a more significant indication of integrity than what he or she does or says from a pulpit or platform.

If you really want to know what a church is like, go to the meetings. If you really want to see what God is doing in a church, go to the meetings. If you really want to see the leadership in action, go to the meetings. As leaders we need to put as much or more preparation into meetings as we do big public services. Social space has a much greater impact on people than public space does. Let's have a meeting!

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