A good friend of mine who grew up in the Catholic Church attended her first Protestant service on a Wednesday night at my church. Thinking back, I remember when she entered the church and sat down on a pew next to her boyfriend. As I introduced myself, I learned that she had extremely limited experience with Protestant Christians. She didn’t know it at the time, but every piece of information she gave me about her background contributed to a sinking feeling in my stomach. The reason I felt so distraught was that she had unknowingly walked into a Baptist church’s business meeting.
If you aren’t familiar with the phrase “business meeting,” it’s a lot like a school board meeting. At business meetings, the church has a brief recap of what has happened in the recent past followed by a time of voting over future decisions facing the church. In these meetings, we discuss church finances, attendance rates, and other similar issues. The decisions we vote on are binding for the church body and dictate the church’s future actions.
The reason that my stomach contorted itself into a knot as I spoke to this visitor wasn’t that business meetings are bad services. I believe that they are biblical and are important to the function of a New Testament church. The reason I felt so much dread was that business meetings aren’t the flashiest of services.
Though we occasionally have a visitor who attends a business meeting and is never heard from again, we nevertheless continue to have our business meetings. Here are two of the reasons why Baptist churches hold business meetings.
1. Soul Competency
Soul competency and believer’s baptism are two foundational pieces of Baptist theology. Soul competency means that each person has the ability to know God’s will and the individual responsibility to obey God’s will. In Baptist thought, no church, other person, or authority figure can tell me what God’s will for my life and future is; instead, I am able to go to the Father to find his will because of what Christ did for me on the cross. Furthermore, if I fail to seek God’s will, it is ultimately my own fault and not the fault of those around me. Thus, soul competency is the belief that every person is individually responsible before God and that every person can go to God in prayer through the work of Christ.
Soul competency leads directly to the idea of a business meeting. Since every person in the congregation can go to God for direction, every person has the potential to provide significant guidance to the church. Thus, when a decision, whether mundane or spiritual, needs to be made, every person has the ability to seek God’s guidance in the decision. In short, soul competency leads to business meetings because it teaches us that God can use any person to help guide the local church.
2. New Testament Precedent
A second reason we do business meetings is that the New Testament shows that the apostles allowed their congregation to make decisions about the early church’s future. At present, many denominations relegate church guidance to the clergy. However, when we turn to the New Testament, we don’t find support for the idea that church decisions should be made by the clergy alone. In Acts 6, for example, the apostles create a deacon ministry team to help oversee church business. In creating this team, the apostles don’t bypass their brothers and sisters in Christ; instead, they ask the entire church for input on the decision. Now, if anybody in the Church would have the authority to leave everyone else out of church decisions, it would have certainly been the apostles! However, we see that the apostles didn’t relegate church guidance to the hands of the professionals; instead, they incorporated normal, everyday Christians into the decision-making process.
While Baptist churches recognize that pastors and deacons have a greater level of authority in the church, this authority is not a binding, unquestionable authority. Instead, the congregation has the ability to provide feedback and guidance to the direction that the church takes. The reason we do this isn’t that we don’t trust the pastors and deacons; indeed, at my church, the congregation and leadership group are nearly always in perfect harmony. The reason that Baptists give the congregation a voice in leadership is that we see a New Testament precedent for empowering all believers in church guidance. After all, the New Testament does not teach a two-class, caste system within the Church; instead, we are all on equal footing before Christ whether we’re men or women, clergy or laymen, new believer or mature saint.
A few weeks ago, we baptized my friend who visited during a business meeting. Had you asked me after that first visit, I would have sworn that she would never return. Since then, she’s told me that one of the reasons she came back was due to how open and honest everyone was about the church during the business meeting. While business meetings may not be the flashiest of services, they have their value: They give God’s people tangible influence over what happens in God’s church, they are based on a New Testament practice, and I can personally affirm that God has used business meetings in the life of those closest to me.