In the Congregationalist and Baptist tradition, church officers meet with members several times a year to discuss the life of the church. In this members only meeting, new ventures are proposed, fellowship matters are discussed in confidentiality, the church accounts are made available and building repairs considered. When appropriate, applications for church membership are approved and new church officers elected. The seminary I attended gave very little attention to the matter of chairing this meeting, a task which usually falls to the pastor. If I remember rightly, we did have one talk on the subject, given by an experienced minister, but I was ill at the time and so missed his wise counsel. Our people probably regret my illness on that occasion! But for anyone who finds themselves having to chair a member's meeting, here's a little bit of advice:
1. Discuss the agenda for the member's meeting at a church officer's meeting a week or so before the event. Your bright ideas may not really be so bright. It is best to talk over your proposals with the officers rather than suffering the embarrassment of having them pulled apart by the members. Also your officers may well have valuable suggestions concerning additional matters for the agenda that you will not have thought about. If you have to put a controversial issue before the members, it is good to thrash it out with your officers first, so you know that they are behind you when it comes to the crunch. Agreeing the agenda with church officers will help ensure that you to lead the church with confidence. Make the officer's meeting a time of fellowship. Start with a Bible reading and pray through the agenda.
2. Make it a rule that if member's want to raise a matter at the church meeting, that they must first put it in writing for the church officers to discuss. Member's meetings should not be like Prime Minister's Questions in the UK, where the Leader of the Opposition tries his best to score points against the PM. Controversial or sensitive issues deserve careful thought and discussion. (See point 1).
3. Don't think of the member's meeting as a "Business Meeting" that is concerned primarily with finance and building repairs. Make it a real time of fellowship. Start with prayer, Bible reading and a hymn before you get to the agenda. After the formalities of "Apologies" and "Approval of Previous Minutes" Set out the agenda in a way that reflects gospel priorities:
Ask the people to pray about what has been proposed and considered as you work your way through the main sections on the agenda. End the meeting with a hymn of praise to God.
4. Emphasise the confidentiality of the meeting. Sometimes highly sensitive matters have to be discussed. It will lead to a breakdown of trust if members gossip about such things to others.
5. Many items on the agenda may be put to the members simply for their feedback and reflection. But big issues should be formally proposed, seconded and then put to the vote. As chairman, the pastor will usually have the casting vote. If you have to use that, you've got problems!
6. Always be patient with your people, even when they disagree with what you say. Allow everyone to voice their opinion. It is better that members say what they think in the meeting rather than grumble about things later.
7. Try not to allow discussions to get sidetracked and never waffle. Meetings should not go on for hours and hours. Keep things as brief and to the point as possible.
8. Be flexible enough to have your proposals modified by church members. They may have fresh ideas that the church officers did not take into account. Never belittle anyone for for coming up with a rather silly suggestion.
9. Little things like colour schemes for building redecoration can become big issues if members aren't consulted. Trying to get a committee to agree on a colour for the Sunday School room isn't aways easy, but it's better than the grief you may get for not consulting.
10. When it comes to matters of principle, be guided by the Scriptures. Also bear in mind the church's constitution and confession of faith. The task of the church is to perform the Bible faithfully, not modify or disobey its teaching. The members' meeting gathers under the authority of our Lord Jesus. He, not the pastor, or the most vociferous member is head of the church. When the members follow God's Word we may say of our agreed programme, "It seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit".