The Pastor Goes to Meetings
The Ladies Aid Luncheon Meeting - St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, Illinois - February, 2019
Pastors go to meetings. Sometimes it seems like all we do is go to meetings - Voters, Council, Elders, Trustees, School Board, PTL, Day Care, Sunday School Teachers, Ladies Aid, Food Pantry and many, many more. Pastors go to meetings. Yet, apart from the appointing of Matthias in Acts 1, the Deacons in Acts 6 and the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 you won’t find much of anything in the Bible about meetings, and I don’t know of anything in the Lutheran Confessions that addresses parish meetings. However, our Lutheran Confessions do give us some good counsel about the life of the Church;
“Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered to the end that we shall daily obtain there nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here.” (Large Catechism, Apostles Creed, 3rd Article, para. 55)
So if everything is to be ordered toward obtaining the forgiveness of sins through the Word and Signs, pastors who have to go to meetings should try to order those meetings toward that end. The people of God are gathering to do certain business; things do need to get done. However, at every meeting, the pastor and people should be reminded that the essential business of the Church is the deliverance of the forgiveness of sins through the Word and Sacraments. Without that, there is no Church. Usually congregational meetings are run by a semblance of Robert’s Rules (that varies from parish to parish), so the pastor would do well to be in contact with the Chairman of the congregation, board or committee to see what is on the agenda, help form it as necessary, and how see he can give advice or counsel. Efficiency is needed and that should be worked on with the pastor and parish elected leaders serving together. The pastor has to take the lead here in reaching out to the officers of the congregation and not be passive. However, the pastor is not the chairman, he is the pastor, and it is in his office that he can direct the meeting to the proper ordering of the Church in the Gospel. He can do this in two ways, through his praying and his reporting.
Most congregations ask and expect that the pastor will lead an opening devotion. Here is an opportunity for the pastor to lead the people of God in prayer. He might lead the group in one of the prayer offices such as Responsive Prayer I or II - again short and sweet. There may be the singing of a hymn. If there be time at the conclusion of a meeting he might want to lead the group in Compline, which would be a very good place to introduce that office. But praying shouldn’t be made a burden if people have been at it for a couple hours, especially since most of those people will have put in a full day’s work and then come to church do to more. If the custom of the congregation is only a brief prayer and some devotional thoughts, the pastor can expand on the previous Sunday’s lectionary or prepare something pertinent to the meeting itself and the business that is to be conducted. The pastor is a man of the Word. He should proclaim it. Usually the elders meetings are the place for more concrete or in depth study: a book of the Bible, a doctrinal topic (especially if there are specific issues needing to be addressed in the congregation) or a section of Book of Concord. Short doctrinal discussions can take place at other meetings too, but they should be short. No one wants to be in meetings until late into the evening. Short, sweet and substantive should be the goal.
Depending on the meeting, the pastor might give a report, particularly to the Voters, Council or Elders. At those he should give an accounting of his Ministry (i.e. the Official Acts of the Church) and address the concerns of the congregation (special community concerns, who is in need of prayer, extra care and loving support etc.). The pastor would do well to form his words around the Gospel, considering that all his ministrations are in the stead and by the command of his Lord and Master, putting the best construction on everything. He doesn’t have to be overly formal in speech at meetings, although usually the voters meeting does call for some gravitas, but his report his is time to address the flock as their shepherd and direct them to the essential purpose of their meeting, no matter what the group is…the Gospel of Jesus Christ and comforting and encouraging of consciences as long as we live here.
Meetings can be rough, especially if there is conflict, present or brewing. The pastor should be fervent in prayer before such meetings. In particular before a voters or elders meeting he should visit his Father Confessor and seek the absolution he needs. The Father Confessor can also be asked to give some advice or counsel heading into a meeting. If there is conflict, (again present or brewing) the pastor also should do everything he can to seek reconcilation before a meeting. It is the things done outside of a meeting that often make the difference inside the meeting. Again, the pastor should not be passive in these matters. He is the shepherd, he must lead by example and seek reconcilation or at the least seek consensus and common understanding of an issue where possible before the meeting. When he is at a meeting he should keep a level head and again, following the advice of St. James, be slow to speak. Make the words count.
Much can be learned from the parishoners who live and work outside of the church about efficient practices that can make things go smoothly. The pastor should be inquisitive and ask those people whose lives are full of meetings outside the Church how best meetings can be conducted inside the church and encourage those good ideas to be implemented. Sometimes the culture of the congregation is that people simply like to talk about things and hash them out without formal motions. Flexibility and patience on the pastor’s part are key. Again, the pastor and board chairmen working together ahead of time helps, with clear agendas set and sent well before the meeting so that people are prepared and ready to do the work they have taken on.
Meetings might seem like a burden, but the pastor can turn them into a real joy by seeing them as an opportunity to order the Church toward the forgiveness of sins and along side Christ’s people, serve Him.
Dear Readers: Please add in the comments what has worked in your congregation regarding ordering meetings toward the Gospel and any good ideas about meeting efficiency.