No Business Meetings
When one studies the meetings of the New Testament, two strike us as closely akin to what we today call "business meetings." The first is the meeting of the Jerusalem brethren to consider the needs of Grecian Jewish widows who had been formerly neglected in the daily ministration of the church (Acts 6:1-7). The text says, "And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said. . . " (v. 2). In this case, action was taken and results were immediately apparent: "And the word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly, and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (v. 7).
The other example is the meeting of the leading lights of Jerusalem to resolve the difficulties over the issue of circumcising Gentile converts: "And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. . . " (Acts 15:6). Although "there had been much questioning" (v. 7) then and "no small dissension and questioning" (v. 2) earlier, yet an effective job was done in maintaining the order of the group and of ultimately coming to a consensus on the issues involved. Furthermore, they took immediate and decisive action to stop the "uncertain sounds" which were emanating from Jerusalem on the matters in dispute.
These two Bible examples are clearly models for us to follow in holding meetings in the churches of today. Clearly decisive action is the thing which brought about the desirable results in both instances. These brethren did not just get together to talk, they met in order to act. Unfortunately, all too often these days, our brethren meet in order to talk, rather than to act. Meetings of this type remind us of the comments made by John Kenneth Galbraith about the meetings held by President Herbert Hoover after the horrible stock market panic of 1929. I offer them here since they are so very apropos:
Yet to suppose that President Hoover was engaged only in organizing further reassurance is to do him a serious injustice. He was also conducting one of the oldest, most important - and, unhappily, one of the least understood rites in American life. This is the rite of the meeting which is called not to do business but to do no business. It is a rite which is still much practiced in our time. It is worth examining for a moment.
Men meet together for many reasons in the course of business. They need to instruct or persuade each other. They must agree on a course of action. They find thinking in public more productive or less painful than thinking in private. But there are at least as many reasons for meetings to transact no business. Meetings are held because men seek companion ship or, at a minimum, wish to escape the tedium of solitary duties. They yearn for the prestige which accrues to the man who presides over meetings, and this leads them to convoke assemblages over which they can preside. Finally, there is the meeting which is called not because there is business to be done, but because it is necessary to create the impression that business is being done. Such meetings are more than a substitute for action. They are widely regarded as action.
The fact that no business is transacted at a no-business meeting is normally not a serious cause of embarrassment to those attending. Numerous formulas have been devised to prevent discomfort. Thus scholars, who are great devotees of the no-business meeting, rely heavily on the exchange of ideas justification. To them the exchange of ideas is an absolute good. Any meeting at which ideas are exchanged is, therefore, useful. This justification is nearly ironclad. It is very hard to have a meeting of which it can be said that no ideas were exchanged (The Great Crash: 1929 138-139).
Sad to say, the "no-business" meetings of Herbert Hoover and his colleagues did not lead to decisive action which might have avoided the collapse of the economy and the onset of the great depression of the 1930s. Instead, they met only to "exchange ideas" and to "create the impression that business is being done." Nearly an entire generation of Americans grew up in poverty because action was not taken at that one point in history when something could have been done to avert disaster. All they did was talk.
All too often this description fits precisely what happens in the church. We meet about a problem and we talk, but we do nothing decisive. We "take the matter under advisement," or, as we usually put it: "Let's think some more about this until the next business meeting, then we'll talk about it some more." Such procrastination does nothing except to compound the problem and often make it more difficult or impossible to solve. Think about it:
The automobile engine that "freezes up" because of lack of oil could have been saved if oil had been added before it was too late. Simple administration of antibiotics can save the amputation of an infected limb, if only applied in time. We ought to "consider a thing wisely and carefully"- yes! But then we ought to act. This is the apostolic example from Acts 6 and 15: careful consideration followed by immediate, decisive action.
The following is an outline of what should be the practice in meetings wherein serious problems requiring immediate attention are dealt with. Please notice that this scenario is precisely what the apostles and brethren of the first century did with respect to important questions:
1. Introduce the problem. Describe it completely and precisely, so that all present understand it.
2. Suggest alternative solutions. Sometimes alluded to today as "brainstorming," this pits the concerted wisdom of the group against the problem. It also gives everyone present the feeling of being included in the process, even if their suggestion does not prove to be the one followed. All should be listened to thoughtfully and without negative comment, at least at first. This permits a free exchange of ideas.
3. Discuss the various alternative solutions to see if they actually solve the problem or create other difficulties.
4. Arrive at a consensus. This assumes, of course, that we are dealing with a group of fair-minded people who can reason together and ultimately agree upon the best solution from among the alternatives. But this is the teaching of 1 Corinthians 1:10 - "that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. " If the Lord commanded it of his people, then it must be possible! We certainly remind the sectarian world of how this requires doctrinal unity. We, also, need to be reminded that it applies to us in our dealings with one another.
5. Develop an action plan.
6. Assign those responsible to put the plan into effect.
7. Carry through on the plan immediately. Get it done! If a thing is worth doing then it is worth doing right. And if it is worth doing right, then it is worth doing right then!
In churches of today we will be like the first century church in our "business meetings" only if we transact business in those meetings. If we only talk of business, then we are, in effect, holding "no-business" meetings. If the result of our meetings is prompt, decisive action, then and only then - are we following the apostolic examples.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 12, pp. 373-374