- Insist on doing everything through channels; never permit shortcuts to be taken to expedite decisions.
- Make speeches. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your points by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
- When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.”
- Attempt to make committees as large as possible—never fewer than five.
- Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
- Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, and resolutions.
- Refer back to a matter decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to reopen the question of its advisability.
- Raise doubts about the propriety of any decision.
So what do you think? It could be the public access broadcast of a Board of Selectmen meeting struggling for traction or it could be the ground rules of some church Annual Meeting from hell.
Truth be told, I have attended that meeting, though thankfully it was not here at FCC, D and it wasn’t recent. Do you give up yet? This was advice the CIA gave to its operatives in 1947 to slow down, disrupt, and sabotage organizations. Pretty clever, don’t you think? Slow and insidious. But before you know it, you want pull out your hair, walk away, and never again come back.
I share it not just because it’s absurdly funny, demonically clever, and somewhat dark. I share it to make a vital point whenever we gather to plan and order our common life as Christ’s church. Don’t forget, we gather around 11 am on Sunday at our Annual Meeting, Part II to elect leaders.
The life of Congregational churches was predicated upon active, lively and fresh engagement with the Holy Spirit. When churches forget what that is, or grow immune to it, or no longer want to live lives so risky or edgy as that, they settle back into what I call “proceduralism.” When that occurs, the Evil One smiles, for a body of Christians becomes extremely vulnerable.
Proceduralism is when the By-Laws become better known and more important than the Bible. Proceduralism is failing to trust in smallish matters leading exactly no one to venture anything like a larger vision. Proceduralism is settling with mere rules as lives cry out for transformation.
Sometimes when I orient new members, I’m tempted to say we run our church as a democracy. But that is not quite true. Democracy is the “cousin” the colonial New England Congregational townmeeting spawned centuries ago. Churches are Christocracies. Jesus is the only authority higher than the coming together of our entire church membership into a Congregational Meeting to make budgets, call pastors, approve new initiatives and set out new lines of leaders.
Caroline Burke does an excellent job as our Moderator. Her fair and flexible sense of the order of our common life is rooted in a real and seeking faith. So I do everything I can to support her.