Have our meetings lost their way – Andrew Norton

One of the core practices of being “Presbyterian” is our commitment to collective discernment. Our belief is that discernment requires listening to one another and to the spirit of God and the scriptures. The result of this has been meetings, meetings and more meetings. How many meetings does it take to run a church!

My observation is that our meetings are not working.

  1. Our meetings are not practicing spiritual discernment. They are the collective sharing of the opinions of the opinionated and then taking a vote. These meetings favour only those who speak.
  1. The wrong people are at the meetings. How can we expect to make decisions about our God given futures if the very people we want to reach have no voice? Where is the voice of the minority and the voiceless; does God not speak through them also?

  1. It is taking far too much time running church rather than being We are spending excessive time talking, so we run out of time to actually do what we’ve discussed. Understandably, after 100 meetings there is little or no energy left to do anything.
  1. The agenda is to finish the agenda; that’s a good meeting. Surely not! The wrong things are on the agenda.
  1. People are exhausted. Evening meetings are robbing people of their families and their health. In a poor time management society people are opting out. The apology list is growing every year.
  1. People skills are not being fully utilised. We are being asked to discuss matters outside our area of interest or skill. When this happens people disengage.

Some possible ways forward

  1. Change the focus from meetings to experiencing God in one another.
  2. Multi task to do two or more things at once. Eat, relax, have fun and work together.
  3. Ask, “Is this agenda worth giving my life for ?”
  4. Ask who really needs to be at the meeting – if the right people are not there don’t have the meeting.
  5. Don’t record minutes of meetings only the action points.
  6. Set very clear time limits for a meeting (1 hour).
  7. Stop sharing opinions. In most meetings we already know what people are going to say before they say it. We’ve been practicing that for years. Listen for the silent voice, the voice you don’t want to hear.
  8. Ask what would spiritual discernment look and sound like?

Andrew Norton
February 2016

4 thoughts on “Have our meetings lost their way – Andrew Norton

  1. I’d Like to see training for meeting facilitation which takes all these suggestions into consideration including how to bring your congregation, team, presbytery etc along with you. My experience is that when there is agreement and understanding of those attending about why we are doing things there is acceptance. Also my experience is that people love the discernment and relational tasks and dislike the business. This is why a comprehensive motion with all papers read before the meeting can really speed things up.


  2. I think what matters is how we make everyone feel that they are being heard. Presbyterian system of decision making that attracts me the most is well moderated robust discussions on the floor. I don’t mean people hijecking the meeting with the comments people like to make over and over again. A well thought out intelligent arguments and debates. Some are better than the others. I think Moderator’s job is very important… moderators need to know their primary responsibility is to moderate the General Assembly well. Being a moderator of General Assembly is more than given some sort of title or honour with the position of moderator, though that is not untrue for some, (Nothing wrong with thinking that) but it is God working through the church to find a person who is tasked to lead the GA well so that every member of PCANZ feels that they are part of the body of Christ.


  3. Totally agree, and believe it or not this is a point of consideration for us in deciding if we swap to Presbyterian oversight (from Methodist) at our Union Parish. Are we going to have more expectation on us to attend to denominational meetings and business, which for us is not ‘doing church’?
    Also, perhaps a correlation here – the more divergence there is from the centrality of the living Jesus Christ as Lord of the Church, the more long frustrating meetings of opinion we get.


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