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Churches ‘often’ polarize over internal matterscomment (0)

January 8, 2001

After winning the presidency by a paper-thin margin and navigating weeks of legal maneuvers over the outcome, President-elect George W. Bush faces the daunting task of how to bring together a nation sharply divided between two candidates.
It’s a challenge familiar to many Baptist churches.
Unlike many churches, Baptists have a congregational polity. Each local church decides in democratic fashion who its leaders will be, how its money is spent and whether or not to build new buildings.
Often, disagreement occurs. And when close votes dominate business meetings — even over minor issues — church members often polarize, say Southern Baptist leaders with experience in resolving church conflicts.
“We often polarize over internal decisions that don’t impact how we are fulfilling the Great Commission,” said Lindsay Cobb of the Chicago Metro Baptist Association, who has been asked to intervene when crises have threatened churches.
The problem is that the nature of voting encourages a win-lose mindset, he said. That fosters a competitive environment.
Cobb said some churches could avoid arguments at business meetings by delegating decisions to appropriate committees or church staff, but that works only as long as those making decisions have demonstrated they can be trusted.
Some churches avert disruptions in fellowship by agreeing to table close votes and allow more time for discussion and study. Some hold off action even if 75 percent of the congregation approves, said Sylvan Knobloch, director of church-staff-development ministries for the Illinois Baptist State Association. Through such dialogue, opposing sides may discover another solution that all can support.
Churches should also be careful not to dismiss the minority as not being in touch with God’s will, warned pastor Fred Winters of First Baptist, Maryville, Ill. “I think there are times when a minority can be speaking with a prophetic voice,” he said.
A key to building unity is to make sure church members have plenty of opportunity for input before significant votes take place, Winters said. That’s why First Baptist, Maryville, now conducts budget discussions three weeks before the church votes, instead of only a week before. Some members had felt that their input didn’t matter, because one week didn’t allow time to make budget adjustments based on their comments. (ABP)
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