Can God's Voice be Discerned in Committee?

Can I make a motion to call the vote on God’s will?  Every time a major Christian denomination gathers for their business meeting (The United Methodist Church is doing that right now) people begin to hurl critiques about the process being ineffective or unholy.  For those who join in the live stream or show up to observe in person, the process of motions and amendments and points of order is a far cry from their personal discernment that often happens in personal prayer, and in my case over a good cup of coffee.

Delegates Pray before their work at the Special Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2019

Delegates Pray before their work at the Special Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2019

We ask the question, how could all of this be holy?  How could the Holy Spirit be speaking through something as dry as a committee meeting? Or, if you want to phrase it in terms of an angry Twitter user “You can’t take vote on God’s will.”

As it turns out, the history of Christianity is rife with committee meetings (often called councils) going all the way back to the upper room.  

You remember this moment right?  Jesus brings the disciples up to the mountain, commissions them and ascends to heaven. After the disciples recover from that incredible sight, they return to Jerusalem and head into the upper room. Once in the room, the biblical account begins with a list of who was present in (Acts 1:13). After some time in worship together, Peter rises and says “‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.’” (vv.16-17) 

Peter is talking about the fact that Judas had committed suicide, but that is just the beginning.  Peter is about to make a motion.  After offering scriptural support from Psalm 69, he makes the motion saying “‘Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’” (vv. 21-22)

Peter is asking for the group present to decide on a replacement for Judas.  How do they do it?  Do they wait on the sky to open and write the name on their first century white board?  Not quite.  They do what churches do all over the world when they are deciding on new leaders:  they make nominations. “So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.” (v. 23)

Implement of discernment: a voting device use in the Special Called General Conference  of the United Methodist Church in 2019

Implement of discernment: a voting device use in the Special Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2019

If this sounds familiar, it should.  We have a word for a gathering that takes roll, makes motions and nominations:  a committee meeting. Lest you think it’s the only one, we see several other committee meetings in Acts.  There’s one on sending Peter and John to Samaria (Acts 8), deciding how to deal with Gentiles (Acts 15).  These meetings inspired many verses that aren’t in your Bible memory flash card set.  Classic verses like “The apostles and elders met to consider this question.” (Acts 15:6) Riveting stuff.

Throughout the movement of God in the world from that time to this, God has moved in powerful (and often boring) ways through committees.  The Holy Spirit has been active in legislation through the prayer of devoted disciples offering motions and taking votes.

Next time you have the opportunity to watch or participate in these meetings, may you walk into that room with the reverence that you would walking along the streets of Jerusalem or along the sea of Galilee.  May you walk into that room knowing that you are walking in the footsteps of  Christians like Peter and James and John. May you approach your work with reverence and submit yourself to the leading of the Holy Spirit who has the power to move through anything and everything, yes, even committee meetings.