I went to my first church voters' meeting in a couple years recently. I'd never meant to stop going (health issues interrupted the habit, then inertia took over) but I quickly was reminded of something I hadn't missed. As often happened before, several people spoke very sharply, to the point where a couple others had to speak up and remind everyone to hash through their disagreements in a spirit of good fellowship.
It's not just my current church where this happens. It's been like that in voters' meetings in every church I've ever attended, and many churches I hear about from other people. I've known people who've quit coming to meetings altogether just to get away from the acrimony.
This time, though, our pastor took on the issue in the next Sunday's sermon. He talked about how patient and polite most of us are while we're at work ("We have no other choice; it's part of the job"), yet feel free to vent our frustrations on our families -- and our church mates.
"We know it's safe," he noted. "We know they have to forgive us." We're more restrained out of fear of punishment at the office, he suggested, than we are out of respect and love for those who should be closest to us.
"How we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ while we are deliberating on a decision is just as important as any decision we will ever make as a congregation," the pastor said, adding that we should "never [care] more about the point that we're making than we do about God's people we are speaking to."
All very convicting. True, most people at church meetings are calm and polite; it's the ones who are most agitated who talk the most and raise the tension. Still, most of us indulge the impulse to snap at fellow believers (especially family members) in a way we never would at strangers or co-workers. And all of us should be take responsibility for promoting a culture of respect at church. If anyone there is not moved by a spirit of brotherhood, he at least shouldn't feel free to violate the spirit of civility.