Spiritual practices can nurture groups as well as individual followers of Jesus. However, when it comes to boards and committees, it often seems that “the devotional moment” is a formality or a distraction before we get down to the real work. Accordingly, we may rush through a reflection and prayer with a certain impatience waiting for the time when we can deal with the real reason that we are gathered.
I submit that too often the inadequate content of the quiet period before God is to blame for the feeling that we are spinning our wheels before dealing with the issues of the day. The words and prayers may feel disengaged from the reality of the challenges we face and the emotions of our hearts. And so we waste an opportunity to collectively stand before the Lord, to listen, to confess our sins and limitations, to ask for a renewed vision, and to offer our lives in service. We miss the chance to pray for one another and for those whose lives our touched through our work. We fail to invite the Spirit to guide and direct our motivations, our deliberations, decisions, and actions.
This week I was privileged to participate as an observer in a board meeting with 30 representatives of fifteen Christian denominations. At least 25 other people were present drawn by the common concern for hungry people in the world. The board members and other interested individuals were connected in one way or another with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The group members represented diverse professional backgrounds, a common faith commitment, and a shared passion for vulnerable people in areas such as South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and Northern Nigeria.
The official agenda had urgent matters for discussion and decision. Board members had been given over 250 pages of reports and other documents. Budgets. Auditors Statements. Convergent Level 3 Emergencies. Rick Factors. Local Capacities. Field Reports. Global climate change. Conflict zones. Gender and Development. Changing government policies. Public opinion surveys. Fundraising and Communication options. People in the room were aware that human lives were at stake. Two days of meetings did not seem like enough time.
I was struck by the fact that over one hour was given to Biblical reflection and prayer before the items on the agenda began to be considered. James Astleford, an Adventist leader, drew attention to a Biblical passage from the Hebrew Bible. In 2 Kings 6 soldiers from a foreign army are captured and brought into Jerusalem. The ruling monarch is keen to kill them as an example of what will happen to the nation’s enemies. However, the prophet Elisha demands that they be invited to a banquet and then sent home to their families. These actions lead to a time of peace. Astleford encouraged the group to consider that generosity with food and nutrition is a way of building peace without the violence of bombs and armies. Feeding the hungry is an alternative foreign policy of the church.
Jim Cornelius, executive director of the Foodgrains Bank, used his report to lead us in a reflection of Jesus’ cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” He reminded the room that millions of hungry and desperate people today are screaming similar words to God and to the world. They feel forsaken and abandoned. Cornelius noted that the spirit of our age is to withdraw into the safety of baseball scores, barbeques, and times at the pool. The cross of Jesus stands before us as a symbol of a radical and sacrificial love of the world.
The vocation of caring for hungry people exposes the organizational limitations and vulnerabilities of each of the fifteen denominations of the Foodgrains Bank. There were hard discussions ahead. Astleford and Cornelius brought us together before God and established a context in which our business could be considered.
Other groups have their own unique mission and purpose in the world. I think of local congregational councils, youth groups, urban ministries, refugee organizations, and seminary boards. Together they bear witness to the wide nature of God’s love and grace among those who feel wounded and abandoned. Our moments of reflection and prayer before moving into the agenda of a meeting have the potential to create a context in which God can speak to our hearts and minds. We dare not waste them.
Here are a few quick suggestions:
- Do not rotate the leadership of the opening reflection and prayer. Choose someone who will have a word from the Lord.
- Keep it real. The “devotional moment” should capture something of the agenda, the mission, and the people who are served. The challenges ahead should be brought into the content of the reflection and prayer.
- Invite God’s Spirit to speak to each participant and to guide the discussion. Later, do not be hesitant to stop at certain point in the agenda and offer the problems and challenges to the Lord.
- Keep it tight. Do not waste the time of others with stories and comments that are unrelated to the task ahead. Astleford and Cornelius commanded the moment because their words and prayer were related to the mission of the people gathered in the room. There were neither jokes nor cute tales.
I find that many meetings drain my energy and passion. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank Board Meeting provided a setting for God to speak to the room in a way the renewed our faith and vision.