hilary & kate

This past weekend a friend of a friend was passing through with his band and put on a concert for us. Really intimate and fun, with the kids dancing in the back. Heather and I especially enjoyed Hilary Watson and Kate Feldtkeller playing together, including this original song:


“Common, Spirit-directed decision-making”?

“Do you commit yourself to Common,‭ ‬Spirit-directed‭ ‬decision-making‭ ‬with‭ ‬your‭ ‬brothers‭ ‬and‭ ‬sisters‭ ‬who‭ ‬are‭ ‬part‭ ‬of‭ ‬Plow‭ ‬Creek‭ ‬Fellowship‭?”

‭That commitment is the topic of discussion here in a couple weeks. I usually don’t go to community meetings, but I think I will go to this one. Because this “Common, Spirit-directed decision-making” is the very reason I stopped attending these meetings years ago.

‭In Christian communities, when group decision-making is discussed, the emphasis is usually on discerning God’s will. Trying to pray and listen and discuss together in order to hear God’s voice and encourage each other to do what God wants us to do. The idea is that we can help each other hear God better. And I agree with that (though there are plenty of historical examples of times when an individual heard God’s voice more clearly than the group).

‭If “Common, Spirit-directed decision-making” was only about discernment, then I would certainly support it and participate. But it’s not just about listening to God and helping each other listen. It’s also about making a group decision. A decision that is backed by the power of the group, the social and economic power, a decision that is enforced by that power. If there is mostly consensus, then this power may not be noticed often. But when there is unresolved disagreement, then the majority ends up pressuring or forcing some people to do something they don’t want to do. Perhaps this usually occurs over minor issues. But sometimes it involves, say, pressuring someone into a job they don’t want, or maybe forcing them out of a job. Or out of a house. Or raising rents. Issues that impact people’s lives deeply (which is why they fight over them). I’m not just talking about this community here, but in any communal-type Christian group. I’ve lived in three over the past fifteen years and witnessed many examples of the power of the group being applied forcefully.

‭This is the part that I see diverging from Jesus’ teaching and example. We didn’t get this decision-making model from Jesus, but from the (very un-Christlike) society around us. Jesus certainly helped others discern God’s will. But when there wasn’t agreement about what God’s will was, Jesus didn’t force anyone to submit to his judgment, or to the group’s. (Take Judas, for example.) Jesus tried to get people to do the right thing, but he insisted they do it freely, not under pressure or coercion.

‭So that’s what I think we should be doing as well. Not just to avoid the hurt and resentment that people feel when they’re coerced by the group (though that’s certainly important). But to show that what God’s Spirit really wants is our freely given love, not merely our obedience. And to bear witness that we trust in God’s power, not the power of the group.

‭Some may see this opting out of decision-making as opting out of the community. But it seems to me that these meetings are a very small part of community life. The vast majority of our time is not spent in decision-making meetings but in sharing life together and working together, caring for our neighbors, our families, and others outside the community, and trusting others to care for us. This is what community life means to me.

‭I think Jesus demonstrated that the administrative structures and authority of group decision-making are not needed in a community inspired and directed by God’s Spirit. We don’t need it, and it undermines our purpose as followers of Jesus.