Friends have a unique way of doing business. We do not vote. Instead we discuss and prayerfully reach agreement of what we believe is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This issometimes called “the sense of the meeting” or simply “consensus.” It is more than simply reaching the lowest common denominator of agreement. At its best, it is discerning the mind of Christ and His direction as the Head of the church. For this reason, all business meetings begin with a period of worship. The intent is that the participants will continue to pray for guidance as they conduct the business in the spirit of worship. Spiritual life and business are two sides of the same coin and should never be separated. The goal is to submit to the rule of God’s kingdom as we serve Him together. (See Leadership, Decision-making and the Church under “Convictions,” page 9-10).
In EFCSW business meetings the Presiding Clerk guides the sessions. This person is often chosen because of fairness, ability and mature character. After presentation of the topic, often by a Board or executive staff member, the Clerk gives time for careful and deliberate consideration by the Representatives. When it appears to the Clerk that the Representatives have reached a decision, he or she states clearly what appears to be the consensus or “sense of the meeting.” Then the Clerk calls for approval, or sometimes disapproval. When the group can proceed in substantial unity, the Representatives say “approved,” and the matter is firmly decided. When the members give approval, a minute is written summarizing the decision.
When a significant minority do not agree, the Clerk may call for a time of silent waiting on the Lord, postpone the item or refer it back to a Board or Committee for review or revision. While each person is urged to seek the mind of the Lord, Friends believe that something unique happens as we try to discern God’s direction together. Therefore, corporate guidance takes precedence over the guidance of the individual in discerning the consensus or sense of the meeting. The Clerk has the right to call any person, or the proceedings themselves, “out of order” if an unproductive argument or a wrong spirit should emerge.
Decisions do not need to be unanimous, but they do need substantial unity. Members who disagree with an action may “stand aside,” that is, agree to let the others proceed without their agreeing with the action taken. Those who stand aside are also agreeing not to become divisive and not to oppose the implementation of the decision. On rare occasions, when the issue is grave and a decision must be made, those who disagree may ask to have their names registered in the minutes as opposing the action.
The Friends method of doing business is sometimes slow, but it does build unity. At its best, it is beautiful to watch the Holy Spirit bring a group to unity. That’s why theSpirit of authentic worship, and seeking the mind of Christ Jesus who is always present, is so vital.