The way we make decisions is broken

What is wrong with this picture?

Last year I was at a major international church meeting that had to make some big decisions. There was a lot of conflict and high emotion. Many people kept asking questions. I thought they had already been answered. So it was not possible to make decisions and so the issue ground to a halt because of confusion. Later I spoke to a Minister of that church who has incredibly high standing across the denomination. I made a comment about how so many people kept asking questions throughout the debate. His reply still shocks me today! He said, approvingly, that this was all part of the plan to derail that business. People were conspiring to prevent decisions being made.

How do you know if something is broken? I think something is broken if it doesn’t perform according to the maker’s promises.

When you think of church meetings that use parliamentary processes for their decision-making, what kinds of behaviors and attitudes do you see? What actions are valued and affirmed?

What I see, in the vast majority of cases, is:

  • people do not listen to each other
  • praise for people who criticise and pull down the opposition
  • political manoeuvring to prevent understanding, participation and power for others
  • cutting off the debate before all voices have been heard
  • privilege given to certain cultures, gender, ages and backgrounds
  • people are hurt
  • selfishness
  • lack of the joy and hopefulness of life in the Spirit
  • no consensus as to the will of Christ for his church
  • decisions don’t get made

What should we expect?

Through Jesus Christ, God has created us as a new community. This is a community that is identified by love, kindness, lack of envy, pride and boasting, it honors others, rejoices in the truth, protects one another, and is trusting and hopeful (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7). It is also a community that respects, needs and values the contribution that all members can make to its life. (1 Corinthians 12: 12-26). This is not an ideal to which we are invited to aspire. This is a God given reality in which we are expected to live, in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

What do you see?

What do you see in church meetings? Do the behaviors, values and culture match what you think a Christian community should look like? Do your church meetings reflect the maker’s promises about how Christian community operates? Do you make decisions that people respect and can work with? If not, then your way of making decisions is broken.

A discernment process that fails to take seriously the system in which it operates will have limited capacity for spiritual vitality. I invite you to look at the way you organise your meetings and make your decisions. Do they have a deforming or transforming effect on Christian character?

Please share your experiences of church business meetings. Tell us about when you have seen them support, or not support, the true character of a Christian community .



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Author: Terence

I am a Minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. My current ministries focus on consultancy and teaching about consensus based decision-making, mediation, governance training and professional supervision for Ministers. I am co-author of the book "The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together". I live on the beautiful Far South Coast of NSW from where I undertake ministry across the globe. Contact me at

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