I was told at a young age that Good Manners were invented to make other people feel comfortable. We don’t consult Emily Post in order to highlight our own personal poise and good breeding. We practice good manners for the sake of other people:
- Thank You Notes make people feel appreciated.
- Multiple forks mean there’s an extra if needed for salad and dessert.
- Seating charts help people feel included . . .
. . . in a perfect, gracious world.
The same is true for Church World Rules and Regulations. And yet many a person has has felt estranged from The Church because of rules.
The rules in church bylaws and in my own denomination’s Constitution are supposed to be about protecting, honoring, and serving people within the realm of being followers of Jesus. (If they aren’t, I would question why there are included.)
We have rules about who can be ordained as a pastor in hopes of preparing people as well as possible for the multi-faceted work of professional ministry – which is good for parishioners and the person leading them.
We have rules about discipline in order to protect a congregation and specific individuals from hurtful behavior.
We have rules about overseeing financial statements and meeting minutes to ensure that congregations and pastors are safe from nefarious situations.
We have rules about voting on church business so that everyone is heard.
We don’t have rules about drinking coffee in worship or bringing dogs to church meetings or dressing a certain way or making elders advertise how much money they contribute annually or any number of things – unless we do have those rules and that would be about something besides making disciples.
Jesus didn’t die for rules about whether or not someone can wear flip flops to meetings or whether or not you must call a pastor who is male or whether or not there has to be a Sunday morning Bible study in the church parlor or whether or not there is a screen in the sanctuary.
Jesus did die for the inclusion of rejected people, the forgiveness of broken people, the salvation of lost people, and the freedom of enslaved people.
Next time we grapple with the rules and regulations of our particular church, ask this question:
What about this rule helps/serves/welcomes/protects someone?
If there is no good answer – maybe we need to rethink that particular rule. My denomination rewrote our Form of Government in 2006. We did this to be more permission-giving and adaptive. We did this because what “must” be a rule in one context need not be a rule in another context.
Yes, certain rules are “shalls” in our manuals. Next time you come across one, ask how that “shall” serves the people in God’s name. The rules are all about relationships.
Image of the trash room in my apartment building. I’m guessing this rule exists because it’s extra work for the person paid to pick up the trash. Clearly we need to be more considerate neighbors.