Reflections on my first Council of Elders meeting

Wow — it has been a really long time since I have posted! Things have been terribly busy, so it was a worthwhile absence, and I have been writing, just not here. 🙂 And even now I don’t plan to say much (usually a good sign that this will be a long post, huh?), but I did want to post a reflection on my first Council of Elders meeting, which occurred the week before last. The ministerial conference the following week was amazing in its own way, and I will try to comment on it later, as well. But the Council of Elders meeting was one of the most encouraging experiences I’ve ever had in the Church, though I can’t say that it was full of surprises. However, an experience need not be a surprise to be encouraging — in fact, an experience that confirms one’s hopes and expectations can be pretty profoundly encouraging, itself.

[First, here’s a Tweet from @lcginfo with a picture of the Council meeting. If you aren’t following LCG on Twitter, you should be!]

I could summarize everything I am about to say in one sentence, and for those without the time to read more, feel free and move on after this: What I regularly pray to see in the government and functioning of the Church, I saw every minute of those two days, and it was so very, very encouraging. Why it was encouraging, for those who will read further, I will detail below…

The first thing worth pointing out was that Mr. Roderick C. Meredith was very clearly in charge, and he led the meeting in a gracious and collegial manner. I say this to provide evidence against imagined and (go figure) contradictory criticisms I have heard from a few ignorant voices here and there. (By the way, I say “ignorant” in the strict meaning of the word — lacking any real knowledge of the facts — and not as a lazy insult. Not that all of the few ignorant voices admit their ignorance, but the actual evidence shows them to be ignorant just the same.)

The first ignorant claim is that Mr. Meredith is getting old so he must just be sitting back, too frail to lead, and doing little while others are making all the decisions. I routinely say that anyone who were to think this has not actually spent time with Mr. Meredith recently, and this was no different. (I’ve mentioned this claim before to individuals who work with Mr. Meredith, and they routinely laugh out loud.) While I have seen the opposite of this claim to be true every single time I have gone to Charlotte over the last seven years, the evidence of the mistaken notion of such (thankfully tiny) voices was on display both days of the meetings. Mr. Meredith guided and led every discussion we had, and the role of the Living Church of God’s Council of Elders as an advisory body was obvious. The Council advised and discussed, and the Presiding Evangelist led and decided.

The other ignorant claim I’ve heard is on the opposite side of the spectrum: that Mr. Meredith must be some sort of power hungry, tyrannical figure, like a dictator. Again, anyone guessing such a thing is so far from the truth that you wonder how in the world he or she could come up with such suppositions. As I have said before, every time I have been there, Mr. Meredith has been very deferential and solicitous of the opinions of others, even when his own opinion has been strong. The Council meeting was no exception. Mr. Meredith led the meeting in one of the most collegial and mutually respectful and loving atmospheres I have ever experienced in a meeting like that — and I’m very used to working on teams, both in the public sector (as a high school teacher) and in the private sector (as an actuary for a corporation). He very actively sought out advice and the floor was very open for discussion and comments. I remember just nodding my head at something that was said, not even raising my hand to contribute, and Mr. Meredith asked me to elaborate on what I was thinking. He did that so many times during the meeting with many of the individuals, and everyone spoke numerous times on a variety of topics.

And the composition of the men in the room is worth noting, as well, since all were appointed personally by Mr. Meredith (not a single vote was taken to place any of them there) and serve there at his pleasure: None of them were “yes men.” It was apparent to me that Mr. Meredith has willingly and purposefully surrounded himself with men who will give honest opinions, even if those opinions differ from his. Frankly, the cumulative number of years of experience in living God’s Way and sincerely applying God’s laws that was represented in that room was stirring to me. Some of their stories I knew and others I did not, but of all I knew they were tested and proven men who put God’s Word first, and they gave to Mr. Meredith their sincere and honest counsel. When they disagreed with each other, they (1) acted as though they were free to say so, and (2) always — always — spoke with respect and what seemed like very sincere love and friendship towards one another. I couldn’t help but think that if the boardrooms of corporate America and the committee rooms of Congress functioned like this, the nation would be a much, much better place.

But I’ve gotten off track… The point is that Mr. Meredith has chosen for himself experienced and proven counselors whom he can trust to disagree with him, and I respect that. Again, not “yes men.” They did come across, however, as “‘yes sir’ men.” That is, when the decision is made, then the decision is made. I felt no hint of plotting to undo anything or of secret agendas, but rather one of support and agreement and a desire to be of one mind. Though I’ve only experienced that one meeting (not counting the earlier phone meeting we’d had), I have no reason to believe that this meeting was not rather typical, and, if so, then I believe Mr. Meredith is one of the reasons it was so warm, collegial, and open. The spirit of the head affects the mood of the body, and the tone Mr. Meredith set made me feel welcome to be there and free to speak my mind. He deserves a great deal of credit for that atmosphere. And, again, his critics with their imagined criticisms just look like ninnies when you experience the facts.

Though he’s not perfect by any means )and he is quick to say so, himself) it has been my experience now for seven years that his life and actions — seen as a whole, together — continue to defy the efforts of those who would reduce him to a caricature — all the more, given how their caricatures are the exact opposites of each other. Seems to me that if he’s being attacked from opposite directions, it’s probably a sign that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. 🙂

Before moving on to the one thing that, perhaps, impressed me the most, I should explain that I said Mr. Meredith is “one of the reasons” for the collegial atmosphere of teamwork and respect I felt there because there is a bigger reason. Or perhaps I should type, “Bigger Reason.” It seemed so apparent to me that God’s Spirit was present and in active use in that room. The unity wasn’t just because the men in the room were friends and colleagues or just because of the wonderful job Mr. Meredith has done in leading the counsel and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect. It was there because being mutually unified with God is the fundamental source of real unity with others. Any other sort of unity just won’t do — not political, not racial, not ideological, not emotional, not “purpose driven,” not “common enemy driven,” not contractually agreed, not bylaw-dependent or constitutionally-structured… none of them.  In unifying men — let alone men of strong and passionate opinion — nothing can do the job like being first and foremost mutually unified with God and with His Son, Jesus Christ, by seeking His word and His will and then acting on it. And while I don’t know every man in that room personally (though I am thankful that I am beginning to), those I do know are just such men who practice such unity with God, and the result of that was evident in the room to me.

Part of what made it evident to me is the matter I wanted to bring up before I conclude, which I found moving when it happened though it wasn’t really a surprise.

Though much of the discussion was on policy and administrative decisions, since part of the purpose of the Council of Elders is to advise Mr. Meredith on doctrinal matters, eventually the meeting turned to a few doctrinal questions that had been asked, for which Mr. Meredith sought the Council’s input. The moment it did, you saw hands reaching into briefcases and satchels and Bibles being opened.

While, as I said, that isn’t surprising, and it is exactly what I would expect, at the same time it was so thoroughly encouraging. When the questions came to doctrinal matters and to understanding the truth of something, it was clear in that room that there is one source of truth, and it is the word of God. The overriding concern there about the teaching of the Church was whether or not it was biblical. The same book that these men leaned on for their rule of life was being used for the rule of the Church — and that is exactly how it should be. The dedication to the Word of God as the foundation of truth and knowledge that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong had instilled in his “young men from Ambassador” — including Roderick Meredith — was alive and well in that room, and, again, though it was not surprising, it was a personal privilege to see it happen in front of me with my own eyes.

There surely was not a single, perfect man present in the room. But the atmosphere I experienced there was such that I have no doubt whatsoever that our perfect Savior, the Head of the Church, was very much present in the room and that He must have felt very welcomed there.

I don’t know how long my rotational position in the Council of Elders will last, but I can say that even if it was just for this one meeting I am very thankful for the experience. We hear about these meetings in our announcements at Church and we hear prayers requested that the meetings will be blessed by God. Seeing with my own eyes that this is how the Living Church of God is run emboldened my faith that those prayers are lovingly answered by very active Jesus Christ who is leading His Church. It emboldened my belief that despite our common human foibles and our occasional missteps Christ is big enough to work in and to actively direct His Church for His and His Father’s divine purposes, and His will truly will be accomplished among His people and in the world.

And it will be. God the Father and Jesus Christ have, for almost 2000 years now, stubbornly continued to use human beings, as faulty as we human beings are, in Their Church and Their Work. And They will continue to use human beings until the time comes when those human beings are transformed at the return of Christ — at which time, He will continue to use them for eternity. Between now and that time, we have the chance to be those human beings. What a wonderful hope! And based on what I saw in those Council meetings, that hope is alive and well in the Living Church of God.

When we go to sleep tonight, let’s all thank God and Jesus Christ that this is so.

17 thoughts on “Reflections on my first Council of Elders meeting

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed your meeting. It is a lot easier to be collegial and respectful with people who are respectful and deferential to you. It is generally the absence of felt respect that leads prickly people to be fierce and combative, as I know all too well myself.

  2. Janice Gonzales

    Hello Mr Smith, Thank you for sharing your reflections regarding the COE meeting. It is very encouraging to know how God has inspired the Church leaders, as Christ being the Head of the Church.

  3. scrappydoo2k2

    When I read of hands reaching into satchels and Bibles being opened up to decide a matter, I actually felt my eyes begin to tear up.

  4. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    True to form, you say you won’t take long and do, just like Jesus in his final discourse. And true to form, you make the extended turn worth hearing, just like Jesus in his final discourse. 😀

  5. Thank you for sharing ,God always hears our prayers, He has not forsaken us, despite the trials we all some times go through We put our hope and trust in him, and seek to do his work my prayers for all keep up the good work.

  6. Thank you Mr. Smith for sharing this with us. It is very uplifting to see these dedicated men at work and to know that they are all following God’s leadership in government. You are all in my prayers, for strength, courage, health and the abilities needed to do this fine work.

  7. I like the fact that it was not “yes men” but “yes sir.” In order to make a sound decision, you need to explore the full range of information and different options, even it that means dissenting opinions. That’s pretty much how the military operates. If something comes up, the President has to make a decision. The Joint Chiefs of Staff develops the options and potential consequences of each, Once the President decides, it becomes “yes sir.” It’s about getting the job done, not personalities.

  8. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Consider the very famous text which describes not only the sort of unity you experienced, but how it happens and just how miraculous it is:

    (Psalms 133:1 RSV) A Song of Ascents. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
    (Psalms 133:2 RSV) It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!
    (Psalms 133:3 RSV) It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.

    Some years ago, while I was visiting Charlotte (while Mr. Apartian was still alive), I’d been granted a room to work in and on my rounds I passed by Messrs. Meredith, Ames, Apartian (as I recall, all were there) and some of the staff discussing choices for the next TW cover (between two photos of the area by St. Peter’s in Rome). To my surprise, I was invited in and to my even greater surprise (despite his already proven respect for me), Mr. Meredith asked my opinion about which photo I preferred. The second photo’s subject was less well-known (looking toward the place where the Pope speaks), but with the cloud cover, more visually dramatic if memory serves. I preferred that one but Mr. Meredith finally decided to go with the more broadly recognizable view of the piazza. I still personally would’ve preferred the other (which was nevertheless saved for future possible use), but he made his decision and everybody stayed with it. It was a lesson in something I’ve come to see illustrated more with time: what one personally values, however good it might be, may not be one and the same as what our audience values broadly and we have to “go to them where they are” within reason. Mr. Meredith can’t escape from his natural way of thinking totally any more than the rest of us but he DID learn that lesson from Mr. Armstrong and his own experience and applied it.

    And, then as in your recent meeting, he acted just as you described throughout your blog.

  9. gurudev ganeshdath

    I like great to hear that Biblical principles are being practised! like looking to God’s word for the source and authority of all Truth! His word is Truth! also,the Proverbs,where they state,there is safety in a multitude of council! i would have relished the opportunity just to be a spectator at a meeting like that! keep up the good work,which is God’s work!!

  10. Thomas

    Personally feel that this post deserves to be in a wider forum where the majority of our brothers and sisters can read it and take heart (something with the reach of the ‘Living Church News’, although that may not be the appropriate vehicle, at least in this form).

    Regardless, thank you for your eye-witness testimony to the Biblically sanctioned form of government in action, and being done right!

  11. naomi

    well, as expected from any “informative” writing about a counsel of elders meeting in any Church of God, we get all the wonderful slippery slimey collegial warmness, and not one word about the nuts and bolts of what was said, about doctrine, or the direction and plans of the Living Church of God. It’s pretty obvious there was at least one “yes man” there.

  12. Tsk, tsk, tsk, Naomi… You really need to check out John 7:24. Let me help and put it here: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” For instance, one might make the mistake of reading your bitter little comment here and then, based only on that, judge you in some unpleasant ways. But I’m sure the conclusions they would draw would be inaccurate, right? At least, I do hope so. And I’m sure you’d like to extend to others (like me!) the courtesy you’d want from others (that’s in the Bible, too, by the way: Matt. 7:12). Right? Again, I do hope so.

    Actually, in my own congregations, I did go over both the Council meeting and the ministerial conference that followed in much “nuts and bolts” detail. In fact, I used up the entire sermon time (in long-winded fashion, so about 1 hr 15 mins) sharing those details with them in all four of my congregations over two Sabbaths, flying through about 50 pages of notes I took. And, of course, we discuss the direction and plans of the Church on a weekly basis in our announcements, as well. The purpose of this post was not to act as some sort of “court reporter” or to repeat those things that Charlotte could announce to the Church on its own or those things that anyone can find out in announcements or by talking to their local minister or regional pastor or even calling and talking with a COE member. Rather, its entire purpose was summarized nicely (if I do say so, myself) by the title of the post. If the genuinely warm, positive, and congenial atmosphere is too “slimey” for your taste, then you might want to examine yourself for some bitterness (there’s warnings in the Bible about that, too). I can’t change reality just because it feels slimey to you.

    If you’d like to hear more than you did in this personal post, feel free and call someone or ask to attend a service. Otherwise, thanks for your uninformed criticism and have a nice day.

  13. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Mr. Smith: Evidently one person’s slimy-ness (sp.?) is another person’s childlike delight (e.g., yours) in the kind of group unity described so well in Psalm 133. I’ve never been to a COE meeting, but once I was invited (because I was a guest musician) to a Deacons and Elders Meeting at the Feast of Tabernacles. As I said to the married couple who sat across from me, the Holy Spirit was ankle-deep in there and I could feel it; and the “mechanics” of the events proved the point even more. Now if that sounds untoward to anyone, sorry (well, not really 😀 ), but I trust my own perceptions because I’ve taken care to learn how to distinguish good from evil by the only standards that really count: those in the Bible. And I know you have too. 😀

  14. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    And if it makes any difference, my own responsibilities have brought me in extensive contact from time to time with many of that same COE, sometimes unexpectedly when they are in a group working on something. It would be untoward to mention some of those events, but that I should be asked to participate in some of those activities was astonishing, and I gave those who granted me such favor my “A-game”. 😀

    So any time you want to play court reporter to any extent on such events, feel free. You have at least one eager fan of such reports who understands where you’re coming from.

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