I recently attended a town planning commission meeting where we now live in
It was an important meeting for our subdivision and for the area around it; so along with many of our neighbors, I was present. As often is the case, this meeting had tremendous potential to be very contentious. There was the team representing a developer, three homeowners’ association representatives, and a multitude of citizens from the impacted area - some supporting the development and some strongly opposing it. One of my initial thoughts as the Chairman gaveled the meeting open was, Wow, I am so glad I am not chairing this meeting! However, what ensued was very different from what I expected; and in truth, it was due to the conduct of the Chairman and his dependence upon the Lord to superintend that meeting.
I will not mention the name of my town or the name of this man, since I am quite sure being noted for his conduct was not his goal. But from the moment he spoke, the atmosphere in the room changed. Now please note, those who opposed the project were not immediately moved to support it, nor vice-versa. What did happen was that an air of respecting one another came over that room of more than one hundred opinionated people. You see, the first words out of that Chairman’s mouth were not parliamentary instructions about how the meeting would proceed, but rather a call to stand and join him in prayer. His prayer was genuine as he asked God to remind of us our responsibility to respect one another, to have as our goal the good of our community, and to remember that beyond this moment we had so much that binds us together. There was no apology for praying, nor was it done as a ceremonial necessity: it was a true request for God to work in a diverse group of people who, no doubt, had diverse points of view. God worked! That man’s commitment to pray and make sure that his testimony was clear changed what could have been a divisive and hurtful meeting for the community. I am convinced that his commitment to the Lord and his concern for the testimony of our community as he called on God to work changed the nature of the meeting. Let me mention three things that I noticed in his conduct that every layman and full-time servant should consider emulating.
He expressed an acceptance of every person’s right to their perspective, even if he did not agree with that view.
We live in a divided nation politically. Our nation is so partisan that our goal is rarely the good of our community, but rather to make sure we defeat the other person along with their point of view. We have become so partisan that we have stopped seeing the other person as merely having a different perspective; instead we believe them to be evil. I know that is simplistic, and I know that evil is out there in abundance, but our anger and our retribution is not the answer. Sadly, we are developing this attitude in our Christian circles. We doubt one another’s motives, and we see sinister intentions in what others are doing, without truly understanding their perspective or their motive. This gentleman reminded us that every person was worthy of being respected and ultimately had the right to their point of view. I pray that we will be as accepting of one another’s person, even if we reject their point of view for ourselves, our families, and our churches. Christian layman, you have an incredible opportunity to influence people who do not hold our point of view by accepting them respectfully and letting your testimony shine.
He reminded us that there was something beyond this moment of disagreement that bound us together for the future.
I want to win! I want to win every game, every argument, and every election - because I hate losing. However, there are times in which we can win the day but lose our influence. I have seen at Christian school competitions (and I am sure have been guilty) where the desire to win becomes so strong that, in winning, we cause others to question whether our motives were spiritual or carnal. As this Chairman prayed and spoke, he expressed that he was not sure his point of view would prevail, but either way, he would be accepting and recognize that there would be new challenges tomorrow that would call for us to work together, not against one another. At the end of the meeting, I observed those who opposed the development (which was approved) speaking with the developer about how the project could benefit all those impacted, now that it was moving forward. The over-all sentiment was not anger and revenge, but one of moving forward together.
He reminded us that we can build bridges to those who disagree with us by being fair and gracious in our treatment of them.
As the meeting ended that night, I noticed many opposed to the development thank him for the fair way he allotted time and for allowing them to be heard. I overheard one person say, “Thank you for taking us seriously.” Their minds were not changed, but their motives were not condemned. They left as members of the community, not ostracized as “losers.”
I would encourage every layman to consider the incredible influence they can have in very secular situations by letting Christ-like character shine through. I would encourage every preacher to consider that there are some great leadership lessons we can learn from the laymen that surround us.