Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

My first church council meeting

I have a saying that no company will ever appoint someone directly from university as the CEO of their company. The only exception to this rule, as far as I know, is the church. Not all churches, but at least some of them. And so it happened that I came to Swaziland in 1985, 26 years of age, with hardly any experience, and I became the pastor (more like the CEO) of a congregation. Big mistake! And did I make blunders! Plenty! Fortunately the Swazis are very forgiving people and they tolerated me, (probably hoping and praying – sometimes wishing – that I will acquire some wisdom).
When I arrived in the congregation there was trouble brewing. One of our “evangelists” who was the leader at one of our branches, had decided that he wanted to go on his own, but typically, he wanted to take the entire congregation with him. So here I was, with no experience, no knowledge on how the church in Swaziland functions or how to handle difficult situations, and I was chairman of the church council meeting which had to make a decision about this matter. As chairman, I obviously had a say in how things should be run during the meeting. Each person was allowed one chance to speak. I decided that the discussions will be kept short and if necessary I will call for a vote after which we accept what the majority says. I can’t remember the details of that discussion, but I did what I had decided and after some discussion (probably not more than half an hour) asked that we vote about the matter, after which I ruled that the majority vote (which was also my personal viewpoint) be accepted. And so the matter was closed – or so I thought! (I was very proud of my achievement.)
Coming to the next church council meeting, a few months later, an old man stood up. He had a problem with the decision that we had taken at the previous meeting, because he hadn’t had a chance to speak. Not knowing how to handle this, I looked at the rest of the church council and to my surprise found that they all agreed with him. They wanted the matter to be discussed again. And so, reluctantly, I agreed. About three or four hours later, everyone had said what they wanted to say, they had agreed on their viewpoint and the matter was resolved. (I would, however, be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I was totally frustrated with the way in which things had gone.)
Until I thought about it afterwards. End then I realised that voting was a Western concept. Within the Swazi culture things are not decided according to majority rule. Things are decided by consent. Matters are discussed and debated until all those present come to a mutual agreement. Our church council meetings can last for a whole day. Once my wife sent someone to look for me, convinced that I had been involved in a motorcar accident, only to find out that the meeting had taken longer (MUCH longer) than I had anticipated when I left the house that morning. Nowadays she just smiles when I tell her that I think that the meeting will be short 😉
Some years later we wrote our own Constitution for the church and one of the points included was that, during official meetings of the church, matters will be discussed until consent is reached. The only time when voting will take place is when people need to be chosen to fill certain posts.
When I look back to my first church council meeting, I remember the words of one of my professors who told us that, when a matter is put to the vote, you need to remember that if 51% of those present agree, then you still have 49% who disagree! He advised us (and I think these were extremely wise words) that, if there is not at least a 75% majority vote, that the matter be postponed to the next meeting to be prayed about in the meantime.
Or in our case: don’t make any decision without mutual consent.


Monday, August 27, 2007 - Posted by | Mission, Swaziland, Theology


  1. Thanks for the insight into the culture of Swaziland. I had heard that that was true in some African cultures before. I’m pretty sure that on the third or fourth try I would still be trying to call for a vote. 🙂


    Comment by dwmiii | Monday, August 27, 2007 | Reply

  2. Thanks Gougald. Don’t worry, I’m still learning!

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, August 27, 2007 | Reply

  3. What is amazing about it all is how God still works through us even through our mistakes! He uses them to teach us, and if we listen, great things happen. Thank you for sharing one of your lessons learned! May we take from this that we all have lessons to be learned and that we should embrace them humbly.


    Comment by wlh | Tuesday, August 28, 2007 | Reply

  4. I wanted to make some remarks about how God forgives mistakes, but perhaps I should rather post it in my blog tomorrow. Perhaps more people could benefit from it as not all readers of this blog see the comments.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, August 28, 2007 | Reply

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