Floyd Bresee is a former Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference. 

Chairing committees is one of the most significant, time-consuming, and sometimes exasperating things you do. Do you want to do it better? Here are tips.

1. Prepare an agenda. An agenda is a list of items for the committee to consider and act on. Each member should receive a copy. If practical, this should be done well before the meeting date so that members can come prepared. Under some circumstances it is wise to screen the agenda through a smaller group such as the elders' council. When there is consensus among the elders, the church board will usually agree.

2. Begin and end on time. Whether everyone is present or not, begin the meeting on time. If you start late, you end late. Besides, starting late gives the people the idea they can come late and not miss anything. Listing agenda items can help keep a committee on time.

List first the items that do not require everyone's presence, such as a treasurer's report or some routine business. Next, list heavy, lengthy items. After the committee talks for an hour and members realize they've gone through only a fourth of the agenda, they'll become more businesslike. Next, place the more brief, shorter items. Finally, include items that must be considered sometime but could be postponed if you run out of time.

3. Provide information. A committee working in the right spirit and with the right information will almost invariably make right decisions. Inadequate information often leads to wrong decisions. The chairperson need not be the source of all information, but should ensure that the committee gets the information it needs to act intelligently.

4. Create a team spirit. Research shows that a committee becomes ineffective when there is a hostile spirit within the group. Members must want to work together, want to agree. The chairperson has much to do with creating this kind of team spirit.

Don't overcontrol. Unless the committee is oversize, members shouldn't have to address the chair when they wish to speak. Dialogue should flow freely and directly from person to person. Understand and at least informally observe the rules of parliamentary procedure. This gains respect for your leadership, establishes an organized sense of fairness, and protects the democratic process.

And nothing helps create a team spirit more effectively than a wholesome sense of humor. If you can smile together, you can usually work together.

5. Control participation. Ensure a broad spectrum of participation, and encourage everyone to join in the discussion. Gently bypass those who have already shared their point of view and tend to dominate. Ask specifically the more timid to share their thinking. When these nonparticipating members speak once and find their contribution is heard and respected they will usually speak again and continue to participate.

6. Respect others' ideas. Some chairpersons tend to be too autocratic. You may know more about the subject than your committee members, probably because you have been more involved. But this does not mean your judgment is superior to that of the group.

7. Stick to the problem. A committee solves a problem by a cooperative pooling of information and judgment. But when the problem proves especially difficult to solve, the group or at least some of its members will tend to talk about some- thing unrelated to the problem. The chairperson must kindly but relentlessly keep the committee on the problem at hand.

8. Summarize periodically. Rather than spending a lot of time presenting your own argu- ments as chairperson, concentrate more on con- densing and summarizing the arguments given by others and working toward areas of consensus.

9. See that decisions are recorded. This may seem unimportant in smaller, informal groups. But forget that you can remember, and remember that you can forget. Recorded minutes can keep you out of a lot of trouble.

10. Support the decision. Few things aggra- vate a committee more than finding out that the pastor or other church leaders have ignored a committee decision and done things their own way anyway. When you're voted down, either accept the committee's wish or bring together additional information and ask the group to reconsider. Everyone together is more likely to be right than anyone alone.


Floyd Bresee, Ph.D., was secretary of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists from 1985 to 1992. Since his retirement he and his wife, Ellen, have been living in Tobernash, Colorado. Dr. Bresee continues to be active in church work, writing, pastoring the local church, and meeting various speaking appointments all over the world. The above article has been reprinted from the July 1992 issue of Ministry. 


and continue to participate.