Louis Maciel writes from Silver Spring, Maryland.

Christians spend a lot of time in committees. The Christian Church always believed in the committee system. If it were not for the Holy Spirit, we might still make decisions by casting lots. But after the Holy Spirit's outpouring, group decisions became more democratic. Acts 15 relates the Bible's clearest example of group decisions.

But in spite of the fact the Holy Spirit assists the committee in the decision-making process, there is still room for skills and guidelines in leading a committee. That is the reason for the suggestions presented in this article. Here are some rules to successfully chair a committee.

1. Prepare an agenda.

An agenda is a list of items for the committee to consider and upon which to act. Each committee member should receive a copy of the agenda, 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, there will usually be agreement by the church board.

What if a committee member interrupts the agenda with an additional item? In informal settings this is not a serious problem. Sometimes, however, the issue introduced could be an explosive one. No one person should be allowed to control the group, neither the one interrupting, nor the chairperson. If the group votes to consider the issue, it might be added at the bottom of the agenda. A safer way is to use a screening committee as suggested above. Then the chairperson can, without seeming dictatorial, explain that items are to be passed through the screening committee before being placed on the agenda.

2. Begin and end on time.

Speaking of long committee meetings, Ellen White counsels: "In the hope of reaching a decision, they continue their meetings far into the night.. . . If the brain were given proper periods of rest, the thoughts would be clear and sharp, and the business would be expedited" (Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 256).

Listing agenda items can help keep a committee on time. Not everyone arrives on time, and so list first items that do not require everyone's presence, such as a treasurer's report or routine business. And then begin the meeting on time. Starting meetings late produces a vicious cycle; next time people will come even later.

Next on your agenda, put the 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.

Committees working in the right spirit with the right information will invariably make the right decision. 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 committees become 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 oversized, members shouldn't have to address the chair when they wish to speak. Dialogue should flow freely and directly from person to person. If two persons disagree vehemently, turn to others and hear their comments while the antagonists cool down. 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.

Pastors and other denominational chairpersons tend to be too autocratic. You know more about the subject than your committee members, because you have probably been more involved. But this does not mean your judgment is superior to that of the group. Some chairpersons may manipulate a committee to get their own way. But people resent such an approach; it's neither wise nor Christian.

Settle the process theologically in your own mind. Do you really believe in the wisdom of the church body as a whole? If so, you will respect the will of the committee, not only out of necessity, but out of your ecclesiological understanding. As chairperson, remain as unbiased and neutral as possible. If there is an issue in which you cannot do this, give the chair to someone else during discussion of that item. One advantage in asking someone else to chair the church board is that you can then argue openly and fairly in favor of a given plan that is especially important to you.

Frank discussion of delicate issues should never leave the committee room. If it does, discussion will be less frank and open next time. Practice and preach confidentiality.

derstand the tendency of human nature to betray confidence. Practice the principle of Matthew 18, limiting the discussion of controversial issues to the smallest group possible. You may sometimes need to ask the permission of your board or business meeting to delegate the discussion of highly confidential details to a designated small group. The elders' council may be one such group.

7. Stick to the problem.

A committee solves problems by a cooperative pooling of information and judgment. We have addressed each section of this committee definition except the first; a committee solves problems.

But when the problem proves difficult to solve, the group or some of its members will begin talking about something that has no relevance to the main issue. The chairperson must kindly but relentlessly keep the committee on the problem at hand.

8. Summarize periodically.

Rather than spending a lot of time on your own arguments, as chairperson concentrate more on rephrasing and summarizing the arguments given by others and work on areas of consensus. Voting, though absolutely essential, need not be a source of concern, for thorough and fair discussion by a good committee usually leads to a unanimous or nearunanimous decision.

Large problems can be solved in small steps. When faced with a difficult problem, the chair should watch for consensus developing on a portion of the problem and encourage a decision on that before continuing the discussion. For example, if the group is having difficulty deciding whether or not to put red tiles on the roof, the chairperson can listen for consensus on a part of the problem─does the church need a new roof?

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. Minutes of a meeting should be read and approved at the next meeting. Recorded minutes can keep the pastor out of a lot of trouble.

10. Support the decision.

See that assignments are made for its implementation. Few things aggravate a committee more than finding out that the pastor or other church leaders ignored the committee decision and did 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 (including the pastor).

We must remember that God worries more about how the chairperson treats the people, than if the meeting runs efficiently; how members of the committee treat the people of the church, more than which carpet color is selected. The agenda and the meeting place must show respect for individuals. For many Christians, meetings are their mission field.

Louis Maciel writes from Silver Spring, Maryland.