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

Chairing committees is one of the most significant, time-consuming, and sometimes exasperating thing a pastor or elder can do. Do you want to do it better? Here are some tips.

Prepare an agenda. An agenda is a list of items for the committee to consider and act on. Each member should receive a copy, preferably 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.

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 people the idea they can come late and not miss anything. Listing agenda items can help keep a committee on schedule.

First, list the items that do not require everyone’s presence, such as the treasurer’s report or other routine business. Next, list the heavy, time-consuming items. After the committee talks for an hour and members realize they’ve addressed only a fourth of the agenda, they’ll become more businesslike. Next, list the brief, shorter items. Finally, include items that must be considered eventually but could be postponed if you run out of time.

Provide information. A committee working in the right spirit and with the right information will almost invariably make good 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.

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 and want to agree. The chairperson has much to do with creating this kind of team spirit.

Don’t over-control. 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.

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

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. Specifically ask more timid members to share their thinking. When these nonparticipating members learn that their contributions are heard and respected, they will usually speak again and continue to participate.

Respect others’ ideas. Pastors and other denominational chairpersons tend to be too autocratic. They believe they know more about the subject than the committee members, probably because they have been more closely involved with the issue. But this does not mean their judgment is superior to that of the group.

Stick to the problem. A committee solves problems 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 something unrelated to the problem. The chairperson must kindly but relentlessly keep the committee focused on the problem at hand. 

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

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 the pastor or elder out of a lot of trouble.

Support the decision. Few things aggravate a committee more than finding out that the pastor and other church leaders have ignored a committee decision and done things their own way. 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.

Floyd Bresee wrote this article when he was the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference. The article first appeared in the July 1992 issue of Ministry.