Productive board meetings

As a pastor, your work includes mundane as well as sublime tasks. You can't spend all your time calling fire down from heaven-sometimes you have to chair the church board! Here's help for making the mundane more meaningful.

G. Russell Seay, Jr. pastors the Better Living Seventh-day Adventist church in Phenix City, Alabama.

Many ministers dislike church board and church business meetings. How many times have you heard, or said to yourself, "I wish I did not have to bother with board meetings so I could spend more time really ministering to my congregation." Often the results do not seem to justify all the time and effort these meetings require, and some even become unpleasant or downright heated. So it is not surprising that many pastors do not bother with them.

Board meetings do not have to be the church's battleground. They do not have to be a "necessary evil." They can provide an excellent means of keeping your finger on the pulse of the church. And the board meeting setting allows your parishioners to see you in a different light, which can enhance your position as the spiritual leader of the church.

These sessions can be very productive and even pleasant, if you have a proper perspective on them and follow a few basic principles. Don't view them as your adversary, but rather as a means of ' building broad support for the church's programs.

Some pastors say that because their churches are small and do not have much business, they do not see the need for regular board meetings. Even if you find yourself in that situation, you still need regular meetings for three reasons: First, your board should receive the 'treasury report each month. It ought to be aware of the church's receipts and expenditures even if they are only routine. People are more motivated to give when they know how their moneys are handled.

Second, regular board meetings deepen the board members' sense of identity. I've often told my board that we'll meet even if we don't have any other business to conduct than to look at each other. Meeting regularly helps to build strong ties. Of course you do not want to promote an attitude of elitism among them, just a team spirit.

Third, holding board meetings regularly builds better working relationships not only among the board members but also between you as pastor and the board.

Plan your agenda

An indispensable element in making board meetings productive is the agenda. Despite comments like "I don't have an agenda; I just let things flow along," all meetings have an agenda. It is merely a list, written or unwritten, of items to be discussed or acted upon.

A carefully prepared agenda provides order and direction for the meeting. The Bible is replete with illustrations that affirm that God is an orderly God. Paul asserts, "God is not the author of confusion. . . . Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:33- 40). The agenda should list the items of business and establish the order in which they are to be discussed.

There are a number of ways to set up the agenda; however, I have found the following helpful:

1. The Call to Order. It is a good practice to call the meeting to order formally. It signals for the board members the beginning of the meeting.

2. Devotional. When prayer is not offered at the beginning of the meeting you are left with a sense that you must struggle alone. The devotional should be brief, perhaps just a song and a prayer. If a thought is given, it should be concise and should set the tone for the business. Nothing can compare with the feeling that God through the Holy Spirit is guiding your business.

3. Clerk's (or Secretary's) Report. Elder C. E. Dudley, president of the South Central Conference, comments, "No minutes, no meeting." The clerk's report is vital, not only because it reminds the board of unfinished business but also because it is the official record of business the board has transacted. Take care that the clerk's minutes properly reflect the actions voted before it is accepted. Once voted it becomes official.

4. Treasurer's Report. The board should be kept aware of the financial activities of the church. Most decisions the board makes relate directly or indirectly to finances. In order to make intelligent decisions, the board members need to know the church's financial state.

5. Business. This includes both old and new business. Carefully consider the order in which you will present the business items to the board. One pastor regularly scheduled the most important items at the end of the agenda, only to discover that there was never money available for them because it had been allocated to less important items earlier in the meeting.

6. Reports. If you have some difficult board members, having departmental reports may take away some of their bite. But reports are not primarily aimed at quieting loudmouths. They help increase coordination by allowing each board member to hear what the others are doing.

7. Adjournment. After the board has completed its business have a formal adjournment.

Preparing for the meeting

Productive board meetings do not just happen. To make them productive, you must prepare yourself, the board members, and the meeting place.

Personal preparation is perhaps the most important. Few other things can give you the confidence that preparation does. And people are more apt to follow a confident leader into war than a tentative, unsure leader into peace.

You should prepare by researching the items that will come before the board. This does not mean that you need to know every detail about every item. However, you should know enough about them to direct the discussion intelligently.

Elder H. L. Cleveland, former president of the Allegheny West Conference, encouraged his pastors to take a half day off just before a big board meeting. He recommended taking a nice, relaxing bath and meditating on positive things (especially the life of Christ). Personal preparation such as this takes the edge off and helps keep the meeting in perspective.

In order to have a productive board meeting, your board members need information. If they are to make decisions concerning major business (e.g., church budget, remodeling, expansion of the church school program, et cetera), giving them pertinent information in advance will greatly increase the meeting's efficiency. Sometimes you may even find it beneficial to visit the members prior to the meeting to answer questions they have. Preparing the people saves a lot of time in the meeting and enhances the board's decision making.

The third aspect of preparation for the board meeting is preparing the meeting place. Don't underestimate this dimension. The meeting's environment affects its productivity. Instead of picturing a perfect environment (which would vary from situation to situation anyway), I would like to make several observations. The meeting place should be comfort able. It should not be too cold or too hot. Distracting elements (such as thruway traffic, posters) should be minimized as far as possible. There should be adequate light. And all visual aids should be in place.

A little attention given to preparing for the board meeting will go a long way toward making your meetings productive. Preparation is no panacea, but it can help you get the best decisions from your board. By careful preparation you can minimize potentially distracting elements and increase your credibility as a leader.

Conducting the board meeting

The moment of truth has come. You have your agenda; you have prepared. Now it's time to conduct the board meeting. No one can tell you every step to take in conducting the board meeting; you must work in your own armor. You will not learn some things except through experience. But I would like to share some pointers that you may find useful.

Use parliamentary procedures. A working knowledge of parliamentary procedure is indispensable to chairing the board. The goal of the board meeting is to conduct the church's business. The board expresses its wishes through the majority vote.

A word of caution: Do not become a servant to parliamentary procedure; it is to serve you. One organization I've been a part of wasted three meetings debating procedures. Don't fall into that trap!

Be issue-oriented. Focus not on personalities, but on issues. Every chairman faces the temptation to focus on personalities. If a person opposes an item you are for, you will tend to see that person as a foe. This is a very unproductive approach. By keeping the issues up front, you will be better able to retain your objectivity.

Being issue-oriented will also help educate the other board members to focus on the issues and overlook personalities, thus minimizing in-house fighting. And it aids in keeping the discussions on track, thereby allowing you to accomplish more in a shorter period of time.

Exercise your right to be neutral. Ideally, as the chairman you should be neutral. Realistically, there are few things about which you will be truly neutral. However, the fact that you have opinions on the issues does not mean you have to voice them. Exercise your right to be neutral. Of course there is a time for everything—there is a time to be neutral and a time to take a stand. But before you as chairman push for a particular item, make sure it is important to the general welfare of the church. Most items that come before the board probably do not necessitate your revoking your neutrality.

Protect the rights of the minority. In our democratic system the majority rules. The board members should understand that they are a team and that even if they disagree with the outcome of the vote, the resultant decision is the decision of the board.

However, the minority should be made to feel that they are important and that they are a significant part of the board. Don't let the majority glory in their victory. Encourage the board members to vote their convictions rather than to attempt to be on the winning side. They will be more prone to do this if they know that they will be able to retain their dignity. Remember, a non-threatening environment encourages creative ideas and problem solving.

Use ad hoc committees. An ad hoc committee is organized for a specific purpose. When it has done its work it is disbanded. You can use these commit tees effectively for items that need in-depth study. They are not a cure-all, but they can save a lot of time in deliberations while also allowing deeper thinking on the issue.

The following pointers will help you to use ad hoc committees effectively: (1) clearly define the objectives of the committee; (2) keep the committee small (a maximum of seven members); (3) define the committee's authority; and (4) set a deadline for the commit tee's work.

Follow-up on the meeting

The last aspect of conducting a productive board meeting is follow-up. Many fail on this point. The actions taken at the board meeting only start the process. What's important is how many items were followed through, not how many were voted the way you wanted them. You need to consider both business follow-up and pastoral follow-up.

The two keys to following up on the business voted are making assignments and setting deadlines. Before the board meeting closes you should make sure that someone has been assigned to carry out the actions voted by the board. It is not necessary for you as pastor to do all the follow-up. However, you are responsible for seeing that someone does it. The responsibility to carry out many of the board's actions will fall to those already holding the appropriate offices in the church. For instance, a vote to make some improvements on the physical plant would naturally be carried out by the deacons.

The second key is setting dates for accomplishing the actions. Aim to carry out the actions by the time of the next board meeting, or at least to have a report of progress for the next board meeting. Adopting this policy will help insure that business does not back up from month to month.

At times board meetings will produce some heat and inflict some burns. As chairman and pastor you should visit those who may have been hurt by the actions of the board. This is especially true in the case of those who may feel bad because things they wanted were voted down. This practice will help you minister to the spiritual needs of your flock and prevent bitterness from eroding the productiveness of the board members. It will also strengthen your relationship with those members.

I cannot emphasize enough that productive board meetings do not just happen. You make them happen. If you work at it, you may even find your board meetings a pleasant experience.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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G. Russell Seay, Jr. pastors the Better Living Seventh-day Adventist church in Phenix City, Alabama.

February 1986

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