A Christian's guide to leadership for the whole church

Derek Prime’s latest book on leadership gives some advice on how to make the best of the sometimes onerous task of chairing meetings . . .

Most of us can remember committee meetings that have seemed endless and even pointless time-wasters.

Determine in your mind that you will play your part in avoiding such a state of affairs. Drawn-out meetings become a burden. Before ever the meeting begins, think through what needs to be accomplished and as it proceeds keep a firm hold on the reins.

Proper order

One of your first purposes in chairing a committee must be to see that the subjects on the agenda are in a proper order of priority and importance so that if you find time running out and you have to draw the meeting to a close before arriving at the last items on the agenda no serious damage has been done. With this end in view, you may find it helpful to prepare the agenda by having slips of paper upon which you place each item that is to be raised. Then move them around to establish an appropriate order before writing out or typing the final agenda.

Basic to the agenda will be what can be described as the opening worship or devotions as the Scriptures are read and prayer offered. If the committee is small, it is valuable if all pray, even if briefly. If the committee is large, then it is helpful to suggest that four or five pray and that you will close the prayer time by praying yourself.

Adequate and open

Your second purpose must be to ensure that every subject on the agenda is adequately dealt with. This can be achieved only as appropriate time is allowed for it. It may be helpful to pencil in against the items on your copy of the agenda the ideal time to spend. Maintaining the proper tempo in a meeting is vital to achieving the proper ends. Only the chairman is in a position to keep the tempo right so that things are kept moving.

Your third purpose is to make sure that everyone on the committee has the opportunity to speak. As you think of its members, you will know those who are shy or reticent and those who are the opposite! As you contemplate the various topics, it may be obvious that there are some people who ought to be asked to make a contribution if you find them remaining silent. They will be grateful to you for taking the initiative and the committee as a whole will benefit.

Key issues and unity

Your fourth purpose must be to try and discern the key issues that ought to be mentioned or raised under each subject. Jot down beforehand headings for such on your agenda and then if they are not brought up introduce them yourself to the discussion. Or it may be better sometimes to suggest at the beginning that certain important aspects should be considered as the subject is discussed.

Your fifth purpose must be to aim at unanimity and a deliberate seeking of God’s will together. Aiming at agreement does not mean that there cannot be argument or debate since such are essential if questions are to be thoroughly and honestly aired and resolved. Sometimes in the middle of a debate it may be appropriate for you to remind your fellow-committee members that the most important issue is not the achieving of your own will but discovering and doing God’s. If a discussion becomes over-heated, nothing can be more beneficial than suggesting some moments of prayer together about the subject in hand. However, there must come a point when as chairman you say that there has been sufficient discussion; a decision must now be made, and one that all will stand by even if it may not have been their personal choice.

Endeavour to let all concerned present their views and positions, without interruption. Then let there be a free-for-all in which debate and argument can take place. But at an appropriate time take over, summarise all that has been said, and establish the consensus for action.

Church services

More and more churches involve members of the church fellowship in the conduct of services, both on a Sunday and during the week. While the minister will probably do the teaching and preaching, someone else may lead the service, or pray, or read the Bible or be responsible for the praise and music. There is much that is good in this but there are dangers. The first is that one person may not be in control of all that takes place. This is particularly the case when a minister hands over the music and the leadership of praise to musicians. What can sometimes happen then is that the musicians play what they enjoy playing or perhaps can play easily.

The second danger is that if people ‘take turns’ to lead and to contribute they may fall into the snare of feeling it to be the golden opportunity to do their own thing and perhaps go overboard in saying much more than needs to be said and end up drawing attention to themselves.

Basic constituents for any service are praise, prayer, Bible reading and teaching. Praise will cover not only singing that is specifically an expression of praise to God but also the singing of biblical truth that encourages believers in their faith and walk with God. Bearing in mind that congregations are made up of people of all ages and the tremendous inheritance we have in our hymn and songbooks, a balance should be struck between the best of the old and of the new. There should not be such an emphasis upon singing that by the time God’s Word is preached people are weary and tired.

Prayer is, of course, vital. The first main prayer in a service should always include adoration of God and thanksgiving to him. Very few people come to a service prepared in heart as we would want or they would choose. By such prayer we remind ourselves that we are in God’s presence and why we have come together. The second main prayer should be one of intercession. The neglect of this in many services is serious — serious because it is commanded in the New Testament and because it means we fail to exercise our very special privilege as God’s people. It also means that we fail to teach young Christians how to pray for they best learn by hearing older Christians praying.

The public reading of the Bible is vital. It helps to read the passage through carefully beforehand to ensure that you have the sense and know where the stress should be. Often it may be appropriate to have two Scripture readings, especially if it helps people to see how one serves to explain another.

If others are to be involved in leading (that is to say, being in the chair), or praying or reading, take that delegation seriously. Prepare intelligently with each person. With the leader, suggest how he should establish the right order and balance of things. If someone is going to take the opening prayer, put forward the most important aspects of that first prayer and recommend that they will find it helpful to either write it out beforehand or at least write down the main truths and desires they want to express. The same principle applies to the intercessory prayer. To suggest that people keep their eyes and ears open as they watch the TV news or hear the radio news programmes for matters of concern will help them to pray intelligently. Probably three or four main items for intercessory prayer are ideal.

Those who are reading the Bible should be encouraged to read it through carefully beforehand to ensure they understand what they are reading. The question of audibility is relevant to everyone’s contribution and should be deliberately raised by you. In every group of people there will be those who are hard of hearing. Little is more frustrating for them than not to be able to hear and it is thoughtless and discourteous not to think of them. If people are taking part publicly for the first time it is wise to suggest that you meet before people arrive so that you may test out their voices and audibility.

In control

If you are responsible for the overall leadership of a service do not allow things to move out of your control, especially with regard to the time given to music and the amount of singing. If you are responsible for delegating the leadership, never do so without giving clear instruction as to what is necessary. The best way of doing so is often by sharing, ‘This is how I do it and I think you will find it helpful’. Everyone who has any responsibility in leading the service will be helped and encouraged by your suggesting meeting for prayer together before the service. When the service is over do not forget to commend what is good and suggest better ways when the good has been fallen short of.

This is part of Chapter 12, entitled Chairmanship, from A Christian’s guide to leadership for the whole church by Derek Prime, recently published by Evangelical Press at 8.95 (208 pages, ISBN 0 85234 602 6).