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Committees Don’t Do Ministry, People Do Ministry

Death by Committee

Death by Committee

Committees meet. They schedule a meeting to talk about all the stuff there is to do and who could possibly do it. I was reading this morning from John Maxwell’s Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading. In chapter 18, entitled “the secret to a good meeting is the meeting before the meeting,” Maxwell quotes Harry Chapman as giving a list of how to handle being on a committee:

  • Never arrive on time: this stamps you as a beginner.
  • Don’t say anything until the meeting is over: this stamps you as being wise.
  • Be as vague as possible: this avoids irritating others.
  • When in doubt, suggest that a subcommittee be appointed.
  • Be the first to move for adjournment: this will make you popular – it’s what everyone is waiting for.

I love that last line. When it comes to committee meetings (or business meetings too), everyone cheers on the insides of themselves when someone moves to adjourn. We’re ready to leave when it starts.

I was chatting with a friend yesterday who helped influence his denomination to take the three days they normally spend doing all of their reporting and denominational business and turn those days into informative and inspirational sessions with practical and usable seminar-like material. Attendance nearly doubled.

I’ve seen some churches with more committees than Sunday School classes and more actual committee members than church members (since most were serving on several committees). Again… committees meet. Committees talk.

So what’s the alternative? It’s funny how many churches still steeped in the tradition of electing far too many committees acknowledge the inability of committees to accomplish ministry, but those same leaders have an innate fear that letting go of the ineffective will somehow render them even more ineffective.

Here’s my suggestion:

Empower people. Give individuals the freedom, the budget, the tools, and the co-helpers necessary to do the things that committees spend way too much time talking about.

I could identify with a Pastor I heard once talking about his rather large church. He bought a house to use as a missionary cottage and spent $110,000 without permission and reported on it the following Sunday. He explained there was no time to discuss it, the deal would be gone by the end of the day. They were not only okay with his decision, they celebrated it. Then they spent 45 minutes discussing, as a committee, how they could get the best possible price in town on new tires for one of the church’s vans.

Committees meet. Committees talk. People do, especially when leaders empower them to do what they do well.

photo credit: clagnut

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