As a Presbyterain minister I am keenly familiar with committees. While committees are a familiar staple in churches of almost any flavor, we Presbyterians especially like to have everything done ‘decently and in order’. This makes the committee structure seem almost inherently appealing to our ecclesiastical DNA. But to be honest, from time to time I find myself asking “Why do we need committees?” Are there not any other options?
PORTRAIT of a COMMITTEE
Let me sketch a synical picture:
The old cliche’ seems all too true: “A committee is a group of people who take hours just to keep minutes.”
Let’s be honest. In most churches some seem to equate frequent meetings with effective ministry. Yet, in those same churches, others avoid serving on committees just so they don’t have to go to meetings. True?
The typical committee will gather on occasion to discuss some particular matter. (Frequency of meetings vary, and is seems to be decided by how much the chairperson likes to attend meetings. Food to be consumed during the meeting is optional.) Usually the meeting officially opens with some perfunctory prayer (not real worship or intercession), and is followed by a lot of chatter.
Committee members are not often experts about the subject they are discussing, nor necessarily even students of the related issues. Nevertheless, there rarely seems to be any lack of opinions.
There has to be a better way.
What if, in a particular church, each ministry simply had a director? A director would be someone with a growing knowledge (expertise?) and who senses a passion for, and even a calling to, a particular ministry or work. What if such a person were the one to set the direction & pace? Would we still need to have committees?
I know there are objections to such a notion. Among them might be:
1. People would not have a voice. They would feel no ownership, and therefore might not participate or support a ministry.
2. There is a need for a shared work load.
I’ve heard both, so let me take a moment to address these concerns.
1. People would not have a voice, and might not participate or support the ministry.
I suspect that this is probably true in some cases. If the leadership of the church (in Presbyterian cirlces meaning the Session, or Elders) appointed a person or persons, but did not open it up to anyone who wanted to volunteer, there may be some objections. But where this is true I think it reflects a more fundamental problem than the presence or absence of a committee structure.
What does such an attitude say about the people and their respect for the leadership of the church? In such situations, it seems to me, there is at least one of three issues undermining the overall health of the church: 1) the leadership may have a history of being inept; 2) more common, the people in the church have a seriously deficient view of the role of leadership; 3) and worst of all, people are sinfully rejecting the God-ordained leadership of the church.
The presence of any one of these conditions undermines the possibility of an effective ministry. And these conditions reflect a far more serious problem than the lack of a committee, or even the lack of a ministry. If leadership is rejected because of incompetence or a history of unqualified leaders, then the church must ask itslef why such leaders were ever elected, or allowed to be appointed, in the first place. If people are rejecting and rebelling against a qualified leadership that God has put in place in that church, then ultimately the people are acting against God himself. In either case the church has sin that needs to be addressed. No structure will compensate.
Now, let’s assume that the problem is the unwillingness of the people – or the unwillingness of a visible small group of people – to follow the direction of godly leadership. Do we really want to establish (or perpetuate) a committee system just to appease people in their sin? (NOTE: I am not saying that having a committee structure is sinful, just asking if appeasement is sufficient reason to operate that way.)
2. There is need for a shared workload.
This is a very valid point. Most ministry is too cumbersome to be accomplished alone. This is especially true when the leader is employed in another vocation. He/she has responsibilities to honor God through work in that field, and responsibilites to those who work with him/her at that business. On top of that there are family priorities, not to mention service to the community.
Time is a precious commodity – and a limited one. I suspect that is why so many Americans are willing to simply write a check. More money we can often find, but time is a little scarce.
Because of time limitations it would be difficult for most people to lead every aspect of a multi-facted ministry. It would be even more difficult to develop the level of expertise in each area that would facilitate effecitveness. The work load needs to be shared.
TEAM APPROACH vs. COMMITTEES
To me the TEAM approach seems to be a much better idea than traditional committees. Committees may be very helpful when reviewing the work of someone or something. Different perspectives can enhance understanding and perceptions. But this is not the same thing as getting something accomplished.
Teams are composed of a group of individuals with a shared commitment and shared goals. Each member of any team has a specific position to play, a particular responsibility. The whole team depends upon each person to perform his/her job to be effective. This requires that each person becomes an ‘expert’ or advanced ‘student’ of their respective position.
Each team may have one person who is the organizational leader, like a coach or captain. (This would be the Director I mentioned earlier.) But it takes every person on the team to know what they need to do and how to do it to succeed. When each person does their job the team “wins”.
Now, what if we applied more TEAM concept than traditional committees to the ministries of our churches? A few things come to mind:
Team members would be clear about what they were attempting to do, and how their efforts were contributing to the success of the whole; and ultimately to the advancement of God’s Kingdom. No one would be on the team without a specific responsibility. This is not always the case in the traditional committee structure. Many times a committee is composed of a represntative sample from the congregation merely so every part of the church has a voice. People do not always have specific ongoing spheres of responsibility. They have no particular area where they provide informed insight, only opinions. Meetings can get bogged down trying to come to some consensus of opinion, rather than experienceing the synergy that occurs when each member performs a vital part.
The lack of clear responsibility and ineffectiveness are perhaps the two primary reasons people decline to serve on committees. No one wants to put in time and effort if they are unsure of what they are trying to accomplish, or if they see no accomplishment for their labors. But if members have clear job descriptions and see thier work contributing to something bigger than themsleves, I suspect fewer people would resign from the various ministries of the church.
There is less room for division or conflict when each member knows his/her role and the role of the others. And if conflict does arise it will be much easier for all to recognize the source. Either, 1) someone is not doing his/her job, thus causing stress to other team members; or 2) someone is overstepping thier bounds, disrespecting or even hindering another team member is his/her responsibility. (Should such a thing happen Matthew 18 & Galatians 6.1-2 can be applied to bring about reconciliation.)
These teams provide an opportunity to develop relationships. A shared task binds people together. This would have to be intentional. Team members are not only interdependent, but can offer themselves into voluntary accountability, much as is generally expected in small groups. (Roberta Hestenes has written a short booklet about this called, Turning Committees Into Communities.)
Maybe it is merely a matter of semantics. Maybe we simply need to raise the standard bar for our committees, rather than reinvent our structures. But It seems to me that moving more toward this approach would produce more effectiveness in the work of the Kingdom. Maybe even more than that, as I look at some of the possible outcomes of such an approach, it might be an opportunity to better reflect the Kingdom within our churches.