By James Riley Estep Jr.
My family and I enjoy taking trips. We’ve become rather good at preparing for the trip, traveling together, having fun, and capturing the memories.
Trips and travel are a lot like meetings. In fact, meetings could learn a lot from family trips. Perhaps most important to consider is this: who’s driving? Elders’ meetings are typically driven by the chairman. His role is to oversee and administrate every aspect of the journey, from preparation to the return to the real world in which we serve. Meetings have one driver, the chairman.
Where Are We Going?
I know most elders’ meetings are routine, but they must have a destination—a purpose. What are we trying to accomplish today? This is part of the preparation—the premeeting phase.
It is usually expressed in an agenda, a list not just of topics for discussion, but actions that are to be taken on those items. An agenda with no call for action is as ineffective as a vacation trip that never leaves the driveway. The agenda is a road map of what we are to do during the meeting, where it is taking us. This should be determined well before the meeting and the agenda should be distributed (perhaps by e-mail) to all those involved in a timely fashion.
What Do I Need to Pack?
You pack your bags before you back out of the driveway. A similar thing occurs as part of the meeting preparations in that complete information is provided to participants. For an elder to be prepared to lead, it is essential the agenda and all pieces of relevant information be distributed prior to the meeting.
If the meeting is about the congregation’s finances, seeing the budget for the first time during the meeting itself is like leaving on vacation without any luggage and having to pick up necessary items along the way. Because prayer is an important element of any elders’ ministry, distributing a prayer list prior to the elders’ meeting may also be a good idea.
Prepacking for the meeting aids the decision-making process and allows time for personal prayer and serious contemplation.
We Never Stop Where I Want to Go!
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for the meeting’s driver is making sure everyone is heard. Remember, meetings are a place for the congregation’s leaders to gather, reflect, share their thoughts, ideas, and convictions, and then render a collective decision or direction.
But, what if the voices of one or more elders are not heard? What if they are perpetually drowned out by others, or a single individual?
I have been in meetings where one person was so forceful others were reluctant to share their thoughts, even though they opposed his ideas and arguments (which is probably the reason he was so forward and forceful). The chairman must ensure that all the voices around the table are heard.
This may require allotting time for each elder to share. It may be as simple as calling on a different elder each time a discussion starts on a new agenda item. In some instances, this might even require asking elders to e-mail their ideas and thoughts on a given agenda topic to the chairman prior to the meeting so he can collect and forward them to all the elders. This means the first round of discussion may occur through e-mail. Remember, it’s the driver’s responsibility to give everyone an opportunity to be heard.
What Do We Do Now that We’re Here?
Decision making is a difficult task for any group of individuals, and elders are no exception. With regard to meetings, decisions should be limited to those that are on the agenda, not on new items introduced spontaneously or without time for sufficient consideration. Also, a chairman should establish a length of time for each agenda item being discussed: “We hope to take 30 minutes to discuss this item and make a decision.” If something comes up unexpectedly, then, of course, the discussion may go over 30 minutes; but in general agenda items fill the allotted space provided for them in the agenda. This helps keep the meeting moving and on track.
Regardless of how the final determination is made, whether by consensus or vote, prior to making the determination, the exact decision to be rendered should be written and read aloud to the participants. This ensures that everyone knows exactly what is being approved.
Who Was Supposed to Make Sure . . .?
Decisions don’t enact themselves. Any decision must have a responsible party, agreed upon steps for implementation and communication, and deadline(s). For example, if the elders decide to investigate switching a bulletin board with a digital flat screen in the lobby for announcements, one of them has to actually collect the necessary information (brands, size options, costs, installment) by a certain time and distribute the information to the elders prior to the next scheduled meeting.
This is an action item. Who is responsible? What is to be done? When is the deadline? “Action Item: Tom is responsible for investigating flat screens by August 15 and providing the information to the elders by August 20.” This should be part of the meeting minutes, which leads to the next item for effective meetings.
Let’s See Where We Went!
Travel photos and videos are great to watch. Similarly, every meeting requires a look back in order to move forward. We may call it “old business,” but it is simply following up on the previous meeting’s assignments. It instills a measurable accountability to following through with the elders’ decisions and plans.
Meetings, like trips, are full of potential. They are what you make of them. For more insights on running effective meetings, visit www.e2elders.org and review our digital curriculum. Happy travels!
James Riley Estep Jr. is dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University.