“What were you most excited about when you got into ministry?”
“Definitely the meetings.”
Said no one ever.
Mere mention of the word “meeting” conjures up feelings of dread and groans of lamentation. Seminary may have prepared us to dissect a dense paragraph of Barthian theology or exegete a difficult scripture passage, but it didn’t get us ready to sit in painful budget meetings or multiple committee sessions. While we might prefer an hour or two spent with our Old Testament theology books, such opportunities are rare. Time spent in meetings, on the other hand, is pretty much a guarantee.
My vocational journey has provided diverse experiences with meetings. I’ve participated in church staff and session meetings that routinely lasted a minimum of two hours. I’ve sat in on conference call meetings with Microsoft marketing and development teams. I’ve been in meetings with no agenda. I’ve been in meetings with too much of an agenda. I’ve been in meetings where there is so much emotion in the room it feels like an electric current. I’ve been in meetings where nodding heads and drooping eyelids deflate the meeting’s sense of purpose. As I continue to serve in churches, I know I have years of meetings ahead of me. I’m still learning. But I’ve gained a few insights that have helped along the way.
- Be Prepared– The Boy Scouts are on to something here. Whether you’re a leader or a participant, entering a meeting without being prepared leads to frustration, confusion, and wasted time. Case in point. Last night, I attended a fall planning meeting. Throughout the meeting I found myself asking both the group and the person sitting next to me a lot of background information questions. My lack of knowledge kept me from fully engaging in the creative process of the group. I couldn’t fully contribute because I was 15 steps behind everyone else. To remedy this, I should have briefly spoken to members of the group prior to the meeting. It would have helped me get on board and (hopefully) offer more.
- Email is for Email, Not for Meetings– Just seeing the words “reply all” can make me cringe. It’s great we can communicate with a group over email. But our inboxes are not the place to have a meeting. While we might live under the illusion that we are “saving time” when we converse and make decisions over email, it can actually take less time to be old fashioned and meet face to face.
- Mix it Up– A musty room with uncomfortable chairs. A voice droning on like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Overhead florescent lighting. Sound familiar? Many of our meetings occur in such settings. Those of us who lead meetings need to be free to change things up. Sometimes our meeting locations can keep us stuck. Every once in awhile take your meeting to a coffee shop or outside or to someone’s home, it will breathe new life into your time together. We also need to incorporate diverse methods of presenting information—think beyond the classic flip chart. Good teachers know students learn differently. Good leaders of meetings know participants engage differently.
- Know When to Say When- I think one of the reasons we get frustrated in meetings is that we don’t know when they’re over. A meeting may be scheduled from 7:30 to 9:00 PM, but it was really over at 8:30 when the group kept circling back to the same topic and couldn’t find a resolution. It’s ok to stop and agree to revisit something at a later date. Now, this isn’t an excuse to put something on the backburner forever. Rather, it’s an encouragement to see that taking a break to refocus can be more productive than pushing to “finish” everything.
- Silence is Golden– Think about how your last meeting began. Agenda on the table, quick prayer and then– boom! Commence speaking. What if we spent a little more time in silence during meetings? Would we hear the Spirit speaking to the church? Would we hear the Spirit speaking in and through our brothers and sisters? Would we spend less energy working to prove our point or move our agenda forward? Our meetings can add to the noise of our noisy, busy world. Or they might have the potential to provide a small respite from the chaos of the daily routine.
Ministry without meetings? Probably not. Ministry with better meetings? Yes.
What contributes to a dreadful meeting? What contributes to a fantastic one?