Do Church Committees Matter?

Have you ever had the experience of using a screwdriver that “almost” fits a screw?  You bear down harder and harder to try to compensate for the lack of fit.  Just when you get the screw to turn, it slips.  You strip some of the screw and try again.  Frustration builds.  The longer you go at it the more you strip the screw and the less progress you make.  A lot of established churches feel this way about their ministry.  No matter how hard they bear down, they simply can’t make progress. There are many reasons why this could be the case: a faulty understanding of the gospel, sin, prayerlessness, poor organizational structure, providential seasons of difficulty, and probably many more.  This post considers none of those.  Instead we consider the Committee. 

It is o.k. to yawn.  Committee is not a word that inspires.  Some churches call them “Teams.”  (Maybe that word inspires you.)  But whether you call them Committees, Teams, or World Changing Pods of Mission, at the end of the day what you have is a group of peopled tasked to advance some area of ministry in the church.  These groups are necessary.  They provide a context for members to exercise gifts in ministry, communicate with the leadership, and carry out the mission that God has given the church.  And, all these groups have similar challenges and struggles.  Below are four ways to help a church’s World Changing Pods of Mission—hereafter called Committees—be more effective. 

  1. Clarify the Priorities—Committee members need to understand the spiritual priorities of the church and how their committee is advancing those priorities.  The Session needs to be leading committees and not simply mirroring the preferences of the committee.  Such leadership from the Session will require listening to the passions and insights of the committee members.  The give and take process of listening provides a context for spiritual leadership.  Information from a committee is necessary to develop priorities but listening is not enough.  Leading is required.  If the elders trade leading for mirroring then the committee will not be effective in the long run.  The most effective committees desire spiritual leadership and seek this type of spiritual leadership.
  2. Avoid Conflicts of Interest—A conflict of interest in a committee can be personal, relational, familial or business related.  A conflict of interest inhibits the function of the committee.  Issues cannot be openly and freely discussed if one party has a conflict of interest.  Oversight of ministry cannot occur with integrity when there are conflicts of interest present.  Some considering joining the committee will be reluctant to serve if they perceive conflict of interest in the committee.  If committee members have an ongoing conflict of interest, they should step aside and offer to use their gifts and talents to serve the committee while not sitting in on meetings and making decisions. If there is an occasional conflict of interest then they need to make that known and recuse themselves from discussions and votes that pertain to the conflict of interest.
  3. Use an Application—It is common knowledge among non-profit organizations that volunteers who apply for positions with clear accountability serve with greater satisfaction and effectiveness than those who do not.  A simple one page application makes the purpose of the committee clear and lists articles or books that explain the best practices in this area of ministry.  It asks applicants to describe their passions and gifts for the ministry and to affirm the mission of the committee.  The application should have a brief statement defining conflict of interest and ask applicants to disclose conflicts of interest.  A simple one page application can advance the ministry of a committee.
  4. Invite New Members— In our transient society people are moving in and out of churches every three years.  Without intentional invitation many gifted brothers and sisters will be passed over for service.  The church needs their gifts and they need to feel included.  Without new people the committee will, over time, fail to reflect vital elements of the congregation.   Many members are passed over or fail to express a desire to serve because they perceive the committees to be “full.”  They do not perceive that they are needed and there is no clear path forward to apply to serve.  Some combination of public and private invitation is best.  Personal invitation to serve on a committee is always most effective.  But, many will not be sought out personally because they don’t naturally move in the circle of the committee.  Public invitation guards against (unintended) cliquishness in the church.   

There are many other reasons why committees may struggle to be effective, but the four areas above are well represented as best practices in studies of the local church.  I am not suggesting that you can be effective in ministry by adjusting structures and processes if you aren’t preaching the gospel, praying and caring for one another.  Those aspects of ministry need to be a given, and too often they are not givens.  But we can also neglect the spiritual aspect of what are often referred to as “best practices” in ministry: the practical ways that we demonstrate faithfulness to God in the way that we administer our affairs as a church.  Striving to implement best practices provides us opportunities to grow in wisdom, humility, love for God and love for one another.  This growth is a worthy goal in itself.