Oh, the drama of committee meetings at church. Really? Yes. Really. And, oh, the rich pastoral opportunities in those otherwise mundane gatherings.
Business meetings are a common feature and function of all parish churches and most other ministry environments, e.g., hospital chaplaincies, correctional institution chaplaincies, and other ministry settings. They are often the subject of gags that hide a brutal and painful legacy of conflict. Many pastors and chaplains would consider business meetings the last place in the world to practice genuine ministry. The subject of this didactic paper [this was given as paper to a clinical pastoral education course] rests on a premise (that certainly needs more exploration) that business meetings may be the best place to practice genuine ministry. I say this because business meetings are perfect settings for masquerading with the mundane to conceal the melodramatic. They are staid, choreographed stages where complex human emotions are often acted out through the familiar roles of an organization and the scripted passages of the meeting’s docket. Behind the personal agenda may be the painful past and unrealized ambitions of individuals who are looking to voluntary associations to realize dreams otherwise dashed by a world that has rejected their dreams. Behind the passive-aggressive CPA, for instance, who serves as finance chairman for the board of deacons, may be an individual who views himself as unappreciated by the employer who forced him out, he believes, to hire a younger, “cheaper” accountant and who was devalued by his father sixty-five years ago. Beyond his motion to table a raise to a hard-working administrative staff member, which seems very reasonable to all, lies a deep wound which is unseen to everyone—perhaps to everyone but the supernaturally-called, Gospel-ordained and continually training Christian pastor who views the budget-meeting as much about shepherding the souls of Jesus’ disciples towards spiritual healing through Word, Sacrament, and Prayer, as they are about stewarding the resources of the Kingdom.
[pullquote]business meetings are perfect settings for masquerading with the mundane to conceal the melodramatic[/pullquote]
This didactic paper will reflect on the practice of ministry through the administration and conducting of a ministry business meeting. The format for this paper does lend itself to anything approaching an exhaustive study of the subject. To the contrary, this is a mere list of rudimentary principles concerning the pastoral practice of conducting meeting with the goal of shepherding within the context of such a business meeting.
Pastoral Principles for Shepherding Meetings
1. The Meeting is Primary. Do not compromise the primary purpose of the meeting.
By this I mean to say that we conduct our pastoral work within the context of the presenting first-order or first-cause. In the case of meetings, we shepherd the flock as we exercise care to lead a good meeting. In many traditions the chaplain or pastor will be expected or required to moderate the ministry-business meeting. This requires that the Christian Shepherd prepare for the meeting and moderate the meeting according to the standard rules of operation (e.g., Roberts’ Rules of Order). It is only when the first-order of things goes well that we were able to conduct our ministry in the second-order. Another way of saying this would be the “presenting issues” (the meeting) must be handled well in order for us to shepherd the “real issue” (spiritual pathologies).
2. Know the flock or learn the flock. Listen out of the context of previous pastoral insight.
This may seem ridiculously obvious, but the most important first-step is for the chaplain or the pastor to have a good working knowledge of the individuals in the parish who are serving on the board or in the making. When the individual speak in the meeting you have a good idea where they’re coming from. Yet, on the other hand, you are hearing them for the first time, you’re going to have to draw on your pastoral experience — the whole body of your work — and listen carefully to the texts and the subtexts of the words, diction, inflection, as well as their story, their language and body language. You will begin asking yourself the question, “Who are they in the Gospel motif narrative? What is the archetype for this person? Which disciple? Is this Peter—boastful Peter before the Passion and before the denial? Repentant Peter, swimming to the risen Jesus on the shore seeking forgiveness? Peter the Student, the leader still learning grace from Paul who must call him down? Peter the Wise who calmly writes Christians undergoing persecution?”
3. Assess as you listen. Is this an honest grievance, or a window to a deeper pastoral need?
Not every instance of vociferous confrontation at a business meeting is an indication of a pastoral need! But some are. Collect the variables (e.g., body language, voice inflection, choice of words) in your mind, as you move through the meeting. Collect only a few. You don’t have the time nor can afford the distraction to deal with more than a few variables. Assess them. Exercise patience, long-suffering, but also allow your pastoral instinct guided by Holy Spirit to guide you.
And should there be a need, move from assessment to seeking a time to meet where you could diagnose and, then, Lord willing, treat with Biblical-pastoral care and counseling. To accomplish that you will have to move to number four.
[pullquote]Exercise patience, long-suffering, but also allow your pastoral instinct guided by Holy Spirit to guide you.[/pullquote]
4. Invite the parishioner to talk about the matter. Gently approach the individual and invite her to see you if there was ever a need.
Your response, if there is to be one at all, should be quiet, private, and completely confidential. But you have the opportunity to shepherd a meeting and to shepherd individuals within the meeting for healing. Generally speaking—not always, of course—if you approach the matter pastorally, there will be a receptivity to hearing your thoughtful concern for attention to their spirit. You are not trying to “fix” them. You are only wanting to learn more, to genuinely listen to the “why” he or she made the motion, took the position, or stood the ground. The answer may lead you to see a spiritual strength rather than a spiritual malady. Yet, the attention given to the parishioner will never be wasted time.
John Donne famously preached, “All occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.” We might also add that every season is the season of opportunity for pastoral ministry in the season for the healing of songs. Business meetings may be an unlikely place for pastoral ministry, but such gatherings are a ripened field of human souls, often diseased by the fallen environment within and without, awaiting the wise and patient husbandman who will approach each assignment not as another mundane task, but rather as a super-charged opportunity for God-given ministry.
 “John Donne: 14 – St Paul’s Christmas Day in the Evening.” John Donne: 14 – St Paul’s Christmas Day in the Evening. Accessed February 13, 2016. http://www.msgr.ca/msgr-3/john_donne_sermon_10.htm.