It’s the time of year when churches have their Annual Meetings, looking back, looking forwards, and making sure that everything’s legally neat and tidy.
I’m sure I’m not the only pastor who dreads them. I’ve seen a number of such Meetings go horribly wrong, hijacked by silly side-issues, falling apart in blazing rows, or just quietly managing decline. And I’ve heard about so many others even worse that I know it’s a pattern.
So apart from praying (which you’ll do) and preparing (which you’ll do), how can you navigate these turbulent waters?
Don’t be defensive
I think this is #1, and the critical issue to get right.
It’s really hard to stay cool when we are being asked lots of questions, but I have seen too many leaders react to questions as if they were meant in a hostile way, and then get angry (or at least irritated), and shut down genuine discussion. Pray hard, talk to your co-leaders, and think about how you react in advance. Watch your reactions on the night too, and own up in advance if you’re getting irritated.
Perhaps the best bit of advice is to share the spotlight – make sure there are other people on the platform with you, and defer answering as many questions as possible to them.
Do allow people to ask questions
Don’t be controlling
People can smell when elections are rigged, questions are shut down, and voices are silenced. Be warned – you can get away with it for a season or two, but down the tracks it will come back to bite you, and with force.
Do allow genuine decisions.
Don’t be naive
Your church will have rules about elections, who can stand, and things like that. You need to know those rules, or have someone on hand who does. At the very least you want to make sure that what you are doing is valid (I was recently in a meeting where the chairman knew for hours that we didn’t have enough people present for a legal decision, but still let it go ahead only to announce at the end that the whole evening had been invalid. Don’t be that person). But you also want to be ready for the trouble-maker who likes to point out that you’ve misread the rules and not chaired it properly. Remember, too, that those bylaws are there for your protection, too.
Do allow the rules to work
Don’t be ignorant
There will be questions on finances – especially if you’re reporting a deficit. So make sure the treasurer is on hand with the figures, and you have your pastor’s hat on as well.
We always try to make sure that the accounts come in two forms – the full set that accountants can read and ask questions about, and an amateur set that everyone else can read and ask questions about. It’s more work, but really helps the mood of the meeting if you allow basic questions as well as sophisticated ones, and that everyone knows what they are voting to approve.
Do allow the right people to answer the questions
Don’t be secular
You have good things to report – so praise and sing! You have hard decisions to make – so pray! Don’t let the fact that you have bylaws to keep mean that God is left out of the equations.
In my denomination people have a careless habit of talking about an Annual General Meeting, as if they were shareholders and the church council were the Board, with the pastor as the CEO. Get people out of that mindset as quickly as you can.
Do be Christian
Don’t be boring
Yes you’ll have reports, accounts and all that sort of stuff But you have plans, and ideas, and hopes. So lift horizons and let people see where you’re heading together.
Do be visionary!
And finally, DO think about the context
There’s an increasing pattern I’m seeing of putting the Annual Meeting in, or alongside, a service. I’m really not persuaded about that. I’m sure that the thinking is to make sure lots of people are there, that it’s spiritual rather than business, and so forth. But I fear that it tends to discourage people asking proper questions and holding the church’s leadership to account. And that, once again, will come back to bite us.
It is essential we put things in a church rather than a business meeting, but do allow the business of the meeting to be done.