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8 Keys to Successful Session Meetings
Over my many years of moderating Session (Board of Elders) meetings and after many discussion with other pastor moderators, several keys to holding a better Session meeting have emerged. Here are 8 of them to help you either moderate or participate in these meetings to make them more fruitful:
- Start the meeting with a time of prayer in groups of 2 or 3 elders each in which each elder shares a few things they are concerned about and a few more they are thankful for in their life. Then the group prays for each concern and thanks. About 15 minutes works to begin the meeting in this way. This places in the Lord’s hands what might keep an elder from staying focused in the meeting later. It also builds up a greater bond for each other as members of the elder board, and brings an awareness that we are not all about church business, but about the deeper development of relationships together in the Lord. Prayer should occur throughout the meeting to refocus on the main responsibility of a board of elders to discern the Lord’s will for this particular body of His family.
- Then have a 15 minute devotion time that directs everyone from their busy lives into the Lord’s perspective on being and doing church. Many Bible verses (Ephesians 4:1-16; Matthew 5-7; Acts 2, etc.) share the Lord’s direction to His Church. Helpful Christ-centered and glorifying readings, books, short videos provide this redirection as well. The ECO website has seven very useful short videos on what ECO is about from Synod Executive Dana Allin that accomplish this purpose.
- Set your agenda before the meeting and send it out to all the members of the Session a few days ahead so they can thoughtfully and prayerfully be ready to discuss the items. Last minute surprises, especially of a large matter can be very disruptive to having a healthy discussion. Seek input for agenda items a week before the meeting and don’t add new ones the day before or of the meeting. Set your agenda with the most important items early in the meeting so everyone is still relatively fresh to discuss them. Save items for later that can be quickly discussed and agreed on or use a consensus docket for those items.
- Don’t overfill the meeting with items that make the meeting go overlong. Meetings that go after 10:00 pm. are rarely productive and can lead to hurried, incomplete or emotional decisions and disagreements. It is better to schedule a follow-up meeting if needed.
- Don’t make your meetings overly passive by hearing many reports read aloud. Reports or minutes from various ministries are better submitted before the meeting in written format and then questions or discussion can occur if needed. Active meetings involve everyone participating in seeking the ‘bigger picture’ items for the whole church, not the details that are better delegated to your ministry teams. The more Session sees itself as dealing with only items Session can deal with and the more elders see themselves as delegating detail decisions to those teams and people who are more expert and experienced in those areas, the more it frees the elders to major on the major items, not the minor ones.
- Use 1st readings for important items where they can be presented, discussed some and then given more time at a later meeting for reflection and prayer. Use as many readings as needed to come to wise decisions. When it seems the discussion has gotten to the point of repeating itself, it is time to take a vote to see where you are. “Be quick but don’t hurry!”
- Seek consensus with near agreement rather than just majority rule. Majority rule does not build up the elders as a team but leads to camps or divided groups of elders ‘politicking’ for their sides’ victories. Don’t require complete consensus as that is rare and the opinion of 1 or 2 should not hold up the greater majority. But do affirm the few who disagree that they have been heard and make sure that they will support the greater majority’s decision. The more important an issue is to the future of the church, the more important it is to spend the time to come to as much agreement as possible.
- Build trust more than trying to get votes on issues. Learn to speak the truth together in love. The job of a moderator is to help the Session to seek the Lord’s direction. It is very hard to both moderate and to get one’s personal motions and proposals accepted. Sometimes it is wiser when the moderator pastor needs to present an important motion or proposal to have another person moderate that part of the meeting to keep the discussion open and fair.
The Presbyterian governing system can be cumbersome, but when elders learn to seek the Lord’s will through their prayers and discussions together, it can become a unifying affirmation and implementation of the Holy Spirit’s work among us. I pray that these suggestions will help your Session in having more effective and successful meetings.
Mike Clark is the Senior Pastor, Church of the Valley, Apple Valley, CA and the Ministry Partnership Team Chair of the ECO Southern California Presbytery