Most committees are broken. Some are bogged down in conversation that talks around the edges of the topic at hand. Others rubber stamp everything and discount the few voices brave enough to speak out. I fear the souls who carry a glimmer of hope are left to slouch in their chairs, doodling on their notepad and wishing for something altogether different.

This essay pokes about one possible reason for the doodlers’ discontent: Committees are a broken creation of a culture of individualism awkwardly stumbling toward communal decision-making.

First, three stories.

  1. The village crowds into the gathering space. The chief stands, tells the story, and sits to signal the beginning. Old men and old women speak fears and wisdom and memory. Young men and young women speak hope and passion. Children ask questions and speak obvious things that all must hear. Stories, tears, and raised voices fill the space for endless moments. The seeming chaos slowly fades and the chief stands to announce, “This is what we have decided…”
  2. Three friends gather at a pub. Mugs of warm stout and a corner table signal the beginning. One by one, they speak their lives and cares and dreams. They listen and cry and laugh. With the last gulp, one among them says, “So, we agree then…”
  3. The committee members gather around a rectangular table. Last month’s minutes and copies of the budget make their way around the table. The meeting starts, as they always, with a short prayer followed by old business, new business, and reports. The apparent structure disguises a cacophony of disconnected monologues. Votes punctuate. Finally, the meeting stops; they pick up their belongings and their separate ways.

True, these stories are dreams—or nightmares, as the case may be. Stories one and two seem unlikely, if not impossible. Yet they are comfortable, like a pair of slippers, just right after a long day. The third story wears like ill-fitting shoes. The terrain requires footwear, but these are not what feet desire.

Committees are the broken creation of a culture that has forgotten how to tell stories together, to cry together, to yell together, and to whisper together. They are the broken creation of a culture that spends too much time together alone. They are the broken creation of a culture that places inordinate value on individual needs and too little value on the needs of the community. They are the broken creation of a church culture that has forgotten the Spirit binds us as a people and does the work of God through the gathered people.

In the best of all worlds, we would realize that the committee structure rarely accomplishes its task. We would realize that to continue using the same ineffective means is insane. We would realize that deciding together (in Christ, through the Spirit, and for the sake of the mission of God) is more important than whether or not any one particular point is heard. It is more important than whether or not we can keep the meeting to an hour.

For now, we are stuck in the system, left to doodle on our notepads or to exit the system, gather at the pub (or its teetotaler alternative: Starbucks).



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  1. I vote for number 2!!

  2. gosh...i'm shocked! I vote for it as well--during winter and summer break, that is!

  3. I like number 2 as well. But kind of 50 degreeish stout.

  4. I like that #2 happens in a public place, so it could easily evolve into #1 if we are patient.

    Conversely, if you had written #2 to happen in a private place, such as somebody's home, then although it may look good on the surface, it is more likely to evolve into #3.

    Can we / dare we conclude that privately held discussion leads to committee, whereas publicly held discussion leads to community? Or is this a step too far?

    (Note: a publicly held discussion does not mean a public address - even a committee may make a public address! Nor does it mean involving everybody present. It just means where we choose to go to when we want to discuss something.)

    Our secular culture promotes privacy. But what of Kingdom culture? (e.g Acts 2:42-47)


  5. Mark, love the notion of publicly held discussions. I think your assessment of the tendencies of privately held discussions. I wonder what would happen if we held CE Committee at Starbucks. Would it change the way we do "business"?

    To my students: you should keep this in mind for the Thursday Project.

  6. > I think your assessment of the tendencies of privately held discussions

    I think words missing may ;-)

  7. "I think your assessment of the tendencies of privately held discussions" is right on. [oops]


  8. phew! Had me worried for a minute (not really)