Saturday, August 06, 2005


If computers get too powerful, we can organize them into a committee -- that will do them in. ~ Bradley's Bromide

I have been president or chair of more committees and organizations during my life than I can count. I always feel honored when chosen, dedicated while serving, and usually ecstatic when my term of office is over.

A former pastor of my home church had a plaque on his wall that read:

God so loved the world that She didn’t send a committee
And I think that sums it up. Committees tend to often work against themselves. They are like the scene in a musical written by a Cincinnati pastor that has the church council in a boat. They all have oars and they are all rowing—rowing in different directions.

That’s been my experience and it has been what I find I must address with every group that I have ever led: how do we work together to achieve the purpose of our existence?
Through the years I have developed skills that I have used to get the groups I have led rowing in the same direction. However, I also realize that it doesn’t take much for them to return to rowing in opposite directions, which of course results in the allegorical boat which is the committee going in circles.

At the moment I am president of an association of twenty-five churches. Tomorrow we are having a picnic. One of my goals during my term as president has been to improve communications between the congregations in the association. Yesterday I received an email from a pastor informing me that some of the congregations do not know about the picnic, even though we have been “spreading the word” and otherwise advertising it for three months. And I ask myself, “What did we (I) do wrong?”

Of course I can answer that question. I know exactly what the issues are—and they are the same issues that have plagued this association for almost fifty years. Without going into detail, I’ll use that boat analogy: each congregation is rowing in its own direction, oblivious to what’s going on within the whole—i.e., we ain’t communicatin’!

Tonight Candy and I had one of our regular fights. I acted like a two-year-old, had a paroxysm, and stomped out of her home saying, “Don’t call me!” By the time I arrived at my house, I had repented and I telephoned her. And, as we always do, we forgave one another and plan on breakfasting, worshiping, and attending that picnic tomorrow. Whenever we fight—whenever we confront one another—we always seem to grow closer to each other.

Maybe that’s the problem with the association: no one fights, no one confronts others. People behave like nice little Sunday school kids—and simple ignore one another! Sometimes I really wish they would fight and maybe we’d decide we are tired of going around in circles!

One of the skills I learned when I was supervising a unit consisting of seventeen social service aides—all female—was the value of throwing a temper tantrum. I only used that once in the years I supervised them, but found it was extremely effective.
I chanced upon the value of acting like a two-year-old out of the frustration of attempting to place on a wall a pencil sharpener. I had requisitioned three sharpeners and, as with any bureaucracy, I only got one. I contacted the supply people and they assured me that the remaining two would arrive within a week. (Ha! That’s like hearing “the check’s in the mail.”) Anyway, I decided to put the one sharpener we had received on the wall.

I began to mount it in the most central (and logical) spot in the office, when the women at the far end of the room surrounded me and demanded I place it closer to them. Then the women from the other end of the room began demanding I put it closer to them. Then… Do you get the picture?

Finally, in frustration, I dropped (threw) the sharpener on the floor, yelled “You put the damned thing wherever you want it,” and locked myself in my office. Later, when I came out, the sharpener was exactly where I had tried to place it in the first place, and my staff was cheerfully working together—rowing in the same direction.

So tomorrow, as Candy and her son and I enjoy the picnic, if someone mentions that “such and such” congregation didn’t hear about it, I just may throw a temper tantrum. I know Candy will understand!

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