A Member's Handbook
Louis A. Towson
Paper, $7.95
48 pages, 4" x 7"
ISBN 0-89390-479-1

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View Excerpt

Serving on a church committee may not sound like a spiritual-growth opportunity, but it is. Certainly meetings can be long. Assignments can be difficult. Feelings can be hurt. But, as the author of The Effective Church Committee says, the Gospel gets carried out in the real world — and a church committee is as real as it gets. Besides, committees are where the action is. If you learn to play your part, committee work can proceed more smoothly and even become a pleasure. This entertaining book tells you how to make it happen. It spells out your role, tells you what to expect of yourself and your leader, and gives you some ideas for making your time on the committee easier and more productive.

About the Author

Louis A. Towson has served as an Episcopal priest in various settings for 25 years. Currently he is rector of Church of the Holy Apostles in Satellite Beach, Fla. He also authored How to Run a Committee or Organization: A Manual for Church Leaders. He is a graduate of Florida State University and received his master of divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Now That You’ve Been Asked
Chapter Two: Defining Our Terms
Chapter Three: The Unspoken Covenant
Chapter Four: Getting Specific: Purpose, Vision, Goals, and Objectives
Chapter Five: A Creative Approach
Chapter Six: Making Decisions
Chapter Seven: Your Committee Notebook

Following is an excerpt from The Effective Church Committee. All rights reserved. Copyright © Resource Publications, Inc.

Chapter One: Now That You’ve Been Asked

If someone has asked you to serve on a parish committee or group you might be pondering several questions, the chief one being: Do I really want to get involved?

For most of us the church is a place to worship and learn. We go on Sunday and at other times to hear good preaching, celebrate our faith in worship, and maybe take a class. But the church does much more. Prayer groups, parish dinners, retreats, and festivals abound. Youth ministry often takes a large share of parish resources. Ministry to the elderly, sick, and homebound also requires a lot of time and energy. Churches help the less fortunate with food, housing, medical care, and advocacy. They reach out to the unchurched with the message of Jesus Christ. Caring for buildings and grounds and managing financial and legal matters requires constant attention, too.

People like you are needed to serve on elected boards and energize parish organizations and committees. Is it worth taking the next step, especially if it means a greater demand on your time and energy?

“I want my church to lift me up spiritually,” some say. “If I take a job, I will probably be over there at odd times haggling about money or debating about what color to paint the nursery. Where’s the spirituality in that?” True, it is one thing to sit next to people in worship, but quite another to sit with them in a group that is wrestling with a knotty problem. In the first case not much is demanded, unless they sing off-key or fidget. You can always sit somewhere else next time. In the second, though, you might be on opposite sides of a question and have your patience tested to the breaking point.

Scripture warns us about the danger of segregating worldly concerns from holiness. In Jesus, God entered human flesh. During his travels he saw everyday challenges as opportunities for the glory of heaven to shine, evoke faith, and transform unlikely people. Crossing a lake in a storm-tossed boat, facing the task of feeding a multitude with meager provisions, and even attending a wedding party where the wine ran out provided chances for God’s love and power to blossom. Spiritual growth does not come only through worship or study but by lifting common tasks up to serve God’s purpose.

Let’s suppose we go backstage after attending a play. We will find a score of people unseen by the audience who handled sound effects, adjusted lighting, and assembled scenery to create settings for the players. Those realistic trees in the forest scene were painstakingly crafted from papier-m#ch#. The actress who portrayed the sprightly young girl now sits exhausted in her dressing room, soaking her feet.

What met our eyes and ears was a moving drama that touched our hearts, yet behind it lay years of training, months of preparation, and an army of dedicated people working to tell the story.

In the same way, Sunday worship lifts up the truth of the Gospel. Behind it lies writing the sermon, choir rehearsal, preparing the bulletin, arranging the flowers, polishing, and cleaning. When we arrive for the service, does a well-kept yard greet us? Who did the cutting and trimming? Who wrote the check for the electricity that illumines the building, powers the organ, and controls the temperature? There’s a new family sitting in the third row because last Tuesday one of your members saw the moving van arrive and stopped in to invite them to church. Who visits the sick and prays daily for them? We petition the Lord for social justice, but who serves in the soup kitchen or volunteers in the clinic?

The Author of Life needs a production company to enact the saving story. All we do flows into and out of worship. It is a signal event in which everything finds purpose and direction as it’s offered to God. Becoming involved in the inner workings of ministry does not hamper our spirituality but deepens it.

Difficulties do arise. We have heard people say, “I’ve had my feelings hurt,” or “Church politics gets vicious!” Because its aim is high, its failings are more obvious than those of other institutions. That simply means that we have to deal with people realistically, knowing that inside we’re all a bit like turtles with hard shells over our hearts. If we have come to faith in Jesus Christ, we should be equally realistic about God’s grace. The shell has been broken. Alienation from God doesn’t have to be the last word. As surely as Christ rose from the grave, we can be forgiven our wrongs and have power to forgive others. It is part of picking up our cross and following Christ, and it will make the winding path we travel a way of blessing.

A project’s success never lies merely in getting something done. It is linked with what happens to the team on the way to its completion. With everyone paying attention to Jesus, who is always present where two or three or a dozen committee members gather, a group can overcome differences, surmount obstacles, and accomplish something significant for others, often with a unity that’s a joy to experience.

Is involvement really worth it? To answer that, we have to go into the innermost places of our hearts and pose the question a little differently: Am I being called through God’s church to deeper awareness and more faithful response to his limitless and loving work with me?

Once we move beyond that question, another arises, Can I do it? I heard of a man who had been called to serve as lay leader for a weekend religious conference. It was a big responsibility, and he grappled with doubts about his worthiness and ability to fulfill the required tasks. “I’m not going to do it unless God gives me a concrete sign that he wants me to,” he announced to his wife. The following week he was driving to another town over a stretch of road he’d never traveled before. As he passed a church these words leaped out at him: “God doesn’t call those who are equipped; he equips those whom he calls.” They were inscribed on a concrete sign.

It’s often easy to sell ourselves short when assessing our abilities. Usually it’s not highly specialized skills that are needed—just a willingness to let your gifts blend harmoniously with those of others. If you function smoothly in your occupation, you can be useful in your church as well. Self-doubt is humility. Pride is being sure that even God can’t use you for any good purpose. Faith is the belief there’s no limit to what God can do through you.

Next, examine your commitments. Can I make the meetings? Will I have time to do the required work? Will I need to adjust my schedule? Ask for a detailed job description. Get a definite picture of the demands and put yourself realistically into it.

After due consideration, the yes or no is up to you. Pray hard, reflect on Scripture. In Exodus 3 note Moses’ reluctance to undertake the mission the Lord called him to. Let God’s promise, “I will be with you,” bring assurance that a child of God is never alone.

I’m tempted to pass on what a minister friend of mine always told those he invited to do a big job: “Pray hard about it; then say ‘Yes!’”

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