Some remarkable discussions are happening in the Leading Saints Helpers Facebook group. If you haven’t joined, do so now, and be a part of the discussion. Recently, my Canadian homeboy, Arthur, got the discussion going on how to improve the efficacy of ward council. He was looking for ideas and perspectives from other church leaders about how they run this important meeting. I’ll let you review the discussion in the Facebook group, and there are some fantastic suggestions, but it reminded me of a concept I have been thinking about, related to meeting management—or more specifically, how we leverage (or waste) people’s time during meetings.

Short Meetings Can Be Controversial

A few years ago, I wrote the most read to date article on Leading Saints, titled How to Make Ward Council a Revelatory Experience. It got 94 comments, and some of my points were considered controversial to many. I never thought I would get personal attacks by writing an article about church meetings (I deleted those). One of my points that particularly offended many was my opinion that most meetings, especially ward councils, should only last 60 minutes. Individuals felt like I was somehow limiting the work of the spirit as if during the meeting a kitchen timer would go off *DING!*, so then I told everybody to stop talking and leave. One individual called a meeting time limit “foolish” and said that as long as you are making progress, more time wouldn’t hurt.

Hmm… well, what if progress doesn’t end? Do we stop once everyone in the room has passed out from dehydration? Do we wait until all members of the meeting are bored stiff? Or what if others in the room don’t think we are making progress? We have to stop sometime.

If time frames were a distraction from the spirit, the handbooks would say, “Continue sacrament meeting until the spirit encourages you to stop.” Instead, it directs that sacrament meetings are to last 70 minutes (Handbook 2 18.1). The Lord and the Holy Spirit know we live in a time restrictive world. If you don’t get to everything on the agenda, nothing will break and nobody will die. And if someone does die, you aren’t prioritizing the agenda effectively.

We Have to Say No to the Important So We Can Accomplish the Essential

The advice I often give to new bishops is this: leadership callings will take as much time as you give them. If you want to work 80 hours a week as a bishop, there will be something to do. If you want to spend 160 hours a week, there will be tasks waiting for you. As we learned from Bishop Greg McKeown, we must say no to the important so that we can accomplish the essential. This goes for meetings as well. There will always be something to talk about, another person to pray for. We can’t do it all, so we might as well leave the meeting after a set time frame and go love someone. Sixty minutes isn’t the magic number, but set a time frame and stick to it.

They Will Love You More If Your Meetings Are Concise

Many times you might see the end of the meeting time approaching and realize you haven’t talked about topics that other auxiliary leaders think are essential. If you don’t bring up these items, those leaders will be disappointed. This might be the case, but you will win more loyal followers as a leader by being consistent and getting them out of meetings, than by squeezing every topic into every meeting. Trust them to figure out the problems they face outside the meeting. Give them permission to make difficult decisions and stand by them when it doesn’t go well. Help them see what it looks like to say no to something important because they probably aren’t doing it enough in their own leadership.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that keeping a meeting moving and on point is harder than what is explained here. Presiding over a meeting is a skill that takes practice. Do you know how to end a discussion that isn’t going in the way you want it to go? Do you often wait until there is a moment of silence to move on to the next agenda item? Have you established rules for your meeting that create helpful barriers? Do you talk too much in the meeting? Most of these skills can be built by studying good communication, but recognize meeting management as a skill and dedicate yourself to sharpening your ability.

Christ Saves, Meetings Do Not

We sometimes see meetings as a system to solve problems. Not just any problems, but the dire problems of individuals who are really struggling. We can’t bear the thought of leaving the meetings without solving an individual’s problem. A tough part of being mortal is coming to terms with the fact that we have limits. We also have to come to terms with the fact that sometimes it’s not our job to find a solution. We were not called to save the ward, we were not called to bring people out of misery, we were not called to fix it. That is the Savior’s job. So when more is needed to be done and time is short, put the rest of the burden on the Lord and then go love someone. Go visit someone. Go serve someone. It will be in those actions that the real solutions are made manifest.

What do you think? How do you manage time? Please keep the personal attacks to a minimum. 🙂

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