In my experience, one of the first things a young man is asked to do in the assembly is to open a meeting. Although much has been written about the importance of preaching the Word of God, another vital function in our meetings is that of the chairman.
The role of chairman seems to have developed over time as a convenience more than a command, but a similar function exists in Scripture with forerunners such as John the Baptist. John’s ministry involved preparing the people to receive the Word of God, pointing them to Christ (Jn. 1:29-30).
Similarly, through his introduction and hymn selection, the chairman is a forerunner tasked with preparing the congregation to receive the Word the speaker will bring. Although chairing isn’t for everyone (and not every chairman is responsible for song-leading), the following are some suggestions resulting from years of being on either side of the pulpit.
1. Be single-minded
A positive, humble attitude goes a long way. Indeed, John’s declaration, “He (Christ) must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30) is the precedent for us all – no matter which side of the pulpit we find ourselves. While nerves and jitters can be overcome with practice, the audience will sense if you don’t want to be there or if you’re just “phoning it in”.
I recall the example of a brother in Christ who declined our invitation to go out one Saturday night because he wanted to pray and meditate over his hymn selection as he was chairing the following morning. He took his role seriously as should everyone tasked with this ministry.
The role of the chairman is to welcome everybody and to introduce the servant bringing God’s Word. The pulpit is no place for unedifying speech (Eph. 4:29), whether it’s the use of inappropriate language or viewing the pulpit as your personal soapbox. I know of a chairman who observed that the speaker he was introducing hailed from the same hometown of a celebrity that was embroiled in scandal at that time.
He then shockingly declared that it would be preferable to spend eternity with that speaker than said celebrity! Didn’t our Lord die for all sinners – including the celebrity who wasn’t even there to defend himself? The speaker was left to pick up the pieces, which he managed to do beautifully, but it was a reminder of how much a chairman’s attitude can influence an entire meeting.
2. Do your homework
I learned about the importance of preparation the hard way. I chaired for a visiting speaker years ago and having never heard of him, I assumed that he was visiting our assembly for the first time so I introduced him accordingly. However, he had in fact spoken there before and the poor preacher was put in the position of having to reintroduce himself in his introduction! I could have avoided this embarrassing situation had I just taken a minute to engage the brother before the meeting.
The preacher will appreciate it if you ask him how much time he needs to preach or if he would like a certain Scripture read. As a speaker, I have been able to trim some of the fat off my message because the chairman has offered to read a text for me.
I’ve heard about a dozen variations of my own name when visiting as a speaker. I admit that my name doesn’t exactly roll off one’s tongue so I always appreciate it when the chairman asks me how to pronounce my difficult name in advance (for the record, it rhymes with “Daniel Betsy”).
Rehearse the announcements and events beforehand. Remember that somebody is responsible for compiling the information in your bulletin many take for granted. When I was responsible for my assembly’s bulletin, I spent an average of 3 hours editing each one. Show your appreciation for those working behind the scenes by preparing beforehand.
3. Engage the audience
To a visitor, you may be a the first face they see in a new place. Set the tone by welcoming any visitors in the room, some of whom may feel like ‘party-crashers’. When my father visited me years ago, I invited him to accompany me to a speaking engagement at a small assembly close by.
The chairman that introduced me, an older brother in the Lord, was so touched by the fact that a father would accompany his son to a speaking engagement (and said so) that he was moved to tears on the pulpit. When they moved to our area, my parents chose to attend that assembly that had been so welcoming. Although not all chairmen are extroverts, you can still affect visitors in a personal way with a warm, happy approach.
It is tempting to use inside humour in our introduction if the speaker is familiar or we may even feel like abbreviating the intro by using the standard, “so-and-so needs no introduction”. However, the speaker may not be familiar to everybody – especially in a larger assembly – so it’s best to approach the situation as though the congregation is hearing him for the first time.
Never assume that the entire audience is saved. Invite the audience to consider the words of every passage and hymn being given and to receive Christ if they’re lost.
4. Be punctual
Be diligent about watching the clock: begin on time and don’t take up more time than necessary. Remember that the speaker has spent hours preparing his message and he will be forced to rush or abbreviate his message on the spot if your opening goes overtime.
Having been in that situation as a speaker, it is not fun! If there are special events already scheduled that may impede his time (e.g. special music, baptism), inform the speaker in advance.
Perhaps these suggestions can improve your approach to chairing. Feel free to offer some more suggestions for the benefit of other budding chairmen.