292. Handling the Emotional ‘Pitch’.

Many different issues appear on a church board’s agenda, but some carry with them a particular emotional nuance. This added element may arise because of the moral nature of the issue or the passion with which a group in the congregation is committed to it or because an individual or family known to the congregation is affected, or because a board or staff member feels very strongly about the matter. Whatever the case may be, when the item lands on the board table, the emotional character of the issue affects how the board members respond to it and often how the board as a whole deals with it. In my experience board processes get short-circuited, the ability of the board to assess risk and deal with it falters, and clarity as to whether the congregation needs to have some voice in the decision becomes clouded — among other things. So how does a church board deal with emotionally-loaded issues and the pressures often associated with these questions?

The term “pitch”  in the phrase “emotional pitch” has two senses. One meaning refers to the intensity of the emotions that are involved. In music “pitch” refers to high or low tones and generally the higher the pitch, the greater the intensity expressed. The second meaning is associated with sales. The “pitch” is the speech a sales person uses to persuade you to buy something. An “emotional pitch” then would be a sales promotion that appeals to your emotions.

As already noted in the first paragraph, items on a board agenda will arouse diverse emotional responses from different board members. Over time the board as a whole gets to know which issues push emotional buttons among board members. This is fine, so long as board members recognize this and learn how to control their emotional responses. If the discussion gets “too emotional,” then it is hard for a board to make a wise decision. Sometimes angry exchanges occur because emotions start talking.

In the case of the other meaning associated with sales, you might discover this emerging when the board hears a presentation from a staff person about a program proposal. The staff person may be so emotionally wrapped up in the issue that the presentation, i.e. the sales pitch, becomes highly emotional. The presenter cannot understand why everyone on the board cannot discern the importance of the proposal and get behind it. Hard feelings ensue if the board decides against the proposal.

It is good to be passionate about something, because passion often is a key motivator to action. However, within the board context passion must be controlled carefully lest the board gets swept away by its emotions and makes decisions whose consequences are detrimental to the congregation’s future. Some kinds of board decisions susceptible to this problem include staff performance reviews, decisions to hire or release a particular person, public emergencies that some in the congregation believe require church response (e.g. sponsoring a refugee family, building programs, missionary support, etc.). As I have suggested in previous blog articles board members have to come to decisions with a certain “disinterestedness” in the matter apart from two things — will it bring the congregation closer to God and will it advance the congregation’s mission. If a clear yes can be given to these two premier objectives and values, then perhaps, all things being equal, it might be approved.

Emotional items frequently push themselves to the front of a board’s agenda and sometimes interfere with a board’s articulated goals and annual plans. In the context of church boards it becomes a bit challenging to discern whether the item is a Spirit-directed message to alter course or a diversion which, though well-intended, countermands the board’s understanding of God’s guidance. Wisdom and discernment are need in such cases.


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