Singing purpose into our meetings

Do the meetings in your institution reflect your values and purpose?

Anyone who has an office-oriented job knows all too well why the expression “death by meetings” came into existence. We can meet our way through a day and come out without a clear sense of what we did that day or what we are to do the next day.

The practically minded bemoan meeting just to meet, and the relationally minded wish for time to acknowledge one another’s lives outside of the workplace. Meeting facilitators struggle to keep the people in the room, whether small or large, in the room and not checking sports scores, texting or mentally wandering down the aisles of the grocery store.

The negative attitudes most of us have towards meetings aren’t just because meetings lack clear purpose or aren’t led well. Sometimes meetings, in their very structure, fail to reflect the values and purposes of our institutions.

At the monthly leadership meetings for the Duke Youth Academy, we recently adopted a new practice -- singing at the start our gatherings. Singing the familiar songs we sing with students and staff each summer reminds us that we are gathered for an act of worship.

We’d long dedicated time to catching up, sharing news from our respective lives, families and ministries. But singing changed something for us. In the words of the Rev. Julian Pridgen, our ministry coordinator for worship and prayer, these songs “lull us into the presence of God.”

Our conversations about technology and online learning, theological lecture themes and curriculum development begin with our faithfulness and thankfulness to the Triune God. When we sing, “In the Lord, I’ll Be ever Thankful” we promise each other our intentions. After we’ve reported our accomplishments and setbacks, dreamed creative solutions and planned project timelines, we close our laptops and share a meal, discussing everything from hip hop stars to antique car shows to major vocational changes.

Dave Odom recently reminded us that, amongst other practices, the practice of structuring meetings to reflect the most important aspects of our work prepares our leaders for the challenges that lie ahead. By beginning our meetings with a moment of song and prayer and concluding with a hearty meal of laughter and honest conversation, we book-end our time of meeting and planning with worship and faithful friendship much like a day of residency at DYA begins and ends with prayer and worship.

Our meetings have become the compact experience of the very program we lead.

When our meetings end, I don’t leave with confusion, though I may still take away a disjointed to-do list. Instead I leave with confidence that our team’s work exceeds its programmatic function.

The sound of our song seeps out from underneath the doors quietly filling the rest of our expansive office. The purpose to our gatherings is audible to all -- to worship God through the creation of a formational community of young people and their mentors. But most importantly, it is audible to us.