Like it or not, pastors really need to know some about Robert’s Rules of Order, especially if you want to make a positive contribution at a national convention, synod, or assembly. I often consult the “In Brief” version of Robert’s Rules.

For online help, this is a nice introductory site with a complete text of the 1915 Order. Here are a few other survival tips. And these six pages will be more than enough for most people. Print out the tables, study them for an hour, and learn how to be much more effective in deliberations and assemblies which use parliamentary procedure.

Many denominations, institutions, and boards have veered off course simply because the good guys never bothered to figure out how things get done. We can lament that church business is so constrained by procedural questions, but the rules enable profitable discussion and equitable decision making in the bodies that understand them and apply them fairly.

Robert’s Rules is no substitute for the rule of love or the rule of Christ, but for many of us, our interest in the latter would be well served by a knowledge of the former.

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23 thoughts on “Robert’s Rules of Order”

  1. Mike Stephan says:

    Thanks for this “cheat sheet.” The PCA GA is coming up as well and there are times I find myself lost in the procedure. These six pages have already taught me a few things I should have known.

  2. A Naive Elder says:

    Robert’s Rules is no substitute for the rule of love or the rule of Christ, but for many of us, our interest in the latter would be well served by a knowledge of the former

    The rule of Christ would be well served by the rule of love?

    How could Christ’s rule not be in love? Did He change?

    Or did you mean that parliamentary procedure is how Christ rules?

    Got a verse or two on that? Because our church doesn’t vote. So if Christ now rules churches in these days by vote, we don’t want to disobey Him.

    On the other hand, if Christ doesn’t rule by vote, then your synod is disobedient… institutionally. And the way you might see that is people trying to pass motions affirming homosexuality, women’s elders (oops, already there, huh?), and all kinds of stuff in disobedience to Scripture.

    Your side might win the vote this go-round – yea – Christ rules! By 67%! But next go-round it might go against you – boo – Christ doesn’t rule?

    But you guys had it coming and it’s only a matter of time. You relied on the world’s way of making decisions (parliamentary procedure) and it’ll only be time until you reap what you sow.

    In that day, will you guys repent, or vote to form another denom?

  3. Mike Stephan says:

    Nice to know a church exists where everyone agrees, all the time, on every issue, and never needs to hear from other parts of the body of Christ that might believe differently. I would think that we would receive a more helpful and edifying word from that place.

    And yet, I would say that the final sentence, the one he quoted, was misread by our brother. To restate what Kevin rightly points out, our use of Robert’s Rules is well served by keeping the law of love and the rule of Christ always before us. Acts 6 and 15 would appear to show that differing ideas need to be conveyed. In one instance, no debate was necessary as the whole church seemed to think the creation of deacons was a good idea. In the other case there was much debate. And there was also eventual agreement on that issue and that agreement was then sent out to the other churches by letter.

    If you do not agree on the polity of a particular denomination, fine. No harm, no foul. I do not agree with the heirarchical or congregational models. But threatening over it and essentially pronoucing a curse, really?

  4. A Naive Elder says:

    Threats and curses? Really back at ya.

    No harm, no foul? Who sez. Have you never read Titus 1:5?

    How ever did Christians keep the law of love before 1870 came along? You know, volume 1 of Roberts’ Rules.

    So, have Presbyterians been more unified, or more schismed, ever since? How’s that working for you? And you want a pat on the back?

    Tell you what. Let’s ask if your synods are built on the word of God. What level of unity is commanded in 1 Cor 1:10, simple majority, super majority, or neither? And who commands it? Your response, Mike?

  5. Kevin,

    Enjoyed your post. Not to be picky, but as an attorney and parliamentarian (and Elder and past Clerk of Session), I’m expected to be!

    The 1915 Robert’s that is linked was an excellent work, but there have been many editions since then. Each new edition brings changes to procedure (the latest has 120, with both new practices and names of motions). If you’re supposed to follow the “most recent edition” of Robert’s, “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th Edition)” published in 2011 is your book.

    While some readers find the current manual (at 716 pages) too daunting and complex, there are excellent guides to Robert’s. As the author of two of them, I’m partial to these: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Parliamentary Procedure Fast-Track” and “Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules of Order, Fourth Edition.”

    There are also many free charts and articles on Robert’s Rules and meeting procedure at my Website, http://www.jimslaughter.com. All of the information on the Website is free, so feel free to use or share.

  6. paul janssen says:

    Cool yer jets, folks. Any assembly has to have some means of having a discussion and making decisions, or else it quickly devolves into chaos. Roberts Rules is an instrument. It isn’t the only one, but it has proven itself to be a useful one over the years. Unless one can produce a process guide from the first Jerusalem council, I don’t think we’re going to be pristine and follow an exact New Testament method. That said, Roberts Rules is used by those who know it best. And it is often misused by those who know it best. What I mean to say is, the law of love can be set aside, to the extent that Roberts Rules is used as a cudgel for those who are promoting their vision of the church or interpretation of the Scripture. Couple that with a fundamental misunderstanding of the roles of various assemblies, and you have something like a recipe for divisiveness. Many would contend that that is exactly what happened at General Synod 2012. I wasn’t there, so it’s hard for me to bear witness to whether that is an accurate read. Calvinists should always be wary; the “total” in total depravity pervades even the best of human intentions — and Roberts was intended to organize good intentions for a deliberative body.

  7. Mike Stephan says:

    ANE, I can’t tell if you’re serious or deliberately being difficult. The law of love and Robert’s Rules are separate. The rules help us organize motions, debate and discussion, while the love of Christ and His rule are what guides our interaction with each other. I think you really missed the point. If you want to continue this discussion please feel free to email me at mstephan73 at outlook dot com. But if you are just looking to threat and pronounce curses upon me, I’d rather you didn’t contact me.

    And to answer your question, complete unity is the goal, which is why, once a decision is made, we all need to get on board as a denomination or bring it up again (at a later date) if we think there is an error.

    Paul, thank you for the reminder that any tool can be properly used but also misused.

  8. A Naive Elder says:

    Any assembly has to have some means of having a discussion and making decisions, or else it quickly devolves into chaos

    We have an assembly every Sunday without making group decisions and we’ve yet to have chaos. Going on a decade, not one chaos.

    Is there something you need to share about your church?

  9. A Naive Elder says:

    Mike, I’m totally giving you guys a hard time, and have yet to threaten or curse.

    If unity in Christ is your goal, you need to abandon a polity that is representative instead of based on biblical eldership. It not only makes you think parliamentary procedure is a tool of Christ by which he rules His church, it produces schisms.

    Apply sola-scriptura to it. The Bible teaches, in precept and command, that church decisions are to be made in deliberation where?

  10. Mike Stephan says:

    Key phrase being, “without making group decisions.”

    I may be wrong but I get the sense you like being contrarian ANE. You’ve made good points on this site before but trying to get a read on you here has proved more difficult.

    Peace to you all.

  11. Mike Stephan says:

    Acts 15, the first council as an example of how it should happen. Granted, that is not didactic but that does not mean we should use it as guide.

    As for the “curse” part I took this phrase in your first response, “But you guys had it coming and it’s only a matter of time. You relied on the world’s way of making decisions (parliamentary procedure) and it’ll only be time until you reap what you sow” as the pronouncing of a curse. If you did not mean it in that regard, I apologize. But as a threat and a curse is how it reads to me.

    Out of curiosity, does your church acknowledge any of the councils (Nicaea, Chalcedon, etc.) as expressions of biblical truth or are they sidelined altogether?

  12. paul janssen says:

    Biblical eldership……by which you must mean a true eldership, founded on the apostles themselves. So…… I take it you are Orthodox, an elder in continuity with the church of Constantinople and its successor(s)?

  13. A Naive Elder says:

    Paul,

    Orthodoxy is a “eucharistic ecclesiology” – the church gathers to take communion in connection to the bishop.

    But the same truth that slays synods and GA’s is the same truth that slays bishops?

    Which is this – show us in Scripture?

  14. A Naive Elder says:

    Mike,

    Acts 15 is important but doesn’t rise to the level of “we need to do the same.” If i grant you it is an assembly of various church representatives (unlikely), it is only exemplified, and never commanded. iow, as a one time event, it lacks binding force on churches.

    iow, faith in Christ asks where did the apostles command churches to hold councils, assemblies, synods so i can know He wants me to do this?

    We do acknowledge those creeds as faithfully reflecting the biblical data on the Trinity and Christ. From there forward things get sort of Marion.

    Threats and curses: “you guys had it coming to you” = “your church institution had it coming,” and still has it coming. I promise not to vote at your synod or GA, and thereby bring no threat to “you guys.”

  15. paul janssen says:

    And, why, yes Orthodox ecclesiology is Eucharistic, but that’s about a Wikipedia level of understanding. The subject was how assemblies make decisions and hold councils or assemblies. The Orthodox believe that they are the only body that maintains what you call a biblical pattern of eldership, and they do not govern themselves represenratively, and do not move by majority vote. They are therefore considerably more unified than any Protestant group will ever be. This also has to do with the history if western thought, etc., etc., etc.

    It has become evident that you enjoy being a provocateur but not having genuine conversation. Therefore I will no longer engage you in conversation.

  16. A Naive Elder says:

    Paul, in your rush to judgment you missed what I wrote… “in connection to the bishop.” That specifically answered your query on whether I am Orthodox.

    See, bishop stuff is as essential to Orthodox ecclesiology as is the eucharist stuff – they are connected. But like your GA and synod practices, suffers from a of biblical witness.

    So it your ecclesiology that shares the same weakness with them, not mine.

    I just didn’t think I’d have to spell it out for you. Easier to ad hom than examine your ecclesiology?

  17. Paul Janssen says:

    snark bait. not gonna take it. sorry.

  18. Justin says:

    I make a motion that A Naive Elder be blocked from posting on any thread that relates to Robert’s Rules of Order. Is there a second to this motion?
    ;)

  19. Tony Chapman says:

    Rescind

    http://www.roberts-rules.com/parl20.htm

    I see an “out of order” motion coming next week, Given the logic of #2.

    “Way Forward” has been done. What do you think?

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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