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Roberts Rules of Order—Parliamentary Procedures


Parliamentary law is not intended to repress the work of an assembly. It is meant to provide orderly principles by which business may be expedited. Where there are no principles of law and where every individual is allowed to act in his or her own way, confusion prevails.

Perhaps the most important principle of parliamentary law is that of rights: the right of the majority to ultimately rule, the right of the minority to be heard, and the right of the individual to participate in the decisionmaking process.

It is hoped that the information included on the following pages will be helpful in expediting the business meeting. The material has been adapted from several sources and, to the best of our knowledge, is in agreement with Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised,published by Scott, Foresman and Company.

The information included here is certainly not exhaustive. Pastors are encouraged to study Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. Amore thorough knowledge of the rules by which church business is conducted will make for smoother and more productive business meetings.


The presiding officer or the position from which that person presides. The pastor serves as the presiding officer and should be addressed as Mr. Chairman or Mr. Moderator.

The person designated to advise the chair on points of parliamentary law and also to give similar advice to the assembly when requested. The parliamentarian gives an opinion; the chair makes a ruling.

The position of persons other than the chairman and his associates. When a member "has the floor," he/she has the opportunity to exercise his/her speaking rights and should be given appropriate attention.

A single official gathering of the body to conduct business.

A series of connected meetings devoted to a single agenda.

A person with the right to full participation.

A formal proposal by a member in a meeting that the assembly take certain action. Questionis a synonym for motion.

Being processed by chair.

Priority or rank, applied to motions.

To "lay on the table" means entrusting the case to the secretary. To lay on the table permits the assembly to set an issue aside in order to consider a more urgent issue.

Obtaining the floor
Before a member attempts to make a motion or to address a meeting, he/she should be recognized by the chair. The members are recognized by the chair in the order in which they signal that they wish to address the chair. A member does not have the floor until recognized by the chair. When recognized, the member should do the following:

Thus, if the subject on the floor changes, a new order will be established to recognize those members wishing to speak to the current subject.

A member wishing to get the chair’s attention for the following reasons may obtain recognition by audibly calling for the attention of the chair with

Each member has the right to speak on every question. However, he/she cannot make a second speech on the same question as long as any member who has not spoken on the question desires the floor. It is the prerogative of the moderator to recognize each speaker and to determine a balance of negative and affirmative speeches.

Assigning the floor
A member does not obtain the floor by rising and addressing the chair. The floor must be assigned by the chair before he/she is privileged to speak.

Interrupting a speaker
A member who has been assigned the floor should not be interrupted after he/she has begun to speak, unless the immediate need is of such urgency to justify the interruption.

A member who has been assigned the floor should be interrupted only by one who wishes

Making a motion
In making a motion (this includes any substitute motion), a member first obtains the floor and prefaces the statement of the proposed action by the words "I move that . . ." The motion should be written out and copies are given to the chairman and secretary.

Seconding a motion
In general, every motion must be seconded before it is discussed or voted on. A member wishing to second a motion simply says, "I second the motion." Recognition by the chair is not necessary in order to second a motion, and a second may be made without the member rising. Motions that come from a committee are considered already offered and seconded.

Debate or discussion of the question
In all debate and discussion, the following principles should prevail:

  1. Speakers should avoid all references to specific personalities.
  2. The motives of those whose views are opposed should not be questioned.
  3. Discussion should be aimed at clarifying the facts rather than at challenging the views of those on the opposite side of the question.

Voting on the question
In calling for the vote, the affirmative vote is called for first. If the chair is in doubt after calling for a vote by voice, he will ask for a show of hands or a standing vote. If a member questions the vote, he/she has a right to call for "a division of the house." Division of the house does not demand a counting of the votes. If a member wishes to have the votes counted, he/she must make a motion (which must be seconded) to that effect.

Kinds of motions

Main Motions
Main motions are those that bring some main question before the group. A main motion yields to all subsidiary, privileged, and incidental motions.

Subsidiary Motions
A subsidiary motion is applied to a pending motion as a means of disposing of the pending one. All subsidiary motions take precedence over the main motion. By means of subsidiary motions, the main motion may be amended, or referred to a committee, or action postponed or hastened.

The subsidiary motions in order of precedence are:

  1. To lay on the table
  2. To call for the previous question
  3. To limit or extend the time of debate
  4. To postpone to a certain time
  5. To commit or refer
  6. To amend (can be applied to 5, 4, and 3)
  7. To postpone indefinitely (cannot be amended)

To Lay on the Table
The effect of this motion is to postpone action on the question to which it applies. This motion should be used primarily to enable the groups to consider more urgent business, and should not be used as a means of suppressing a question without debate. Parliamentary law allows that only a two-thirds vote can rightfully suppress a main motion without allowing free debate.

To Call for the Previous Question
The object of this motion is to bring to an end the debate on the question or questions included in the call, and to secure a vote on the question(s). The previous question requires a two-thirds vote. If the motion does not specify otherwise, it applies only to the immediately pending question. The call for previous question should come from a member who has turned on a light and been recognized by the chair.

To Limit or Extend Time of Debate
Since certain rights are being taken away from the members, adoption of these motions requires a two-thirds vote. Motions to limit or extend time of debate are not debatable but may be amended (see note above).

To Postpone to a Certain Time
The motion is similar to "Lay on the Table." It differs in that it postpones action to an established time and is debatable.

To Commit or Refer
A motion to commit or refer is debatable, can be amended, and requires a majority vote.

To Amend
The motion to amend—that is, to change the words of a pending motion—requires a second and is debatable if the motion to be amended is debatable. Amendments of the first degree and the second degree are permitted. Amendments of the third degree are not. An amendment must be germane (that is, closely related) to the motion to be amended. If not, it will be ruled out of order by the chair. A substitute motion is an amendment of the first degree.

To Postpone Indefinitely
The real object of this motion is to reject the motion to which it is applied. It is debatable and opens the main question to debate. It requires a majority vote for adoption.

Incidental motions
Incidental motions arise out of the process of business (a pending question), and as a result they must be decided before a decision can be made on the question to which they are incidental.

Incidental questions that will be briefly discussed are

To Rise to a Point of Order
While it is the duty of the chair to enforce the rules of the assembly, any member has the right to call to the attention of the chair any violation that occurs.

To Appeal From the Decision of the Chair
An appeal may be made from the decision of the chair only at the time the ruling is made. A majority vote is necessary before a decision of the chair can be reversed.

To Suspend the Rules
The rule or rules that interfere with the action that the assembly wishes to take may be suspended, provided they do not conflict with the basic parliamentary law or with the church’s bylaws. Constitution and bylaws cannot be suspended.

To Object to the Consideration of a Question
The purpose of this motion is to present consideration of certain questions that the assembly may feel are not worthy of consideration. It requires no second, cannot be debated, cannot be amended, and requires a two-thirds vote. It must be proposed before debate and/or before the chair has stated any subsidiary motion.

To Divide a Question
This motion can be applied only to main motions and amendments. Parts of a question that are intimately related should not be divided.

To Call for a Division of the Assembly
The purpose for calling for the division of the assembly is to secure an accurate count of the vote, especially when the vote has been taken viva voca. This motion does not provide for a count. It provides for a standing vote. A counting of the vote must be called for by a motion to that effect.

To Make a Request Growing Out of the Business of the Assembly
This can occur during a business session when a member rises to the floor in order to:

Summary of Facts Relating to Motions

Kind of Motion



To lay on the table Clear the floor for more urgent business Delays action
To call for the previous question Secure immediate vote on pending question Ends debate
To limit or extend time of debate Provides more or less time for discussion Shortens or lengthens discussion period
To postpone definitely to a certain time Often gives more time for informal discussion and for securing supporters Delays action
To commit or refer To enable more careful consideration to be given Delays action
To amend To improve the motion Changes the original motion
To postpone indefinitely To prevent a vote on the question Suppresses the question
To raise a point of order of rules To call attention to violation according to established rules Keeps the assembly functioning
To appeal from the decision of the chair To determine the attitude of the assembly on the ruling made by the chair Secures ruling of the assembly rather than by the chair
To suspend the rules To permit action not possible under the rules Secures action which otherwise could not be presented by the rules
To object to the consideration of a question Prevent wasting time on unimportant business Suppresses the motion
To divide the question Secure more careful consideration of parts Secures action by parts
To call for a division of the assembly (a) To determine the accuracy of a viva voca vote (b) To secure expression of individual member’s vote Secures an accurate check on vote
To raise a question of privilege To correct undesirable conditions Corrects undesirable condition
To take from the table Continue the consideration of the question Continues consideration of the question
To reconsider To reconsider the question and another vote on the question Secures further consideration

To rescind

Repeal action previously taken


—Parliamentary Practice was adapted from A Guide to Parliamentary Practices written by Lamar Vest and used by permission.

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