Recruiting, educating and forming a church board into an effective ministry team presents a most significant challenge for every chairperson. Exercising appropriate direction in this process can be tricky, requiring wisdom, discernment, and tact. As well, success in this aspect of board work often hinges upon personal credibility as a board leader and confidence of the congregation in your leadership.
Boardsource, an organization that seeks to resource non-profit entities, suggests that an effective and continuing board building cycle involves eight elements: identify, cultivate, recruit, orient, involve, educate, rotate and evaluate. In my view these eight elements, each of which is important, can be condensed into three broader issues:
1. how do we equip and bring people into a church board ministry (identify, cultivate, recruit);
2. how do we help board members work competently and spiritually during their terms (orient, involve, educate);
3. how do we help board member finish their involvement in this ministry well (rotate and evaluate)?
Euipping people for church board involvement and working within congregational processes to have them appointed to the board are somewhat uncharted waters for many chairpersons ministering in Evangelical congregations. If some in the congregation perceive that the current church leadership is seeking to pick and choose who will serve as board members, they may label this as political inference or manipulation of the congregation’s direction. Complete separation between the actions of the nominating committee and the current church leadership is considered a matter of integrity. However, practically and biblically such a stance has little to commend it. The congregation benefits normally from the discernment that spiritually mature leaders bring to such appointments. Any system can be abused and manipulated, but where church leaders are demonstrating integrity and acting in the best interests of the congregation and not for personal gain or power, it is helpful for them to give some guidance in the selection process. The question is how to do this in a way that fits within usual congregational process.
As board chair you know the various giftings, competencies, and spiritual wisdom that the board needs to provide strategic leadership. While you work as best you can with the board members appointed by the congregation, you also know that careful and appropriate recruitment can make an immense difference in the ability of the board to do its work. Some ways to accomplish this would include having some discussion among the current board members about their sense of emerging leaders within the congregation. Hold this conversation several months before the annual general meeting. There will probably be some concensus about two or three people that are gaining a reputation for spiritual wisdom and maturity. After consulting with the lead pastor and personal prayer, you might take some initiative and have coffee with one or two of these people that you personally believe have the qualifications (i.e. 1 Timothy 3) to serve. The purpose of the conversation is to explore this possibility with them. Most will be reluctant to consider this and will need encouragement. However, during the conversation, if your initial perspective is being confirmed, you might challenge the individual to pray about this opportunity. A week or so later followup and see whether the person would be willing to have their name given to the nominating committee for consideration. As chair you are a member of the church and can nominate people, but you might find it prudent to enlist the services of another board member to forward the name to the nominating committee.
Some congregations implement a more formal process. They empower the board members and pastors to ask four to six people, who have demonstrated the basic qualifications of 1 Timothy 3, to gather for some initial training and discernment, with a view to serving as church board members. While it is clear that involvement in such a process carries no guarantee that they will be nominated and appointed, it is understood that normally from this group the nominating committee will be seeking several to present to the congregation to serve as board members. However this is done, it is important to keep the process transparent.
Once the congregation appoints a person to the church board, then the issues involved in the second question become significant — how to help board members work competently and spiritually during their terms. The foundation for this will be a good orientation process, necessary to bring new board members into the world and work of the board. This will include developing relationships with current board members, instruction on the board’s mandate, modes of operation, and current priorities. As well, make sure the new members know the cycle of meetings planned for the coming year so that they build the dates into their personal schedules. Give clear direction as to expectations and ensure that all necessary documents are signed, i.e. agreement with code of conduct, congregational statement of faith, lack of prior criminal activity that otherwise would void their candidacy for board service.
There is also the ongoing educational development of the board members — new and continuing. One of the keys to keeping board members motivated is to help them develop as leaders through their work as board members. The more they understand the nature of church boards, church governance, and the leadership of non-profit organizations, the better qualified they will feel to do their work. As they work effectively as a ministry team, their personal motivation will increase and grow. They will get excited about the way the mission is advancing and be willing to communicate this to others in the congregation.
Finally, the day will come when a board member’s term reaches its conclusion. How will you as chair prepare that individual to finish well? How will you gather the wisdom such a person has accumulated and retain it for the benefit of the continuing board? How will you celebrate that member’s contribution and appropriately thank them before the congregation for their ministry? Responding well to such issues will go a long way to encouraging others in the congregation to be willing to serve as board members.
As board chair it is important that you meet personally and individually with board members as their terms complete. This becomes your opportunity to thank them for their contribution, to discern what wisdom they can provide to the continuing board members, and to encourage them to get involved in some other congregational ministry as they move forward. This also provides you with the chance to give them some feedback on their board work. This might prove immensely helpful as other opportunities for them to work with non-profit entities, Christian or otherwise, arise.
Building a church board is a constant ministry. As chair this is one of your most important responsibilities. No one else can do it as effectively as you can. If it is done well, this can be one of your most important legacies to your congregation.