In the midst of the summer Olympics we see many diverse examples of coaching. Despite natural ability, hours of training, and countless competitions athletes still need coaches to help them excel! It is the rare person who can see their flaws and design ways and means to overcome these hindrances, leading to improved performance.
In the ebb and flow of church board work, who coaches the board members so that they perform at or even beyond their natural capacity? You might think that the Holy Spirit is the coach of a church board — and this would be a good answer. The term “paracletos” has connotations of advocacy, intercession, but also helping and encouraging. He is our teacher and the One who leads us into truth. Another response might be the lead pastor. Again, there is truth in this response, particularly in the realm of spiritual guidance and theological issues. Some might suggest that the very nature of coaching requires an independent perspective and so a church board might approach an external person or agency to provide coaching. This has the advantage of a more independent perspective as well as the value of broader expertise, but will also be expensive. However, this can be an important investment by the board for a substantive boost in its effectiveness.
I think in the midst of these various coaching contributions the chairperson also has a role to play. For example, many consider that the chairperson primarily functions as the facilitator of the board’s work. Yet in filling this function the chair has to coach and advise the board constantly in terms of its options, processes, and good practices. Regardless of how you function as chairperson within the context of your board, you will need to consider how to help the board improve its capacity for strategic, spiritual leadership.
In what ways might a chairperson seek to coach a church board as a whole, or particular board members?
1. A key aspect to this is the orientation of new board members. In essence the initial orientation provides for the chairperson the opportunity to begin or continue the development of a person’s capacity to serve as a board member. For some this may be a review of things previously learned, but for others this will be an entirely new experience. So you can set the standard in this session, discussing the work of the church board, the responsibilities of the board members, and your role as chair. In particular you can share your passion for the mission of the church and the important ministry role that the board has in its accomplishment. In this context you begin to set the nature of the relationship you desire to have with the board members.
2. The continuing education of the board offers another significant coaching opportunity. Although the chairperson may not determine the focus of a church board’s education, he or she should constantly be promoting its pursuit. As the board does its work, you can be noting areas of education that will enable the board to improve its capacity for strategic leadership. You then have areas of board development to suggest when this matter comes up for discussion.
3. As the board pursues its normal work you will discern areas in which the board would be wise to develop policy. Some board members’ eyes will glaze over when you mention the word “policy,” but you need to persist because policies save time, enable the board to operate consistently, and build a strategic toolkit for the board. The process also enables the board to discern its “voice” about strategic issues. Reviewing and updating policies also provides opportunity to keep educating the board about its responsibilities.
4. The annual board evaluation, which usually a chairperson will lead, provides a great occasion for helping the board to assess its performance over the past twelve months. In the process areas for improvement will always materialize, giving you additional opportunity to coach the board. Whether you employ a formal or informal process of evaluation, at some point in the year you should build into the agenda time for the board to reflect upon its performance. The fact that you ask the board to reflect upon their work together signals its importance.
5. As the board deals with crises, it can use each situation to discern how to improve its ministry leadership. The chairperson usually designs the board agendas and so he/she has to be intentional about providing the board with time to reflect what they have learned, once the crisis has abated. Crises are times when the board has to implement and use its policies and systems. If these processes do not work satisfactorily, then the board, after the event, needs to reflect upon what worked well and what did not and then revise its policies and processes.
6. Another simple strategy is to schedule coffee with each board member through the year and encourage them in their roles as board members. You can both compliment them on their contribution to the board and also suggest one or two areas that they might address. As you conclude your conversation offer to pray for them and their ministry as a board member. Also share one or two things for which you would invite their prayers on your behalf as chairperson.
As chairperson you probably are reading articles or books related to board work from time to time. A simple way to advance your coaching of the board is to share some of these resources, ask board members to read them and then provide a 10 – 15 reflection time in a subsequent board meeting. Some of the articles and resources on this website might serve the needs of your board.