In the world of ancient Rome the god Janus portrayed the changing year, with a countenance facing in two directions. In a sense such a image portrays the constant attitude of a non-profit board chairperson — respectful and aware of the past, but attentive and strategically shaping the agency’s future. Or to put it another way, the chair helps the board draw key lessons and perspective from the agency’s past experience that bring wisdom to bear on current and future issues and opportunities.
The transition from one year to the next is a natural point at which to consolidate personal and collective lessons learned from your board work together. If you can grab a quiet hour by yourself (perhaps at the local Tim Hortons), take time intentionally to reflect on the board meetings, the critical decisions, the controversies, the resolutions, the unresolved issues, the things you believe God has taught you — and write them down (or text them to your computer). At the first board meeting of the year share these, or at least some of them, with the board and ask for their feedback. Perhaps other lessons are more prominent in their minds. You might even have these put in the minutes for future reference.
But what about this coming year — 2013? Several things need to be considered:
- What are the key themes for board development and capacity building that as chair you think your board members need to embrace?
- How much can you and your board accomplish in twelve months?
- Who within the board will help you carry this load?
- How will you generate the enthusiasm among all the board members to engage in this important work of board excellence?
- What will it take especially to encourage your lead pastor’s support?
- What resources will be required and are these built into your 2013 budget?
In my opinion key trends that may affect your church board’s work in 2013 would include:
1. Continued efforts by Canada Revenue Agency to require non-profit charities to work within all legal requirements, particularly those pertaining to financial matters. Government is becoming more concerned that charities in fact do charitable work, employ their charitable taxation exemption properly, and use donors’ gifts responsibly. More audits will be coming. Make sure the mission of your congregation fits squarely within the definition of “charities” which the government has developed.
2. Growing activism among the “members” of a particular charitable agency to hold board members accountable, because of a general distrust of authority within our culture. Church boards will have to build and sustain their credibility with congregations through good leadership, wise policies, and transparent communications.
3. Continued conflict between lead pastors and church boards because respective visions of pastoral leadership are confused and divergent. The fundamental question of whether congregations should be pastor-led, or board-led will continue to fester and generate disruption within congregational leadership. When boards and pastoral leaders have this sorted biblically and expressed in clear policy, then there is a framework within which mutual trust can flourish. Without this understanding spiritual leadership will limp.
4. Advancing the mission of the agency will face economic challenges, as well as the need for new leadership, renewed vision, and robust unity. What’s new! Each year of ministry brings its own, unique faith challenge and you cannot predict whether a “black swan” event will colour your board leadership in the next twelve months. The best preparation for the unexpected is the practice of wise, careful, and spiritually-enriched board leadership. Risk management will be an ongoing priority.
5. Recruiting, nurturing, and sustaining qualified volunteers will be a continued challenge. Building board capacity through the recruitment of committed, spiritually mature and experienced members has to be high on your agenda as a board chair. A board’s ability to navigate the first four trends I have mentioned depends upon the quality of the members it recruits.
We can never shield boards and congregations from all risks or anticipate every exigency. We do lead “by faith.” However, there are many things we can do to help ourselves, our boards and congregations respond to crises from a framework of excellence, rather than mediocrity, from a foundation of unity, rather than divisiveness, from missional focus, rather than personal interests. We also know that the spiritual battle will continue unabated, but as Peter said, we “can resist by being strong in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9).