All church board members are volunteers, including the board chair. Motivations to serve in these capacities vary greatly. What level of service and commitment should a church board chair expect from such ‘voluntary’ board members? If this kind of service is lacking, what can the chair do to encourage a higher degree of engagement by some or all of the board members?
Reasons for substandard board service vary. In some cases poor health or preoccupation with serious domestic and work-related issues can become a distraction for board members. Although they may want to serve well, their heart no longer is engaged because of these other, more pressing matters. In other cases lack of progress in advancing the mission of the congregation may discourage some board members and create apathy towards their board work. Or perhaps a board member has a particular ministry issue that he believes is critical for the board to support, but has found no appetite among other board members or the lead pastor to embrace his vision. As a result his spirit has soured and senses alienation from the board. In some cases people have served multiple terms and they have “run out of gas.” Sometimes the agenda of a board becomes overwhelmed with crises and board members experience fatigue or fear paralyzes their spirits. Or, conversely, the agenda is filled with reports and administrative issues and so the board members never seem to get time to tackle the big questions. The result is loss of interest.
As board chair you are in the best position to discern which board members are under-performing or whether the entire board has retrenched into a ‘business as usual’ lethargy. Or maybe the board sees itself as a glorified committee, preoccupied with work that seems quite distant from “real ministry.” If you as chair person know that the board agendas have few items that generate much motivation, then you can can do something about that — learn how to generate agendas that enable the board to focus their energies on the big questions.
If you know that a particular board member is struggling in his or her board work because of external issues, then giving a word of encouragement and prayer over coffee might be all that it takes to rejuvenate that person’s motivated engagement. However, it is also possible that your conversation might lead you to suggest that the person stop-out from board work for a time until such matters get resolved. Resignation is not dishonourable if it provides opportunity for spiritual recovery.
In cases where you know a board member is offended or sulking because of board action or inaction that contravenes personal desires, a scheduled conversation will also be a good strategy. Perhaps you can assist this board member gain perspective and recover motivation. Or maybe you need to help the member understand the concept of “disinterestedness” when it comes to board work. In extreme cases you may need to review the board’s “code of conduct” in order to lay the ground for future action of dismissal from the board, if that should become necessary. In all cases of discipline the goal is restorative.
One of the more difficult conversations may occur where a board member expresses disappointment in your leadership. The board member may have prior experience working with non-profit boards and knows how significant their collective leadership is for charitable agencies, but has found little in his current church board experience to energize his passion. This board person has waited for you as chair to engage the board and urge them to a higher level of strategic leadership in the congregation, but has felt let down. You may not like what you hear, but before reacting, take time to pray and consider whether the criticism is justified. If it is, then determine to do something about it. This may require you to accept the fact that a chairperson, among other things, is a team leader and the board is that team. To some degree board failure reflects the failure of the chair to facilitate the board’s capacity to exercise effective governance.
And then there are occasions when the board member concerned is also the lead pastor. In other words maybe the most ineffective board member is the lead pastor! Could that be? Does the lead pastor ever wear his “church board member” hat in a serious way or is he always present in the board as “lead pastor?” It might be necessary to have a “tough conversation” with your lead pastor about his role and behaviour within board meetings.
At certain points in the year a board chair should take a few minutes to remind the board about the nature of their work and the principles that define their participation in that work. Personally I find one of the best motivators is helping board members discern the connections between their work as a board and changed lives. As well, keeping them focused on the mission and vision and marking progress in their respective advancement also energizes their work together.