Ineffectiveness within church boards is a choice we make, either implicitly or explicitly. Church boards can with specific effort improve their effectiveness, i.e. their ability to produce the results for which the congregation has appointed them. Max de Pree in Called to Serve states plainly that “the chief responsibility of boards is to be effective on behalf of their organizations.” In this blog article and several that follow I am proposing seven habits that define effective church boards. I admit that subjectivity enters into their selection, but I think that if these factors characterize your church board that all things being equal, it will be produce the expected results. As John Carver claims (Strategies for Board Leadership, 15-16), “Excellence begins with governance.”
Habit # 1: Effective Church Boards Select and Appoint Competent, Teachable, Disciplined Chairpersons.
Effective church boards take the time and diligence to discern the best leadership to enable them accomplish their goals. The primary board leader is the chair and the board will only become effective if its leadership knows, understands and is committed to board effectiveness. This begins with a clear description of the chair’s role and the chairperson understanding his/her role and the role and responsibility of the board. Effective chairs continue to learn and develop their own ability as team leaders.
One of the primary qualities required in chairpersons is that they be able to keep the board on track. This requires personal discipline and commitment to the various tasks that comprise the role. It also requires the chairperson to accept the cost for helping the board to be disciplined. Key to such discipline is continuous attention to mission and vision.
Within the congregational context competent chairpersons make all necessary efforts to keep connected with the lead pastor, nurturing a good, working relationship.
Without a competent chairperson, boards wander, make poor decisions, and remain blind to their responsibilities. The result is board ineffectiveness.
Habit # 2: Effective Church Boards Invest in Developing Knowledgeable Board Members Who are Focused on Mission.
Building an effective board requires a blueprint for an effective board member. Such a person knows the mission, vision and values of the congregation and is committed to their achievement — but within the framework of the authority boundaries established for the board by the congregation and other institutions to which the board is accountable. Effective boards have a clear statement of the individual and collective board members’ responsibilities. They have a code of conduct to which they adhere. They respect the congregation’s constitution and bylaws. They understand and accept their legal responsibilities. With considerable care they navigate the boundary between management and governance.
Developing effective board members is a long term process that begins with appropriate selection, includes good orientation, and continues with ongoing training. The equipping ministry of the church includes the development of competent board members. Much of this work falls on the shoulders of the chairperson. Measuring progress towards effectiveness requires assessment and effective boards annually will be evaluating their effectiveness and using the results to bolster their competence.
According to John Carver (The Chairperson’s Role as Servant-Leader to the Board) the chairperson is “clearly the board’s leader and just as surely its servant as well. Your job is not to lead the organization — it is the far more demanding task of helping the board to lead the organization.” This applies within the world of church boards.
Habits 3 & 4 are considered in blog article # 176.