I encountered a phrase recently — “social loafing” — used in the context of corporate boards and it caught my attention. Essentially it refers to board members who gradually lose their motivation to contribute significantly to a board, but remain part of the board because they like the social connection and conviviality. It stimulated in my thinking the question whether in the context of church boards we find board members engaged in “spiritual loafing”? If so, what would be the symptoms, why is this harmful and what can a church board chairperson do to combat this?
First a definition is in order. “Spiritual loafing” describes a church board member who continues to attend board meetings, but does not prepare in a focused way spiritually for the work the board is doing. So this board member is present and may even engage in some discussion, but not “prayed up” for the responsibilities. The board member likes the mental engagement and the “buzz” that comes from being involved at the centre of congregational leadership, but he/she no longer attends adequately to the spiritual aspects of this role.
How might a chairperson recognize the symptoms of “spiritual loafing”? I think one of the first signs will be an increased degree of fractiousness within board discussions, particularly when a board member who is into “spiritual loafing” is engaged. A loss of graciousness and deference manifests itself. Secondly, such a board member might exhibit impatience when other board members want to consider at greater length the spiritual implications of a decision, even though other aspects of the decision, i.e. the financial or strategic elements, have been clarified. Lastly, as chair you might observe this board member coming to meetings quite unprepared, without having reviewed documents and reports. This may indicate loss of spiritual motivation in the ministry of the board work.
What harm might “spiritual loafing” bring to the individual board member and the board as whole? In the case of a board member “spiritual loafing” may create an attitude that board involvement is merely another task or obligation rather than a calling or service. The individual may begin to resent the time spent or the burden of responsibility that this role creates. As well the board member may lose sight of the reality that church board work occupies a central place in the spiritual struggle in which the congregation is engaged. From the standpoint of the collective board when one member defaults to “spiritual loafing,” it is like an engine only running on 5 of 6 cylinders. There may be movement, but it is rough, unsynchronized, and eventually harmful. The effect is corrosive over the long term because as each decision is being made the board is not operating with its full quotient of spiritual intelligence. At some point the board’s unity will be jeopardized.
Finally, what preventative action can a chairperson take to minimize “spiritual loafing” within a church board? One strategy is to keep reminding the board members that all of their work together is worshipful work and contributes to the spiritual health of the congregation. If the board is to steward the congregation’s trust well, then each board member needs to be on top of their game spiritually. When spiritual apathy becomes apparent, a chairperson can arrange to meet with that board member to encourage and discern how best to help that person lean into their call with vigour. Board members are human beings and so board chairs should not be surprised when the spiritual tone ebbs and flows. As chairperson you can invite the board members to be praying for one another and particularly for board members who may be experiencing spiritual challenges. Board work places believers at the centre of the spiritual warfare that wages around the life of the congregation. Make sure then that the board meetings begin with a significant amount of time dedicated to Bible study, prayer and sharing — at least thirty minutes.
The malady of “spiritual loafing” can affect a chairperson as well. Here is where your relationship with the lead pastor can assist, if it can function as a mutual accountability relationship.