In blog article #230 I raised the question about discerning and training people who might have the capacity and giftedness to serve as church board members. Once you have addressed the logistical and systemic issues I identified, then attention has to be given to the curriculum to be used in such training. What essential traits, attitudes, and competencies come together to equip and prepare a person to earn the trust of the congregation for selection as a board member? A further question considers effective learning strategies for communicating and internalizing these principles and practices.
Let’s consider a few general principles to set the stage. First, we are dealing with mature adults and so adult learning processes should be embraced. This means that the trainees need to take some ownership for their personal development and will have some wisdom to contribute to the process. Encouragement and space needs to be built into the training for this to occur. Second, less is better at this stage. Focus on the key elements that generally will enable people to serve in this role effectively. Learning will continue once they are selected. It is not necessary to front-load everything. What needs to be emphasized is the commitment to continual learning. Third, it is important to frame this training as equipping for ministry. Serving as a church board member is a spiritual task and requires the exercise of spiritual wisdom and commitment. Finally, I would include a session about the role of the church board chair, because some in the training group may in the future be asked to serve in this critical role.
So what are some of the key elements that such a training process might include?
1. Provide clear teaching about the spiritual context and dimensions of this role. New Testament teaching about the plurality of leadership within the church, the spiritual qualities essential to this role, and the promise from God to provide gifting for governance (kubernesis). Passages such as 1 Timothy 3 & 5; Titus 1, and 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 should be reviewed. Also give some attention to Mark 10:43-45 and 1 Peter 5:1-4 and the dimensions of servant leadership. Accountability to God and the congregation should be explained carefully. The trainee should be assigned a mentor and asked to discuss with the mentor these issues. It might also be good to include some kind of spiritual gift inventory that might help the trainees gain some insight into their own spiritual capacities. Being “examples to the flock” serves as a fundamental principle for this role.
2. Develop a framework of church governance that enables the trainees to perceive the spiritual dimensions of the task, as well as other significant elements (e.g. legal responsibilities, policy development, assessment, etc.). Key to this session will be the principle that the role of the church board is to advance the congregation’s mission. This primary focus creates the spiritual framework and point of integration for this role. A church board serves as the strategic ministry leadership team within the congregation and so its work is critical to the health and development of the congregation. The concept of board work as “worshipful work” might be introduced at this session. The importance of a board member’s commitment to prayer for the work of the church and the board in particular should be emphasized. Direct, control and discern might a rubric to use in organizing this discussion.
3. You should include a thorough treatment of the duties of a non-profit charity board and its members. This would cover such elements as the duty of care, prudence, integrity, and loyalty. This might also be a good context in which to discuss risk-management and conflict of interest issues. If your church board already has a description of the role and responsibilities of a church board member, a code of conduct, and a conflict of interest policy, these could be used as teaching tools. Cover the issue of a board member’s liability and the discuss the insurance coverage that the church has for protecting board members.
4. In my view a session on decision-making and conflict resolution would be very helpful. In particular the means by which the board collectively discerns the will of God requires careful thought. The board member’s spiritual intelligence will enter into the discussion. As well the responsibility of a board member to come informed to discussions and engage the issue should be stressed. The church board should be safe context in which to ask any questions. Knowing how to ask good questions is a significant board competence. The principle of trust, but question needs consideration, particularly in the dynamics of a church board where implicitly people trust one another. Also help the trainees learn how to get items for discussion on the agenda.
5. A session on board relationships is important. This includes relationships individually within the board, as well as the board’s relationship with the lead pastor and other staff. The connections between transparency and confidentially within the board should be explored. The matter of the lead pastor’s performance evaluation might be explored. As well, the diverse responsibilities of the board chair and the lead pastor should be considered at this point. You might include here some discussion about executive sessions that a board from time to time will hold.
6. Board operations might be another broad topic for a session. How does the board actually work? This session might follow the trainee’s observation of an actually board meeting. The role of the agenda (how it is developed), the importance of minutes, and the way issues are introduced and discussed should be considered. How does a board member get an item placed on the agenda. Here would be a good place to discuss the ‘consent agenda’ concept, as the fact the while reports are important, the major work of the board has to be forward-looking, not gazing backwards. Discuss the board committees and their respective mandates. I would also address the principle that a church board speaks with one voice and the minutes express that voice. Board members, once the board has spoken, have a duty to support the direction the board has decided.
7. Assessment as a board responsibility should be the focus of a session. Evaluating the work of the board collectively, as well as the contribution of individual members is always an interesting question. What practices does your church board use to evaluate its own performance? What about the evaluation of the board chair? What means can the individual board member use to assess his or her own performance as a board member? Where deficiencies are discerned, how does the board or individual board member get the education necessary to up their game? The recommendation of some good resources here would be helpful. If your church board uses a specific tool to assess its work, it would be good to review it in this session. It will generate some good questions. As well you might include something about the means the board uses to assess current programs and their effectiveness.
8. Policy making and evaluating reports could form the content of the last session. Board’s generally exercise their authority through the development of policy, its implementation and oversight. Use some recent examples of policy development that your church board has worked on to illustrate the process. If your board has a policy manual, provide copies to the trainees and review some of the essential policies. Sometime should be spent helping the trainees to read and evaluate a financial report — most will not have this skill. Discuss how the budget process works and the involvement of the board.
This curriculum is just a proposal, but I think it covers some of the essential knowledge and competence that church board members will find incredibly helpful as they might be selected for this role. What would you do differently? What would you add or delete?