Without a doubt one of the great challenges in leading church boards is the reality of constant change of board members. As I have commented in earlier blog articles, I suspect that in most congregations 50 – 60% of the board changes every five years. Board leadership changes may even be more frequent. Given that the players change frequently, how do you as a board chair develop and sustain church board chemistry? Or perhaps a more fundamental question might be why is church board chemistry important and what does it look like?
Let’s begin by trying to define the expression “board chemistry.” When church board members come together for meetings you have five to ten individuals who have limited relationships mandated to form a unified group to advance the congregation’s mission. However, there is no guarantee that this cluster of individuals will of its own accord and without any guidance suddenly or automatically develop a coherence and focus which enable them to exercise effective strategic leadership. I think church board chemistry describes the relational and strategic unity that develops when people have commitment to and focus upon a key purpose and are energized and exited about seeing that purpose accomplished. They set aside personal agendas to seek the common good, respecting one another’s viewpoints and praying together for God’s will to be done.
Board chairs can be instrumental in fostering good board chemistry. For example, within the board agendas, perhaps as part of the initial worship time, you can invite each board member through the year to share some key aspects about their spiritual journey. When board members know and understand each other, usually this encourages greater chemistry. This is also why it is important to have periodic social events in which board members can interact in other ways and get to know one another more significantly. When people know each other in their humanity, empathy, encouragement, and unity often emerge in significant ways.
I think that times of crisis present opportunities for developing board chemistry. When people endure deep struggle and challenges together and have to learn to depend upon one another, important bonds develop. Seeing God work through the board’s leadership can invigorate board members and enable them to see the importance of pulling together, because the mission is the important thing. Conversely, when a board chair merely treats the role as a committee chair, board members begin to wonder what their role as a board truly is.
In the recent blog articles discussing dissent and consensus I considered various motives among board members that can disrupt board chemistry. Wise board chairs pay particular attention to handling dissent because they realize it can quickly act in corrosive ways on the existing board chemistry.
Lead pastors contribute significantly to developing and sustaining good board chemistry. When board members sense that a lead pastor does not respect the board or does not think he is accountable to them, it can destroy board chemistry. Board members feel unappreciated and struggle in their relationship with the lead pastor. This affects their belief that their work as a board can and does make a difference. Any sense that the board is the congregation’s strategic ministry leadership team quickly dissipates.
In terms of board chemistry the board chair is like the cox of an eight member rowing team. He or she manages the tempo, keeps the oarsmen in harmony, and ensures that they are taking the most efficient direction to reach the goal. As the team “wins,” the chemistry among them grows and develops. Board chairs fill a similar function. Board members’ confidence in the board chair is enhanced as they see progress and spiritual health evidenced in the congregation. They believe that they can and will make a difference for God and his Kingdom mission.