In blog article #280 I introduced the issue of church board communications. I proposed that good communication internal to the board, internal between the board and the staff and congregation, and external between the board and individuals and groups outside of the congregation creates major challenges for the average church board. In that blog article I discussed communications internal to the board and internal to the board, congregation and staff.
In this blog-article we will consider some of the issues that affect and shape church board communication with external agencies, as well as church board communication with God, i.e. prayer and listening.
3. Church Board Communication with People and Organizations External to the Congregation. Church board leaders and members get so focused on internal board operations and congregational matters that they rarely consider the matter of communication with external bodies. Usually they are prompted to do so when a particularly critical issue emerges (e.g. some incident that arouses media attention) or when an external agency begins to probe congregational operations (e.g. Canadian Revenue Agency tax audits). Trying to sort of policy and procedure when you are in the midst of such matters can be frustrating, if not overwhelming. So it is good to give some thought to board management of communication in such cases.
When dealing with external agencies, it is important to consider the nature and authority of that agency. For example, if it is a denominational matter, probably the lead pastor is the one best positioned to interact and oversee communications, while reporting to the board as appropriate. However, in the case of legal or governmental matters, the board chair may be the best choice because the person in that position speaks for the board, the legal trustees for the congregation. When it comes to media matters, i.e. newspaper reporters, it is wise to name one person who can communicate consistently. It is a fairly simple matter to draft a list of external agencies with which the congregation may have dealings and then the board can designate who will be spokesperson who handles that communication. This in effect becomes a board operational policy.
If the board anticipates that an important issue is about to emerge that will require careful communication with external agencies, then it might be wise to bring in someone who can provide the board with training in dealing with the media. An hour’s preparation can save a lot of grief. It is money well-invested.
The board might also mandate periodic, direct communication with external agencies. For example, perhaps once every two years the board invites a key denominational leader to a board meeting to hear firsthand what is happening within the denominational family, discern emerging issues, and also share with the denominational leader the congregation’s vision and possible concerns. In this case the board is managing the external communications.
Another case might involve the accounting firm that does the annual audit or financial review. It would be wise of the board to ask that firm to meet with the board to review the audit or financial review directly. It enables the board members to ask their questions directly. This might be organized as an in camera session.
Managing communications with the media has become a critical concern for most organizations. This would include both formal (newpapers, TV) and informal media (twitter, facebook, utube). We are learning that organizations cannot control who, what or when something will be shared on the informal media and create difficulties. Perhaps the lead pastor makes a comment in a sermon and the sermon is being shared through utube with interested parties. One of these parties is offended by the comment and decides to put the video clip on utube. How will the church board respond to the resulting response? And then there is the whole area of computer security. What is your board doing to ensure that congregational records are being secured from hackers?
Intrust has posted a video on their website entitled “Social Media and Institutional Conflict.” This is a presentation by Jay Blossom to the “Presidential Leadership Intensive of the Association of Theological Schools.” He has several good suggestions regarding managing media communications.
4. Church Board Communication with God. I was not sure whether I should include this subject within the general question of church board communications. However, upon reflection it seemed to me that communication with God has to be a key concern with a leadership group who claim to be representing God and carrying forward his mission. Granted that God is well aware of our situations and does not need us to inform him about them, nonetheless he encourages us to use prayer and reflective listening as means of communicating with him.
While we would regard prayer as a primary medium of communication with God, we should also include direction by the Spirit through reflection on God’s Word, as well as discernment received by other means (i.e. discussions with godly people). Such communication will be a two-way street in that we both listen to God, as well as speak with him. I will not get into the theology that lies behind these communication processes. Suffice it to say that Paul assures us that God’s Spirit resides within us and assists us in our communication with God (Romans 8).
When it comes to board communications with God, one of the questions regards the time we devote to such communication within board agendas. Board leaders should be scheduling time to pray about serious matters or proposing unscheduled prayer time when discussions seem to be at an impasse and direction is required. After all we come together in church board meetings seeking God’s wisdom and trusting that our decisions will reflect his values and his will. If this is our understanding, then a commitment to listening to God must form a significant part of board communication. In fact it becomes an integral part of a church board’s decision-making process.