In his blog article “Precepts for the Supremely Successful Board” (June 2015, http://www.guidestar.org/rxa/news/articles/2015/precepts-for-the-supremely-successful-board.aspx) J. Panas suggests that there are four kinds of trustees: those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; those to whom things happen; and those who don’t even know what’s happening. In his view the primary job of a non-profit board member is to make things happen.
We may need to adjust this observation when it comes to defining categories suitable for church board members, but in its essence it probably holds true. Church board members engage their role with differing levels of knowledge, intensity, intentionality, and motivation. They can be passive or active, interested or disinterested, discerning or unaware, prepared or unprepared, spiritually attuned or spiritually distant, motivated or unmotivated — other contrasts could be suggested. The bottomline is this — as a church board chair you cannot always be sure what kind of board members are showing up at any particular meeting or engaging specific items on the board agenda.
I think as chair I would want board members who belong in the first category — those who make things happen. In other words the work of a church board advances most effectively when its members are motivated to and know how to make things happen. They want the mission to advance and bend every collaborative effort to achieve that goal.
We must admit, however, that it is hard for individual board members to be at the top of their game 100% of the time. Not every item on a board’s agenda excites every board member to the same degree and in the same way. Further external factors or relational issues can influence how a board person engages the agenda in any particular meeting. And when it comes to spiritual discernment, we all know that our responsiveness to the Holy Spirit can vary significantly.
I think this makes the first 30 minutes of any church board meeting a critical time, if a board chair is going to help all board members get focused and attuned to the work expressed in the agenda. Further it suggestions that some review of a board’s operations at the end of each meeting has value, as board members have a brief opportunity to reflect on their ability together and individually to advance the agency’s mission. Here again the construction of a board agenda supports the chair’s ability to nurture and encourage robust board member engagement.
- The First Thirty Minutes:
- Most church boards meet on a monthly or bi-monthly basis and this means that a considerable period of time passes between board meetings. If a member misses a board meeting, this only increases the potential “distancing” from board work. During these “intermissions” board members get occupied with many other important matters quite unrelated to board matters. A week before the meeting they get an agenda, some additional materials to read and review, and perhaps a general note from the chair about the meeting. Occasionally the CEO/Lead Pastor may send some informational news to board members between meetings.
- When board members gather for their meeting, it is important to give time for them to centre themselves on their role and responsibility as expressed in the agenda. For church boards this can be accomplished through an initial time of prayer, testimony, reflection on a passage of Scripture, or some combination of these activities. These initial moments extend an invitation to the board members to orient their minds and hearts to the mission of the agency and the matters for discussion in the agenda.
- Taking time as chair to arrange this initial part of the meeting with care and intention can elevate board members’ focus on task.
2. The Last Ten Minutes:
As the meeting comes to a close, the minds of board members already are shifting to the next things on their personal agendas. The atmosphere of collaboration and excitement about the work done soon dissipates as they disperse. One way to fix in their minds a sense of satisfaction at the good decisions and actions taken is to provide a short window in the agenda for reflection on the meeting. How did the board members’ work at this meeting advance the mission? What did they appreciate about the way the meeting was led? What might be improved? What should they be in prayer for in the weeks ahead?
Generally, eliminating the causes of board member frustration, holding board members to high standards of involvement, and celebrating gains made because of board actions can all assist a board chair’s capacity to move board members to a more productive engagement. As chair person you give attention to these matters because you know that if the board as a whole is operating effectively, this probably contributes more to the general health and growth of the congregation than any other factor.