Board members…what do they contribute to building an engaged, effective church board? In one respect the very possibility of a church board functioning in an engaged, effective manner depends totally upon the cooperation and motivation of individual board members. If they are not committed to the agency’s mission and its advancement using every legitimate means, then they will have little passion for improving their team work.
First, I would affirm that church board work is a “team sport.” When a church board meets to conduct its business, it has to find a way to work together as a team, and not just a collection of individuals who happen to be in the same room at the same time, but occupied with many different agendas. If the members of the team do not pull their weight and pull together, it weakens the ability of this strategic ministry leadership team to accomplish its work well. So each board member needs to have a good understanding of how the team works, what the essential goals of the team are, and what each board member’s role and responsibility in the team might be. Some of this understanding comes from self-education and some from orientation to church board work that the board itself mandates.
Second, church board members recognize that appointment to this role says something about the congregation’s perception of their spiritual maturity. The congregation expects board members to function together according to the principles of Christian community that Jesus taught in the New Testament and model these in an exemplary way. This requires large amounts of humility, care, mutual submission, attentiveness to God’s direction, mutual respect, good conflict resolution, and unity without uniformity. There is no place for pride, personal agendas, power plays, browbeating, angry outbursts, etc. within a church board room. When these have ascendancy, it is impossible for a church board to be engaged and effective. Rather it will be dysfunctional and create dysfunction within the congregation. The fruit of the Spirit belong in the church board room.
Three, church board members enable the board team to be engaged and effective when they come to board meetings prepared, prayed up, and informed. If half of the board team has not reviewed the agenda, read the reports, prayed for God’s direction, and developed good questions, then chances are that the agenda will not be completed, poor decisions will be made, and a lot of productive time will be wasted. Remember that the time is a church board’s most precious resource. If a church board meets 11 times a year for 3 hours, this allows only 33 hours a year for the church board to do all of its business. Time wasted represents lost opportunity to advance the mission. Preparedness may mean taking initiative to ask the board leadership for additional information before the meeting, if you have questions about some of the agenda matters.
Fourth, church board members contribute to engaged, effective board work when they are dissatisfied with substandard work and presentations and express this truthfully, but kindly. Toleration of poor performance results in substandard board work. For example, if a lead pastor consistently circulates his written report the night before the meeting, then board members need to step up and call him on this. If the agenda does not get circulated at least a week in advance of the meeting, then those responsibility have to be urged to change this behaviour. Such habits waste board time and prevent the board from functioning well. If a board committee is not doing its work on time or neglecting its work, then board members need to speak to this in the board meeting. The board collectively is responsible for its internal operations. Good operational policy will solve many of these problems.
Fifth, church board members enable their board to be engaged and effective when they develop and practice the skill of asking good questions. The competence to question well is a skill that can be developed and honed. Board members should have a stock of standard questions that they apply to all new proposals. These might include: does the proposal advance our mission better than another proposal? Why? How will we know when the proposal has succeeded? What are the measures of success and who is responsible to report this analysis? What risks does this proposal generate for our agency? Is it worth it? Does this proposal really advance our ability to serve our “clientele”? Given all of the good things we could do, why should we do this now, for this cost, and for this group? Some consider the act of questioning as tantamount to distrust or lack of confidence in the proposer. However, that is not the case. Each board member has a duty of prudence to ensure that every decision is in the best interests of the congregation and the mission. This is a board member’s first loyalty.
Sixth, church board members enhance their board’s work when they require accountability. In my church board experience one of the most difficult tasks that board members have is ensuring that accountability is in place and being practiced. When the board takes a decision to implement a new program or policy, does it take care to designate who is responsible and what kind of reporting it desires to ensure accountability for the implementation? Does it include a sunset clause that requires the program to receive a new mandate from the church board for it to continue after a certain period? Does the board require such proposals to have clear outcomes that establish measures of success so that the board can at a future time evaluate whether the program is meeting its stated objectives? We are keen to approve new initiatives, but less than keen on holding program directors accountable for implementation and evaluation.
If church board members can embrace and practice the majority of these principles, then they will contribute immensely to their church board being engaged and effective.