Church board members come to meetings with diverse levels of listening skills. These range from individuals who have never consciously considered listening to be an important skill for organizational leaders to those who have developed an excellent listening posture. Some personality types prefer talking to listening and other types would rather remain silent or passive. If church board chairs ignore this diversity as they seek to facilitate board business and achieve good decisions, then at some point this deficit will affect their leadership capacity.
Church board members have to engage various listening ‘partners’. Within the board this will of course include other board members. Then there are different constituencies that the board has to hear — staff, congregational members, denominational leaders, etc. Given the faith context of church boards, they must also have the desire and capacity to listen to God. Finally, tradition, however defined in a particular church organization, also has a voice in board decisions.
It is important for church board chairs not only personally to model effective listening, but also to help the board collectively and individually develop effective listening skills.
Several key protocols adopted by a board will enable a chairperson to facilitate good listening skills within a church board. First, it is important that board members affirm their commitment personally to respectful listening in discussions. Remember that listening is not just an aural function, but gets reflected in our body language both negatively — rolling eyes, shaking that head, looking away, muttering — and positively — nodding agreement, clapping, short verbal expressions. It is important for a chairperson to remind board members that they should exercise self-control in such expressions. Second, when one board member is speaking, others should not interrupt. Third, every board member deserves to be heard, if they are going to fulfill their board responsibilities in decision-making. Fourth, once board members have spoken to the question, they should remain silent until all other board members have had their say. Finally, a key element in effective listening will be the ability to ask good questions — ones that lead the entire board to consider all elements or implications involved in the matter under discussion.
Listening to other constituency voices will primarily occur as part of the information gathering process related to decision-making. Church board chairs should ensure that the people who will be affected by a potential decision have opportunity for input before the decision is finalized. Informed and responsible decision-making requires this. Understanding the congregational tradition will be another component in this information gathering process.
And then, when it comes to listening to God, it may be difficult for a church board chair person to discern how best to promote and sustain this posture within the board. So here is an opportunity to invite the lead pastor to share with the board some principles and practices that will help them personally and collective to attune themselves to God’s direction.