Your heart is filled with gratitude to God as you finish the phone conversation with the pastoral candidate. He said yes! Months of difficult and intensive discussions, the emotional roller-coaster of maybe’s, but eventually no’s, and the draining work of trying to keep everyone moving in the same direction are over. So what do you need to consider in the next few months now in your role as church board chair (hopefully not resigning!) as you prepare for the arrival and inauguration of the new lead pastor’s ministry? What responsibility do you have as board chair to enable the lead pastor to be successful in this new role and to help the church board work through the inevitable adjustments?
1. Developing the Relationship
Make some time to get to know one another. The new pastor will be incredibly busy developing relationships with many different people in the congregation and the community. However, do not let him overlook the importance of you both preparing a good foundation for your ministry together. Nor should you avoid this. If you need to take some initiative here, do so. He may not understand very well how your role as chair functions in the board and the church, nor what personal capacities you bring to this position. You will already have had some conversations during the candidating process and so have probably shared perspectives about the pastoral role, its authority, its relationship to the board, etc. However, it would be good to repeat some of that conversation again to make sure you have heard one another well and are working from the same page.
2. Formalizing the appointment
As board chair you carry the responsibility on behalf of the board to make sure that all of the details formalizing the appointment are being completed appropriately. Some of this may be delegated to the board’s personnel committee or perhaps the search committee is looking after these details. However, you should keep in touch with the chairs of those committees to make sure key details are in fact finished well. For example, was a formal letter of appointment prepared and given to the lead pastor? Was a copy of the position description included with that letter? Have you in hand a formal letter of acceptance from the lead pastor? Are all matters of salary and benefits completed and in writing? If there were commitments made verbally regarding housing, these commitments need to be written and formalized so that all understand what they are. As board chair you demonstrate your care for the lead pastor by attending to these matters on his behalf. It will be awkward for him to seek resolution to outstanding issues.
You will note the emphasis upon written and signed confirmations by both parties. So often arrangements are made between individuals, on good trust, but nothing is ever written down. A few months or years later when the lead pastor or the church board desires to act upon these understandings, leadership or circumstances have changed and no one remembers the exact details. Having written document prevents or last reduces the potential harm that can result from such informal arrangements. Human memory often operates in selective ways.
One aspect that you will want to make sure is understood concerns performance evaluation. Although this matter should have been discussed openly during the interviewing processes, now is the time to finalize this. It will be much harder to do six or ten months into the relationship. As well, the board should be considering its policy regarding sabbaticals for the lead pastor, i.e. how long, how often, for what purposes, etc. Some discussion about working practices and expectations would also be wise. For example, if your church has several ministry employees, then the lead pastor will be expected to supervise and evaluate them. How many Sundays in a year does the board expect the lead pastor to be preaching? What about external opportunities for the lead pastor? Will there be any limitations?
3. Forging clear guidelines for working together.
It may be that your new lead pastor will have a well-developed sense of how a church board and church ministry staff work effectively together. If so, as board chair you need to understand his perspective. If you think the board traditions in your congregation are significantly different from his perspective, you will need to help him and the church board adjust their respective understandings and find good ways to move forward harmoniously. Perhaps as well you will want to discuss how the church board will desire him to report to them.
Some lead pastors will expect to chair the board or to be its de facto chair. If that is the case, then you will need to work carefully to facilitate board discussion about this and whether the board desires to change its mode of operation. If it desires you to continue in the role as chair, then you will have the mandate to serve as board chair and the lead pastor will understand that he serves as a board member, but not as chair. Try your best not to let this question, should it arise, become a power struggle because this may harm your relationship at its very inception.
It will also be helpful to orient him to the board just like you would orient any new board member, because in fact this is what he is. Although much of this may already have been covered, take some time to make sure he has in his possession the information a new board member would have and provide for him whatever commentary will help him understand what the board has been working on. This will include copies of minutes from the last six board meetings, financial data, and key issues with which the board needs to deal. Share with him any policies that the board has developed to guide how they do their ministry together. If the board has developed an annual agenda, review it with him so he knows how to shape his work over the next few months and not be caught by surprise. If the board has adopted a model of governance that is akin to Carver’s ideas, it will be important for him to understand what this means, even though he may have discussed this with you during the candidating period. In particular make sure whatever limitations that the church board has placed upon the lead pastor role are clearly understood.
Talk through how you both will develop the board agendas collaboratively and the importance of getting necessary information to the board members in a timely fashion.
4. Help the board to provide some clear direction.
Sometimes a church board will be hesitant to offer any suggestions to the lead pastor regarding desired strategic direction. However, research suggests that some direction will be helpful so that the lead pastor has some sense of the board’s expectations for his leadership. The lead pastor will want some opportunity to influence the shape of ministry, but it will take him some time to discern exactly what that should look like. By providing some basic goals the church board desires to achieve in the initial year, it enables him to direct his energies wisely. So as board chair you might need to encourage the board to share their direction and articulate two or three key ministry outcomes they consider important for the church to achieve in the next twelve months.
Personnel transitions create new challenges and new opportunities. As board chair you have a moment in time to implement some new ways of working and establish good relations with the new lead pastor. Taking some time to think carefully about this transition will repay considerable dividends.