So what does a chair of a board do? Seems like a simple question. Of course, through the last 76 articles I have been talking about this role and thinking with you about its many different aspects. But when you strip it down to its fundamentals, what is a board chair supposed to do?
But we have to refine the question further because we are interested particularly in the role of a church board chair. The location of a board within the life of a congregation does give s specific shape to the chair’s role.
And then, once we have clarity about what a church board chair does, then we can think about the qualifications a person needs to serve in such a capacity.
1. Oversees the organization and operations of a church board. This includes the orientation of new board members, overseeing board evaluation(s), pushing for improvement in board operations, establishing agendas, internal board communication, conflict resolution within the board, celebrating completion of board members’ terms, board education initiatives, evaluation of the lead pastor, establishment and operation of board committees, board discipline, etc. In short the chair facilitates the ability of the board to achieve its goals and fulfill all of its responsibilities. Within the context of the church board this oversight includes nurturing the spiritual health of the board and attending to its role as a ministry team in the congregation.
2. Leads the church board meetings. About four weeks before a board meeting the chair begins working with the lead pastor to develop the agenda for that meeting. Successful meetings occur because of the work that is done by the chair prior to the meeting, as well as good facilitation within that meeting. The convenes the meeting, ensures there is a quorum, welcomes the members, organizes the initial worship session, ensures that the board members have all necessary information, keeps the meeting in good order and on time, ensures that decisions are recorded accurately, informs the members of upcoming meetings and events related to the board, and encourages the board members in their ministry. Along the way he or she involves every member in discussions and chairs in a way that enables each member’s voice to be heard. When discussions become overly exuberant, the chair has to exercise wisdom and tact to maintain order.
3. Represents and advocates for the congregation in the larger community. The chair of the church board has an official role to represent the church as agency within the civic community. Of course, this responsibility is often shared with the lead pastor. However, the chair is one of the legal representatives of the agency and so in legal contexts the chair is the one who represents the congregation. But there is a larger role of advocacy in the civic community that a chair can provide, whether this relates to social issues, religious perspective, business relations, or interaction with political representatives. Building and sustaining good relationships is an important part of developing the reputation of the church in the community. Above the chair advocates for the mission of the congregation and seeks to keep this at the very heart of all board operations.
4. Communicates the board’s perspective to the lead pastor and the congregation. It is normally the case that the lead pastor is part of the board, either as a formal voting member or ex officio. So normally he is fully aware of the decisions made by the board because he is participating in them. However, when it comes to employment issues (i.e. salary, evaluation, study leave, etc.), the lead pastor is in a conflict of interest and cannot participate in the board’s deliberations about those matters. So decisions taken in such situations will be communicated to the lead pastor by the board chair. Official correspondence from the board may also need to have the chair’s signature on behalf of the board. In the annual general meeting normally the board chair presents the board’s report and any special recommendations that the board is presenting to the congregation for their consideration. Usually communications will be of a formal nature because the chair must be careful to present the specific voice of the board. However, at times informal conversations will be necessary and helpful to keep board operations well-oiled.
5. Ensure that the board is operating legally and ethically. In order to preserve the congregation’s reputation and witness in the community and strengthen trust with the congregation, the chair keeps the board alive to its legal and ethical responsibilities. In a certain sense this is good risk management, because it prevents issues of liability from occurring. The chair should ensure on behalf of the board that appropriate officers and directors liability insurance is purchased and kept current. Finances should be audited or at least reviewed annually in order to prevent misappropriation of funds. Trust is good, but it flourishes when bolstered by appropriate testing. Employees should be treated fairly both in legal and ethical terms.
How a chair manages these responsibilities will very depending upon whether he or she is leading a working board, a management board or a policy board. As well, the stature and position of the lead pastor may mean that some of these responsibilities are handled under his jurisdiction or in close collaboration with him. As well, a good board secretary can help the chair manage these responsibilities.
From the standpoint of a church board chair these responsibilities are framed by one’s commitment to Jesus and the expectation that the Holy Spirit will guide and empower such leadership.