What does a Church Board Chair do in the dog days of August? Usually no board meetings are scheduled. Most lead pastors are on vacation, at least part of the time. Church ministries tend to be at a low ebb, unless there are special focuses such as children and youth activities. But in 30 days or so, everything in the church community starts to regain its energy, including the activities of the church board.
So what can you be doing now in mid-summer to prepare yourself as board chair for the coming months of constant activity? How can you organize some things so that your role as chair is both manageable and in fact enjoyable?
Some church board chairs might want to respond by saying — don’t remind me about what is coming! Let me enjoy a few more weeks of relative calm, these remaining few weeks free from board stuff! And in a certain sense I sympathize because the next ten months will require you as board chair to engage some difficult things. However, a little time devoted to sorting through some basic matters can serve to make your role as chair flow much more smoothly.
Let me suggest a few things you might work on now so that the work of the board in the coming months will go well. Before plunging into plans for the board it would be wise to evaluate your own spiritual preparedness for this leadership role. Romans 12 provides a good text for meditation about aspects of spiritual leadership. Further, develop a prayer schedule around the members of the board so that you can develop a discipline of praying regularly for each one and your primary ministry leaders.
One of the first things to work on is the annual schedule of board meetings. One of the characteristics of church boards in distinction from the boards of other non-profit charities is the number of board meetings that seem to be required. You know from experience that you will probably meet monthly as a board and you also probably know on what day of the week the meetings will likely occur. So, with the annual church calendar in one hand (presuming there is one) and the number of required board meetings in the other hand, put together a proposed schedule of board meetings from September to July. Indicate where you think a board retreat might fit and any other special board activities (e.g. social events with spouses). Without a doubt some elements in this proposed schedule will need to be changed when you present it at the first board meeting. However, you will have helped the board get its mind and heart around the work that needs to be done.
Second, consider what the board may have identified as the three or four primary issues or projects that the church needs the board to carry forward this coming year. You probably have already had some discussion about this with your lead pastor. You may even have a strategic plan that indicates what these focuses should be. However you discern these “big rocks”, begin to think about how to fit them into the board’s agenda over the next eleven months. Is there a priority to them that helps you establish some logical sequence? What reports have to be prepared so that the board will have the necessary information to understand the decisions they will face? How many meetings should be given to each big issue? You will also know what key items of regular business need to be dealt with at certain points in the year (e.g. budget planning, preparation for annual general meeting, lead pastor’s review, etc.). Schedule those in. So now you have the basis for an annual agenda that can guide you as chair through the year and prevent you from being surprised.
A third matter that often takes a bit of planning is the appointment of board officials and committees. While you want the board’s input on this, nothing prevents you as chair from coming with a few suggestions, particularly for those positions that you know will be difficult to fill. You may even need to have coffee with one or two of the board members to encourage them to consider one of these roles. Coming to the initial board meeting with a bit of a plan about this can save a lot of time and hassle.
Fourthly, give some thought to what you think should be the focus of board development and education in this coming year. It may be that at the last meeting of the board a bit of evaluation occurred as the board took stock of its performance over the last year. From this they may have identified one or two key areas that they would like to have some help with. Perhaps at your next meeting with the lead pastor ask for his help in planning some means to address these issues. It may be that you will recommend to the board that you study a book together or that you invite an external person to come and share insights with the board about the issue. Again, coming to the first board meeting with some suggestions about how to proceed will encourage the board to move forward with you.
And then there is the worship time that your board has at each meeting. Now is a good time to begin thinking about planning these times so that the board is being challenged spiritually through the year. Perhaps your tradition is to have every board member lead the worship time at one meeting each year. So, build that into the meeting schedule, naming the person who will be responsible for each meeting. You might also want to suggest a theme that the board might study in its worship time. If, for example, one of the ‘big rocks’ in the coming year has to do with taking the church’s evangelism to a new level of effectiveness, perhaps the worship times could be focused around biblical teaching about and examples of evangelism. Perhaps in your opening remarks to the board at their first meeting, challenge them to engage personally in evangelism in ways they have never done so before.
Two other aspects deserve attention. During the previous year of board work you undoubtedly made some mental notes about the kinds of reports the board was receiving. Perhaps some time in August would provide an opportunity to meet with one or two church volunteers or staff whose reports did not really serve the needs of the board and help them to design their reports in a more effective manner. As well, make sure you schedule one meeting with your lead pastor by the end of the first week of September. It is important for you both to touch base about the coming year of ministry.
Undoubtedly, no matter how well you seek to plan the year ahead some matters will emerge as total surprises. However, if you have most things planned well, then you will have time and energy left to deal with these emergency matters effectively.