It is true that a decade ago you would find little discussion about the role of a church board chair. However, in recent years awareness of the significant contribution that a church board and its leadership makes to the growth and health of local churches has developed considerably. What factors have led to this new assessment? I would suggest that following factors are probably primary:
1. The increased focus on local churches as ministry agencies who have a mission, values, vision and strategic plans requires, as a corollary, the definition of a leadership group entrusted with their fulfillment. As local churches become more intentional about these issues, then the function of the church board and its leadership also moves into the limelight.
2. The size and complexity of local churches as ministry entities continues to increase. While small churches remain dominant in terms of sheer numbers, the percentage of evangelical Christians attending larger churches has risen markedly. Governance processes necessary to lead such organizations concurrently must also change and evolve. The role and work of church boards shifts as churches grow in size. The chair of such a board must also possess increased competence if the board is to add the value to the church that is required to advance the mission.
3. Expectations among the members that the ministries of the church will function with excellence requires the board to take its work more seriously. If it does not pay attention to the essentials necessary for the church to work together in unity and make progress towards fulfilling its mission, soon it will hear about it from disgruntled, frustrated and disappointed believers.
4. The kinds of ministries that churches desire to implement are becoming more complex and require more deliberate planning, implementation and accountability. Otherwise the risks to the congregation, including spiritual and legal risks, become too great. It is often the church board which is expected to provide the prudent leadership required to ensure such ministry projects are successfull.
5. And then the expectations in society in general about the operations of non-profit charities have risen significantly. Financial accountability, employee relations, facility management (e.g. rentals), safety and protection of individuals in the care of a church — all of these factors and more place considerable responsibility upon a congregation and it usually looks to the church board to oversee these matters.
6. The religious diversity (perhaps chaos might be a more appropriate descriptor) characterizing our society requires church leadership to guide the congregation with greater wisdom and sophistication. The church board has responsibility in the midst of such confusion to oversee the spiritual health of the congregation and thus needs to exercise appropriate care for the spiritual well being of the members.
7. Perhaps as well boards members are not content to sit through frustrating meetings which are poorly organized and led. Nor are such members pleased to learn about legal liability that may accrue if they do not act with due diligence. Board members want to make a difference and there are too many other opportunities for interesting ministry in the Kingdom if their work as a board member is banal and boring.
As the role of the church board has evolved in response to these and other factors, so too have the responsibilities of the board chair. These developments are not bad. Rather, they present new opportunities for those willing to learn, commit, and engage. When boards decide to up their game, the church benefits and the Gospel shines more brightly through the faith community.