In some of my recent reading about governance I have come across the claim that boards can “govern their institutions into the future.” While I have not seen this concept applied directly to a local church board, I think it is relevant. It speaks to intentionality. Church boards, if they understand their role and their context well, can lead their churches successfully into a future even though it may be filled with unpredictability and immense change.
What does it take for a church board to accomplish such a challenging task?
1. Governing with an attitude of hope and confidence in God’s ability to live up to his promises. A church board has to believe that God has more for the church to be and do than it currently is doing or has done. God wants his church to be healthy, to make a Kingdom impact, and to display his splendour. Governance that makes a difference works and makes decisions with settled confidence in God’s power and God’s interest and a sense of urgency that God wants to do more through their local church. If the board loses hope for what God can do, then it will never guide the church into a healthy future.
2. Governing with clarity about what is essential and with great adaptability. Churches and their boards exist in a climate of chaotic change. Only by identifying what is essential, i.e. having a clear mission, vision and values, and concentrating intently on its achievement will a board guide a church into the future successfully. If the board understands and is committed to these essentials, then it can lead the church to embrace many adaptations as new situations arise, because the church has confidence in the board’s loyalty to its core purpose.
3. Governing with commitment to communicate with integrity and openness. Leadership flourishes when it embraces its role as ‘sense-maker’. The board collectively uses its voice to help the congregation understand what is happening and why the decisions being made are good decisions, with the best potential to lead the church into a healthy future. This requires constant, open communication — which implies a two-way conversation, defined by good speaking and good listening. Good information nurtures trust and reflects integrity.
4. Governing with deep understanding about constituencies. A church board that governs into the future works hard to develop and maintain good relations with and full awareness of the needs emerging within its diverse constituencies. The board members must exercise diligence to hear and understand the verbal and non-verbal messages that the church members are expressing. Who’s attending and who’s not and why? Where are the friction points and are they being addressed? What encouragements are being given that members are serving with joy? And then there are the external constituencies in the larger community. The board must keep aware of what needs they are expressing and how the church might respond to those needs. God’s Spirit speaks through multiple avenues. A church board’s educational agenda has to include learning about constituencies.
5. Governing with consistent bent to the future, not the past. It is great to celebrate what God has done, but the past will not bring the future. The past probably will not provide sufficient guidance for the future. Embracing some risk, being open to what the Spirit might be saying, keeping abreast of trends and community changes — the church board will constantly be educating itself as to the changing environment and how it can lead into these changes with confidence and commitment to the mission.
Church boards cannot predetermine the shape their church will have in twenty years, but church boards can grasp today their responsibility to work with persistent diligence, hope and courage to guide their churches well into that future.