Dr. Lyle Schrag, director of our Northwest Centre for Leadership Development, led our sixth Best Practices for Church Boards workshop this past weekend. Seven churches participated. As I gave one of the presentations and facilitated a conversation among one of the church boards, the centrality of relationships to good Church Board operations became absolutely clear. In the world of Church Boards relationships are everything.
Almost every question asked centred on some aspect of relationship — board to pastor, board member to board member, board member to ministry staff. Every practice presented served to enable good relationships to flourish. Good policies nurture good relationships and provide pathways to use when they need to be repaired. When relationships break down, church boards become dysfunctional and board members lose the joy that their service normally generates.
Building and sustaining good relationships within a church board is a primary responsibility of the chair and should also be a significant concern for the lead pastor. Because church boards function within the body of Christ, the essential principles of Christian relations should be modelled by the members of a church board. They include being truthful, exercising courtesy, working together with humility, listening carefully, forgiving freely, and being patient. The Holy Spirit can demonstrate His active presence in the church body by His work among the board members.The standard set by the church board will be a powerful testimony and example for the rest of the congregation. But if the church board fails here, it sends a strong signal to the rest of the church that Christ’s vision for Kingdom community is unattainable. If those we entrust with our spiritual care cannot make it work, then how can others in the church community be expected to succeed?
Church board chairs can take some simple initiatives to foster good relationships within a board. First, plan with the board two or three events each year where the members and spouses get together just to build relationships. When board members build deep relationships, they are able to weather difficult passages more confidently and with greater trust. Secondly, be commending publicly about the contribution that the board members are making. The people in the church probably have little awareness of the commitment it takes for board members to serve well. Keep the church board in the prayers of the church. Publicly be thanking them for their contributions. Finally, inject some humour into the meetings — wholesome, friendly humour. It is possible actually to enjoy church board meetings and also make them occasions for celebration, worship, prayer, and serious Bible study.
I can well imagine that when the Philippian church leadership team met, they shared freely about God’s work among them, rejoiced in His gracious provision, prayed for Paul in prison, and cared for one another deeply. The hostility within their environment required them to build and sustain close relationships. Yet Paul reminds us that even the Christians in Philippi had to work hard to sustain this, striving to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel”(Phil. 1:27). Relationships are key to developing a great church board.