Referee? Dictator? Coordinator? Coach? Parent? The role of the chairperson in a church board gets stereotyped in many unfortunate and misleading ways. Perceptions of this role will significantly affect how people act when appointed and how individuals respond to a person in this role. As Jesus framed it, every role in his kingdom is a serving role — accepted and carried out for the good of others. Within this frame of reference, then, the role of the chairperson within a church board is fundamentally to serve the members of that board so that they can fulfill well their God-given responsibilities. A person accepts such a role as an expression of his or her calling by God as a believer and will rely upon the empowerment of God’s Spirit to do it with excellence. It is a spiritual ministry first and foremost.
A chairperson has many responsibilities, but many of these fit within several broad categories:
1. Showing by example that church board work occurs in sacred space. A church board’s primary goal is to ensure that the mission and vision of the church are carried forward in full conformity with its values. The board in this sense is critical to the health of the faith community and all its work then has to be considered as spiritual work. The chairperson is the key person who works alongside of the lead pastor to keep this spiritual focus always before the board. His or her own example will be a critical means by which to emphasize this spritual centredness. The structure of the meetings has particular importance in this regard, creating space for times for prayer and worship, reflection upon God’s word, sharing how God’s Spirit is shaping people’s thoughts, and celebrating how God is at work.
2. Organizing the work of the board. Often people think the chairperson’s role is totally administrative — maintaining the operations of the board. While this is important, it does not tell the whole story. It is the chairperson that keeps looking a year or two ahead and asking the question: what does the board need to be considering today in order for the church to be healthy tomorrow? It is this filter that guides the chair in developing the annual agenda and the agenda for a specific meeting. Here is where the relationship between the chairperson and the lead pastor assumes critical importance. Both must be on the same page in these matters. As well, the chairperson has to ensure that the board is receiving the information it requires to make good decisions.
3. Mentoring the board — collectively and individually. The chairperson cannot assume that the board knows what its work is. The education of the board — collectively and individually — is becoming more significant as the responsibilities the board carries increase in our culture. The chairperson plays a key role in guiding the board in its development. This requires the chair to engage in self-education about the chair’s role, the board’s role, developments in the church, etc. Here again dialogue with the lead pastor will be critical. Sometimes this will require the chairperson to work specifically with one board member who is struggling and needing particular assistance. Knowing how to provide this coaching will be important for nurturing good relations within the board.
4. Evaluating the board’s work. How does the board know when it has accomplished its work well? The chairperson leads the board in continual evaluation of its work. If a board member does not seem to be contributing as well as might be expected, the chair is responsible to come alongside and seek to assist. It is the chairperson who ensures that all board members have opportunity to contribute and in fact are taking advantage of these opportunities regularly. Every few months the chair should be asking the board whether their work is advancing the mission of the church and contributing to its health. Because the work of the board is so critical to the spiritual health of the congregation, such evaluation is essential.
5. Ensuring collaboration with the Lead Pastor. The relationship between the lead pastor and chairperson constitutes perhaps the most important linkage in the congregation. If this relationship is functioning in a healthy, respectful, postive manner, then there is wonderful opportunity for the church to develop. However, if this relationship becomes strained or dysfunctional, then the church is in trouble. These two people have to regard this relationship as a spiritual priority and bend every effort to nurture and cultivate it, ensuring good collaboration occurs. It is a shared responsibility.
Good chairing is not an accident. It occurs through much prayer, dedicated work, and loving service.