171. What Makes a Great Church Board Chair?

Chances are that since you began serving as a board member, you have experienced the leadership of several board chairs. What made those chairpersons effective as board leaders? If their leadership was less satisfactory, why was that the case?

If it is true that dynamic churches have effective boards, then I think it is also true that effective boards have great chairpersons. Blessed is that church and lead pastor whose church board is led by a great chairperson. I say this not to exaggerate the position of chair, but rather to acknowledge the critical contribution that a good church board chair makes to the health of the congregation.

I would suggest five competencies and attitudes enable a person to serve as church board chair with greatness. You might identify others, but in my perspective these four have to be present if greatness is to develop.

1. Integrity. Consistent commitment to honesty, truth, God’s will, and constitutional mandates. Great chairpersons demonstrate allegiance to doing things right all the time. They are not swayed by personal interest nor do they succumb to pressure from interest groups whether internal or external to the congregation. They do not manipulate or engage in secret transactions. They serve for the interests of the congregation and its mission.

2. Disciplined attention to the big picture and to details. The central feature of this competence is the advancement of the mission. To do this chairpersons need to be “future-focused” and able to discern and manage risk. Great chairs keep track of progress towards key goals set by the board and help the board monitor implementation. They know the annual agenda and ensure that the board deals with its business on time and properly.

3. Spiritually intelligent. In the context of congregational life all board work is spiritual work. Great chairs understand this. They bring to their leadership a spiritual maturity and awareness that informs the board agendas. Their advice is faith-filled and discerning of the Spirit’s direction. When the board gets stuck in processing a decision, they know when to break for prayer or to ask the kind of question that will break the log-jam.

4. Relationally wise. Effective boards usually reflect good working relationships among the board members. Great chairs pay attention to building good relationships among board members because they know that trust and respect grow when relationships are good. Their leadership in the board expresses trust in and respect for board members, recognizing their contributions. When relational fractures begin to occur, such chairpersons quietly but effectively take action to encourage their repair and restoration.

5. Understands governance and authority within the congregational context. Some board members are afraid of terms like “governance” and “authority.” Great board chairs know that congregations entrust church boards with sufficient authority to govern well on their behalf. They guard that trust fiercely and dare to exercise appropriate governance because the health of the congregation depends upon it.  At the same time they respect the role of staff is to manage in accord with policy and direction set by the church board. They lead their boards to provide the staff with the delegated authority to manage responsibly and with appropriate accountability.

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