229. The “Imperfect” Church Board Chairperson.

Church board chairpersons are imperfect — there is no denying this reality. Every church board has a chairperson — but only one. The effectiveness of a church board’s operations depends significantly upon the commitment and competence of that chairperson. Church boards appoint a new chairperson on averageevery two to five years. Herein lies the challenge for church boards and their chairpersons — imperfection and change. So much hangs upon selecting a good chairperson because of this role’s singular influence and responsibilities. In this blog article I offer some guidance for church board chairpersons to lead well in spite of their limitations, believing God has called them to this role.

If perfection was a necessary qualification to serve as a church board chairperson, no person could be found to fill the role. So the key question is how to lead a church board in a way that prevents such imperfections from inhibiting or harming board operations. I am proposing some strategies and perspectives that enable a church board chairperson to lead well. You will be able to add other strategies from your personal experience in this role.

1. Pray.  While an obvious strategy to enable good church board leadership, prayer often receives only cursory attention. We acknowledge it and quickly move on to the more ‘tangible’ actions we believe will be effective. When we do this, however, we cut ourselves off from our most helpful resource, namely the wisdom and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. So do not neglect to pray about your role as chairperson, seeking God’s help continuously in your leadership. Do not be bashful to ask others to pray for you.

2. Prepare and Plan. A large part of preparing to serve as a board chairperson involves educating yourself regarding this role. I began this website with the goal of providing some resources that would help people lead effectively in this role. However, many other great resources can be accessed. The “Church Board Chair Manual” that is available on this website ($10 charge) includes bibliography of such resources. Preparation also includes discerning some mentors who can support and assist with encouragement and counsel. When it comes to planning, board leaders have to take charge of the board’s annual schedule. You have to be anticipating what is coming so that you can help the board accomplish its work in a timely way. Procrastination in this aspect of your leadership will be very damaging to board effectiveness. Good planning will also require consultation with the lead pastor on a regular basis. The more you can discern the perspective of the congregation’s key leader, the better you will be able to prepare yourself and plan well the board’s work.

3. Pro-active. Some board chairs lead in a passive or reactive manner. Anticipation is not part of their mindset. However, effective board chairpersons know that serving the board requires a constant eye on the future. This enables a chairperson to lead proactively and not be caught by surprise very often. Chairpersons demonstrate proactivity when they constantly look out for risks, when performance evaluations surface impending problems, when financial reviews or audit reports warn of ill-advised financial practices, when attendance decreases consistently over time. Proactivity requires continual sense-making and truth-telling.

4. Practical. Competent chairpersons know the capacity of their boards. While they seek to enhance and build this capacity, they realize that church boards need to learn how to walk before they can run. This means that an effective chairperson ensures that basic board operations are working well (e.g. good minute-taking and preservation; an effective decision-making process; development of workable agendas; preparation and implementation of necessary policies, etc.). Board meetings are scheduled well in advance and materials circulated in a timely manner. They heed common sense when enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

5. Positive. Despite some difficult issues and hard decisions, effective board chairs maintain a positive attitude. They are passionate about the congregation’s mission, they praise God for his provision, and they encourage the board and lead pastor in their work. They have an expectancy that God is present and doing his work through his people. This perspective leads them to celebrate the wins. And when mistakes are made, they transform them into learning opportunities.

6. Patient.  In biblical contexts patience is linked with endurance. Imperfect chairpersons exercise patience, i.e. forbearance, with themselves as well as with the collective board. They realize that congregational life exudes imperfection in many different ways and mature Christian leaders can only fulfilling their calling if they are patient — forbearing and  enduring, in the light of this reality. This requires considerable self-control, love, and belief that God works through our human imperfections to accomplish his plans.

7. Productive. It is possible to think that imperfect leaders cannot accomplish much. However, if this were the case, then little would be achieved in human history given the totality of human imperfection. Of course, we know this is not true. In the same way imperfect board chairs can be tremendously productive. They major on their leadership strengths, rather than their human weaknesses. Despite personal and collective setbacks, they keep focused on advancing the mission and work energetically towards its fulfillment. They insist upon measuring progress, holding people accountable, and evaluating the implementation of new projects.

8. Perceptive. Effective church board chairs learn to recognize their own myopia, as well as the symptoms of groupthink. They have mentors with whom they test ideas. They read widely in subjects related to the church, boards, and leadership, seeking to learn and develop better understanding and control personal bias, favouritism, and lobbying for pet projects.

9. Peace-makers. Board work gets messy and relationships often become frayed. Truth-telling has risks. Humility and good listening are not always present around the board table. Chairpersons sometimes are the culprits. So effective chairpersons recognize their own ‘hot-buttons’ and exercise self-control and anger management. In the midst of fierce conversations a good chairperson can insert humour to relieve tension, call for a short break, or pause for a time of prayer. Sustaining and strengthening the board’s fabric of relationships is critical to good governance. Church board chairs learn how to peace-makers. Sometimes this requires them to own up to their own failures and inappropriate words or behaviours.

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