250. Church Boards — Who Cares?

For the most part church boards operate behind the scenes in congregational life. Church members have very little idea about the nature of the board’s work or responsibility or what happens in its meetings. Only when things are in crisis does the role of the church board become more public and present. My impression is that most pastors have a kind of take or leave it attitude when it comes to church boards. When church boards operate well, pastoral leaders consider that some positive benefit accrues to the congregation. However, when church boards have poor or mediocre track records, then the tendency is to “grin and bear” their interaction. Even in the case of denominational leaders it is tough to get them to put resources behind the training and development of church boards. They are busy planting churches, running leadership seminars, raising funds, and putting out fires — who has time for church board development! Some Christian leaders believe we should dispense with church boards altogether and operate with a “more organic” leadership style or “apostolic” model of leadership.

So where can we find leaders within the church who champion the role of church boards? Who steps up to the plate and says the development of good church boards needs to be a priority, if we are to have healthy church communities? Who is convinced that good church order is one of the key foundations for dynamic Christian community and that church boards are an essential part of such order?

For the past five years I have sought to promote the premise that healthy church boards usually generate healthy churches and that the one who chairs such boards has a pivotal role in nurturing such health. This is blog article #250 devoted to the development of good chairpersons and effective church boards. I think the website serves to raise the profile of the chairperson’s role and its importance within the life of the local congregation. However, I wonder who is listening.

From where I sit denominational leaders for the most part pour their energies into pastoral leaders. I understand the reasons for this priority. However, I would suggest that without complementary attention paid to the development of effective church board leadership, they are only attending to one segment of church leadership, i.e. the professional staff. And yet the role of the board chairperson certainly has immense influence and generally carries considerable weight in sustaining church health. I would encourage these leaders to give more attention to the training and development of effective church board chairs and board members. Such training will pay dividends in the future.

Within congregations who is explaining and championing the role of the church board? We often assume that people within a congregation somehow will absorb enough information to understand what the church does and how it serves to nurture the life of the congregation. However, in my observation this rarely happens. People’s perceptions are based upon anecdotal information, prior experience (not all of which will be good), and things they might have read or heard preached about “elders” and “deacons.” Out of these miscellaneous sources people form their ideas and usually they are shot through with misconceptions.

When people apply to become members in your congregation, is there some opportunity for a member of the church board to meet with them and explain the significance and role of the church board? If your church offers occasionally a new members’ seminar or workshop, is the chairperson of the board involved so that he/she can articulate the purpose of the church board and its responsibility for advancing the mission of the congregation? During the Annual General Meeting when the board is reporting, is there any time given to providing in brief an outline of the board’s responsibility and how it has sought to fulfill those responsibilities effectively in the past year? These and other means can be used to educate and inform people in the congregation about the board’s work.

We need more voices raised to support the training and development of church board leadership and promotion of the good work they do.

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