252. When do You Step Down as Church Board Chair?

Sooner or later every church board chairperson has to ask — is it time for a change? You may have served one term or five terms, but at some point you have to consider whether to continue in the role. Many different reasons will prompt this self-reflection, but the fact remains this finishing point is inevitable. Of course, this is the case with all leadership roles and so in that sense the role of chairperson is not particularly special.

I am exploring two facets of this decision in this blog-article:

1. the process of discernment;

2. the implementation of your decision.

Every leader at some point has to discern whether the time has come to step aside from the leadership role. The factors which prompt such consideration will be many and varied. It could be a question of physical health, age, a sense that you have taken the group as far as you can, discernment that God has something new for you, changes in organizational dynamics, the presence of a younger capable leader, etc. But regardless of the specific factors which may be suggesting change, what process can you employ to discern whether your perceptions are valid? Human beings are notoriously subjective about such matters and so we need external input to guide our decision.

I think the first conversation you should have is with your lead pastor. Most likely you have developed a great relationship and the confidence to discuss any matter together. About six months before the end of your term you should initiate a conversation that enables you to talk about your continued leadership as board chair. Does the lead pastor consider this to be positive and beneficial? Perhaps new perspectives will be shared. The lead pastor may also be considering a change in role and indicates that it would not be helpful for the congregation if there is a leadership change in both positions at the same time. If the lead pastor values your contribution as chair, then he might be quite reluctant to agree to a change because he sees great value in your combined leadership for the advancement of the congregation’s mission. Conversely, he might agree that if a change is necessary, the timing is good and several fine candidates for the role of chair recently have become part of the board.

Another avenue to explore in your discernment is some informal conversation with one or two of the current board members whom you consider could function well in the role of chairperson. Your goal in such discussions is to discern whether they might be willing to step into this leadership role, if opportunity arose. You might find that one might in a year or two and another might not feel ready at all. This input, however, gives you some sense of timing for your decision.

If you are married, you will want to discuss this with your spouse. Her involvement in prayer and other ways will be important. She may have insight from the standpoint of your priorities as a couple that you should consider.

In terms of your own personal reflections it would be good to consider carefully what leadership role God is preparing you to fill over the next decade. What dreams is God placing in your heart that can or cannot be fulfilled if you continue as board chair? If that last several years of chairing the board have proven challenging, then perhaps God is preparing the board for a season of unprecedented leadership and advance.

The key element in this process is to consult with those whose perspectives you respect and value. Try not to make a snap decision.

The second issue is how to proceed if you discern that your time as board chair is coming to an end. Again, I think the first conversation you have about this is with your lead pastor. He needs to know and understand your reasons for doing this. He will also have insight in terms of process.

Normally, the term of a board member is two or three years and so there are some naturally seasons for change. If you can signal well in advance to the board members your decision not to continue as board chair after your current term expires, then you have opportunity to help the board prepare well for the transition. They will have time to discern together whom they would ask to fill the role and it will not be a sudden or ill-conceived decision. At some point you may also want to express to the congregation your decision and assure them that the transition is normal and good for the church.

Also, you will have to decide whether or not you want to continue as a board member, when your term as board chair concludes. Will this be helpful or distracting for the new chair?

As you consider the best course of action, the most important element is finishing well.

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