261. The Human Factor in Board Leadership

Within the world of church leadership we keep telling ourselves that the “church” is not facilities, finances and programs, but people. We believe this because of Jesus’ emphasis that he came to re-form the people of God. Paul takes up this perspective and uses metaphors such as “body” and “members of the body” to describe this new chapter God has initiated in the Missio Dei. “Church” should be about community, not commodities. Church boards, however, often find much of their time taken up with the commodities necessary for healthy congregational life. And when we seek to measure church health we quickly look to tangible assets as indicators.

We all know, however, that organizations only come to life through people. Church boards can devote much time to writing missions and developing visions, developing good policies, giving oversight to finances and facilities, and pursuing new programs, but if they neglect the human factor in church health, then they cannot achieve their mission. Churches require leaders who bring the right set of skills, experience, personal dynamism, and commitment to the mission. One might claim from the human standpoint that the church’s ability to achieve its mission stands and falls upon the quality and capacity of its leadership. We also believe that God’s Spirit can enable individuals to practice effective leadership in ways they did not previously experience.

In previous blogs I have argued that the two key leaders within a local church are the board chair and the lead pastor. I have not changed my view on this. If it is true, then the human factor of leadership in a local church is bound up with the individuals who fill these two positions. If they cannot effectively mobilize their leadership in a collaborative manner, then it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible to harness the potential of the congregation for Kingdom life and ministry.

What should characterize the leadership efforts of the lead pastor and board chair?

  • Concentration on what is best for the fulfilment of the congregation’s mission and intentional action that supports this.
  • Leading with passion for the congregation and its mission and encouraging others to do the same.
  • Acceptance of the burden of leadership, i.e. that they are leaders who carry primary responsibility to operationalize the mission, all the while leading with dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
  • Commitment to shared governance that includes diverse voices in decision-making and models humility.
  • Capacity to develop coherence, unity and alignment within congregational life and processes so that strategic outcomes are achieved.
  • Demonstrated competence in leadership, governance and management because these leaders continually develop their understanding of these significant areas of congregational life.

To accomplish these strategically important outcomes and tasks requires four things. First, there must be a commitment to the mission of God as it is expressed in your local church’s vision . In one sense the mission is everything, because this is why God has called you to serve in leadership roles and this is why this congregation exists. Effective spiritual leaders are able to accommodate personality differences and be flexible in terms of process and plans, but  not values, so long as the mission is being advanced.

Second, the individuals in these two roles must understand and respect their different functions in the body, i.e. appreciate and acknowledge the scope of their specific responsibilities and authority. This means that board chairs do not micro-manage the lead pastor and the lead pastor does not micro-govern the board chair.

Third, both must have a mature awareness of how to manage the self in the context of assigned roles. By this I mean that the board chair has to be able to take all of his or her experience, giftedness, skill, and personality and apply it effectively in the fulfillment of the chair’s responsibilities. The lead pastor must do the same. So both have to know how to operationalize their specific “human factors” in their roles in ways that maximize their individual strengths, but also promote good collaboration so that the mission is advanced.

Fourth, they must recognize that the Spirit gives wisdom and direction to various people within the congregation. Listening to and discerning the Spirit’s direction within their conversations becomes a vital part of their combined leadership. A partnership has to emerge among the lead pastor, the board chair and the Holy Spirit that works toward shared purpose.  This is part of their calling as leaders in these important roles.

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