The title sounds rather apocalyptic in tone, but is not meant to be. Rather, it is a sober recognition that the time any person has to contribute as chair to the development of a board necessarily is limited. I am not sure how long a person on average serves as a church board chair. I would estimate on the basis of informal surveys that it would be 3 – 6 years. As well, the specific term for a church board chair is probably one or two years at most, with possibility of several reappointments. However, some churches will stipulate in their bylaws that a person can only serve a limited number of terms before rotating off of the board. Whatever way you look at it, the time a church board chair has to advance the work of that board is limited. A key question then that savvy board chairs ask themselves is this — what are the key things I should seek to achieve during my term as chair in order to improve the governance capacity of this board, and what is the best way to work with the board to attain them in the time available?
Church board chairs often do not approach their role with this mindset because they consider the chair’s function to be a kind of referee or facilitator for a committee. I would suggest that the significant role of a church board in the life of a congregation requires the chair to regard this role with much greater seriousness.
1. Consider the categories.
As board chair you know that the board deals with diverse issues. Some have to do with the board’s own operations, some with congregational operations, some relate to fiduciary responsibilities, etc. It might be helpful to take each category and ask yourself this question: what do I believe the board needs to accomplish in this area in the current year, the next three years and the next five years. Now obviously you are not in control of these possible outcomes, but you do exercise considerable influence. For example, if one of the categories is board operations, then perhaps your goals might include developing an annual agenda, planning and holding an annual board retreat, ensuring that board minutes are properly filed and protected, and implementing the use of discussion and decision briefs. Or perhaps there is no official statement that defines the role of a church board member and the responsibilities that such a person fulfills, and you think it would be a valuable thing for the board to debate, formulate and then follow.
2. Consider the priorities.
As you look forward two or three years, what do you regard as the most pressing issues that the congregation faces? Are these on the church board’s radar? In your conversations with the lead pastor what do you discern his ministry priorities might be and how can you work with him and the church board to address these? For example, if you know that the congregation has plans to build new facilities or add to the current ones, is it a priority for these plans to be implemented and fulfilled in the next three years for the health and growth of the congregation? Will you make it a priority as chair to help the church board recognize and respond to this need?
3. Consider the preparation of the church board.
This really is a question of the role of a church board and the degree to which it currently has the capacity to fulfill that role well. And secondly, what proposals might you bring forward for the board members to consider that would improve their effectiveness as a ministry team? For example, do the board members have clarity as to their responsibilities? Is there a code of conduct for board members? Does the board ever evaluate its effectiveness given its responsibilities? Is there a conscious awareness within the board as to the process for making decisions and about what matters it should be making decisions? Does the board need to develop and implement an expense policy for staff? What improvements should the board consider in the annual general meeting? What are the two or three critical issues about which the board must educate itself in order to accomplish its work well within the next twelve months? Having served the church board for two terms, what improvements in the board’s capacity to govern will have occurred under your leadership? Presumably you want to leave the board in a better position than when you began.
4. Consider the mindset of the lead pastor.
Undoubtedly the lead pastor will have ideas and opinions about ways to help the church board do its work well. But here again, with considerable sensitivity, you may need to help the lead pastor develop over time a deeper appreciation for the role of the board in the life of the church. If the board desires to implement a process of annual pastoral evaluation, then you probably will need to spend considerable time with the lead pastor assuring him of the positive benefits this will produce from him, as well as making sure there are safeguards in the process to protect the pastor from inappropriate actions on the part of the board. Developing a spirit of true collaboration between the pastoral staff ministry team and the church board ministry team should be a high priority for you and for the lead pastor.
5. Consider your personal investment in these goals.
Using your time, talents, and treasure to advance the work of a church board signals an important personal investment for you as its chair. Given what you have to invest in the role to accomplish it well, you will desire before God to be a good steward of your resources, as well as the resources of the other board members and the congregation. What legacy do you want to leave once you have completed your ministry as church board chair? What will you have to learn in order to fulfill this role well? How will the mission of the church advance because you have attended to this role with diligence, creativity, and discipline?
It is my experience that when a church board chair takes this role seriously and seeks to help the board deepen its capacity for governance, that the other board members will bless you. Their experience as board members may not have been very positive or personally satisfying. Perhaps they struggle to see their work together as ministry and truly advancing the mission of the congregation. When you help the board the step up their game, you enable each board member to serve the Lord Jesus with greater passion and excellence. Generally a side benefit of a church board that is working hard to improve its capacity will be less division within the church. The congregation will sense that the church board is taking its ministry role seriously, is exercising good leadership, and shepherding the congregation with care.