16. Developing a Church Board’s Culture

Yes, your church board does have a culture — probably an implicit set of values, modes of operation, ways of decision-making, and habits of interaction. When you are involved primarily in one church board it is hard to recognize this reality. However, if you had the opportunity to be the proverbial “fly on the wall” and observed ten different church boards in operation over time, you would soon discover that each has a specific culture. The things they have to do are the same, but how they operate, the internal dynamics and interactions, the way decisions are achieved — these will all create a distinctive culture.

Culture reflects the unique giftings and personalities of the board members, that board’s history, its leadership, how the board is perceived by its members, and the values that its faith community embraces. The board chair possesses a special responsibility to help the board understand its culture and discern ways to develop a culture of trust, accountability, and excellence.

Church boards struggle with self-image and self-understanding. What is their place and role in the ministry of the church? When a church board cannot discern how its work has value or contributes to the achievement of the church’s mission and vision, then its culture will be tentative, conflicted, and lethargic. To change such a culture a board chair will emphasize the value of the board and help the board discern its significant contribution to the church’s mission. Connecting these dots is incredibly motivating for a church board.

The environment within which church boards operate often is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous — both within the church and outside the church. A board culture that is focused on the future and always considering those things that matter most to the health and vitality of the church will find itself able to navigate such turbulence with confidence in God’s plans.

Relationships matter in church boards. Developing a board culture where the participants value one another and enjoy a genuine partnership to achieve the same mission is incredibly empowering. When everyone is moving in the same direction towards the same goal, the focus is on what unites, rather than on what divides. One of the ways to build a culture of trust within a board is to give opportunity for members to share their stories and express their heart-passion for their church — their dreams of what God might do. Unity flourishes when people discern commitment to common vision.

And then there are the “rules of engagement.” Every board has them, whether they have consciously expressed them or not. For example, do you as a board chair enable robust dialogue and debate that is task-focused and not relationally-focused? Do you foster discussion about the best solutions rather than interpreting different opinions as reflections of a board member’s character and motives? Is the board committed to evaluating progress towards the vision and to do it honestly, consistently, and fairly?

A church board’s culture is a precious resource and deserves attention and careful cultivation. How the church board interacts and operates will often set the tone for the entire ministry within the church. Ignore the issue of culture and your church board will undoubtedly lead with a significant limp.

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