22. Holding a Church Board Accountable — A Challenging Task for Any Chair

Human beings tend to resist accountability, both individually and corporately. Our sense of our rights or emotional engagement in discussion often trumps attempts to urge self-control or group-control. In the rough and tumble of debate hasty words or actions can betray our commitments to the mission and values. A church board entrusts to its chair the responsibility to hold it accountable to exemplify Christian virtue and good process.

But how does a church board chair do this — and still conserve and nurture the relational coherence of the board? I would suggest several key strategies:

1. Board covenant — how it chooses to play the game. The board is the only group that can set the rules that govern its internal processes. Yet few church boards consciously articulate the key principles that guide their operations. Unspoken tradition, personal assumptions, or adhoc process tends to set direction. One of the essential things a church board chair should lead the board to do is create a covenant — a statement developed by the board that defines how the board will operate. It does not need to be long or complex. It should include the basic expectations that the board has for a board member’s participation in board business, the primary means by which decisions are made, and how the board will evaluate its performance. With this in hand, the chair has a framework defined by the board. It can be referenced when the chair needs to bring order to the board’s business or a board’s member’s behaviour.

2. Board conduct — how it actually plays the game. The board appoints a chair in order to enable the board accomplish its work. The chair helps the board play the game well by insuring that agendas are circulated in advance, that good minutes are kept and referenced, and that the business is conducted in a fair way so that each board member has opportunity to speak to the issues. However, the chair also has the authority from the board to exercise direction in the board’s actions if the chair thinks that the board is violating its own operational principles. From time to time the chair will have to intervene in heated debate. At other times the chair will need to prompt the board to make tough decisions. Sometimes the chair will have to discern that the board does not have the information it needs to make an informed decision and help the board get that data.

3. Board education — how it can learn to play the game better. Board education is a continuous activity. Board members can develop better skills to insure that their interactions are productive for board work. The chair can suggest new procedure or find resources that the board can review and discuss. Sometimes boards will appoint one of their members to evaluate a meeting and share with the board his or her views on how well the board was operating and where it might improve. If your board takes five minutes at the end of each meeting to evaluate how the meeting went, often suggestions will be given that, if implemented, can enhance the board’s work. Just asking the question “how can we do this better” will encourage board members to be more self-conscious about their work together.

Above all the chair consciously is aware that the board’s work is a significant means of worship, i.e. loving God with heart, mind, soul and strength and loving one’s neighbour as yourself. Keeping these principles in mind can help the chair discern how well the board is working and provide insights that will enable it to work together more effectively and efficiently. Attention to this matter will also increase the board member’s personal satisfaction in his or her participation in this ministry team.

Does your church board have a “Board Covenant”? Would you be willing to send me a copy that I could put under the “Resources” section of this website? Church board chairs who are seeking to draft a covenant to guide their board’s operations would find it helpful. If you are willing, send me a message in the “Leave A Reply” box following. Thanks.

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