Board members get picked on a lot:
Q – “What’s the definition of a board? A – “Dead wood.”
“A camel is a horse put together by a board (or a committee).”
“A board is a group of highly competent people who get together once a month and act like complete idiots.”
In many settings they receive no training at all. In some organizations they have no job description. They are often simply thrown into the boardroom and forced to learn the norms and ways and ethics of the group by osmosis. Having found their place in a system, they tend to replicate the dysfunctions of the system, without knowing what is happening or choosing this outcome.
If they are passive, and in too many cases they are, they usually have not been taught how to be active.
But whatever the current status of the board on which you serve, I want to give you some ways in which you help make a bad situation better or a good situation great.
(Just a note: This post isn’t going to deal with the Biblical basics for elders of teaching, training, protection and leadership, as found in passages such as Acts 20:28-32. I, and many others, have written about those tasks elsewhere.)
- You can be an actual friend to the pastor or CEO.
In churches, the pastor is typically the father figure. He gives and listens, gives and listens. No one asks him how he’s doing. If someone does ask, he/she doesn’t usually want an honest answer.
It is not uncommon for church members to tell the pastor that they are “friends,” but they usually aren’t. Friends have reciprocal, even-steven relationships. Pastors often feel that they have no friends at all in their churches.
But maybe you can be the exception. Listen as much as you speak. Keep confidences. Give grace. Expect imperfection. Be a friend.
- You can coach the pastor or CEO at every meeting.
I’m not talking about in-your-face-at-halftime type coaching. I’m talking about non-directive coaching that asks questions such as: “How are you actually doing: physically, mentally, emotionally?” “Is there an issue we can help you with?” “What are you doing that is deeply satisfying?” “Is there something you couldn’t get done this month that you’re frustrated about?” “How are you doing with your dreams and goals that you set for yourself for this year?”
This kind of coaching leaves us feeling deeply loved and understood.
Blessed is the pastor who is coached by the board, or someone on the board, who loves him!
Blessed is the church which has a pastor who is coached by someone on the board who loves him!
- You can give the pastor or CEO a gracious, honest performance review.
Most churches and parachurch ministries have by-laws that call for annual performance reviews of the pastor or CEO. Many never do it or wait until a crisis to do it. If you don’t know what sort of format to use, ask the pastor/leader himself to come up with one that he thinks is good.
Your organization’s leader needs your grace, of course. But he/she needs your honesty as much as he/she needs your grace.
If your leader supervises other employees (has “reports”) your evaluation needs to involve interviews of those persons. Is the pastor/CEO a good leader? Is he coaching his reports? Do they feel understood and appreciated?
Passive boards allow their only report (the pastor or CEO) to be a poor leader of his/her reports.
- You can cultivate actual friendships within the group.
- In some churches the board does detailed management. That’s probably a mistake.
- In other churches the board does governance only (setting parameters, supervising the CEO, establishing the boundaries and ground-rules for the staff, keeping things legal).
- In many churches the board does a combination of governance duties and also shares the leadership of the church with the pastor. They help the leader lead and this makes them a leadership team.
But leadership teams only function well when the members trust each other enough to tell each other the truth. They trust each other when they like each other. They like each other when they know each other.
It doesn’t take an organizational genius to help a group of Christians to know and like each other; just get them together in informal settings and get them talking. You can do this!
- You can take your responsibilities (and your homework) seriously.
The big “catch” with boards is that they tend to diminish individual accountability. The more of us who are part of the group, the less responsibility we feel we have for the behaviors and responsibilities of the group. This is why groups of highly competent individuals (above) can act very foolishly in a board setting.
Would you rather appear before the High School principal alone or as part of a group?
You can be the board member who makes sure that the group takes its responsibilities seriously. One truly responsible member can turn a passive, irresponsible board into an active, responsible board.
- You can help bear the leader’s workload.
Is your pastor or CEO overworked and overwhelmed? Have you asked? What aspect(s) of his/her work feel like the “straw that broke the camel’s back?”
Many churches expect their one paid pastor to do all the shepherding care of the congregation. This expectation is unscriptural and unrealistic. Some churches expect their pastor to do a great deal of administration/management/detail work, for which he is neither gifted nor talented.
- You can help bear the pastor/CEO’s leadership burden.
It’s not easy to define a “leadership burden” but we all know it when we feel it. It’s the “weight” of responsibility. It feels “heavy.” It involves sharing the blame when things go south.
Next time around (if there is a next time around) let’s do this better. Let’s face our next crisis as board members who join their pastors and other Christian leaders in making decisions and carrying the weight of the responsibility.
Maybe you can’t do them all, but if you are a Christian board member, you can probably make your church or parachurch ministry better in at least some of these seven ways.