Called to Serve
Colossians 3:17 (ESV)
17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Have you answered the call to serve on your church leadership team but find yourself struggling with your role and purpose? Self-doubt is not uncommon as we dip our toes into new and unfamiliar territory. No doubt you have been well vetted for the appropriate Biblical qualifications and you have a good understanding of your church governance system. I call these Biblical qualifications the “HARD” criteria for becoming a healthy Board member. What we often find missing is the “SOFT” skills required for church leadership. Soft skills include Good communication skills, being able to add your voice to the discussion in an effective manner, the ability to think strategically and speak authoritatively, creative thinking, work ethic, teamwork, networking, decision making, positivity, time management, motivation, flexibility, problem-solving, critical thinking, and conflict resolution. These “SOFT” skills, much like muscles, become stronger when exercised regularly.
Effective Boards place Godliness and Biblical qualifications as the highest priority but they also need these soft skill attributes to be resident in their leadership team. It is wonderful if the members of your leadership team are inherently blessed with these soft skills. However if this is not the case take heart, these skills can be learned.
High performance Boards are generally lead by effective leaders. As a leader it is important to see yourself as a servant of the Board. You are there to help the Board find consensus and care needs to be taken not to unduly persuade or influence. Many times a leader will lose their voice in deference to the team. I have found the best practice is to spend as much one on one time with your individual Board members as possible. Try to understand their hearts, their dreams and preferred direction for the church. A leader must ensure that every voice is heard and given ample opportunity to express itself. Great leaders are great listeners. Oftentimes listening can be more powerful than talking.
Those of us that are on a Board serving as part of the team also have a great responsibility. It is important that we come to each meeting well prepared for what is on the agenda. After praying through the agenda items, start to think critically about what the various options might be. Come to the meeting prepared to interact on each item. I don’t think anything is more disheartening to a Board than a member that has not sought to read the agenda beforehand or not performed some due diligence on each agenda item. If you have questions then engage before the meeting to get the answers. If possible speak beforehand with some of your Board members or the Board Chair about the questions you might have or the details of some missing information. I cannot overstate the importance of communication between Board meetings. The real work happens outside of the Board meeting. We are blessed to have access to all of today’s communication tools available let’s use them to share with one another and build each other up.
One practice that I have found to be particularly effective when dealing with a critical issue is, to develop a position paper on the issue well ahead of a meeting. Developing a position paper is not necessarily only the responsibility of the Board Chair. Every member of the Board can and should use this method to explain and share their thoughts on an issue they would like to open up for discussion. This gives everyone an opportunity to digest the issue, search scripture and pray for God’s direction. It is very difficult to gain consensus when you have not allowed adequate preparation time.
We often suffer from the tyranny of the urgent. Some Boards tend to operate in a constant state of urgency. Push back on last minute agenda items. This might result in some missed opportunities but it will develop discipline in those that are adding last minute agenda items. When policy is created in the heat of the moment it lacks transparency. Think out of the box! Think about what could go wrong. Get ahead of the problem before it becomes overwhelming.
I am a strong advocate for measurements. I see measurements as the “Canary” in the Coal Mine. We need to see problems at the earliest possible stage. A decline in attendance or giving might be indicative of an easily resolved problem. Oftentimes when we look at numbers we tend to jump to conclusions. Take time to examine the problem behind the problem. When starting a new program or project it is always advisable to establish benchmark measurements. What are the objectives for the program? What will we do if we fail to make the objectives? What will we do if the program is hugely successful? Sometimes success can be as problematic as failure. So true is the old adage of “what gets measured gets done.” I also encourage you to give thought to how we measure the quality of our work. Are we satisfied with “good enough” or do we strive for excellence? What does excellence look like and do we measure it? (1 Corinthians 14:40)
Isaiah 32:8 (ESV)
8 But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.
Does your church have a sense of what God has called it to accomplish? Do you have a five-year plan that matches what you feel God has called you to accomplish? Can you point to specific activities designed to help you achieve the five-year plan? Without strong strategic plans we tend to drift. Planning is much like the rudder on a large ship. The ship turns slowly so the Captain needs to have a good sense of where he is planning to steer the ship 5 miles ahead. It is important for the Board to spend time at least once a year looking at the big picture. The routine monthly meetings are not sufficient in time or place to plan a proper course for the most important ministries of the church.
I will leave you with one final thought. Always be prepared to replace yourself. Recognize your future leaders early and spend time preparing them for the responsibilities associated with their gifting. Begin succession planning on your very first day. Spend some time thinking about the health of the church when you are no longer there, what will be your legacy be?