How to Lead Your Board
Five ways to influence your church’s influencers
As a pastor, you have so many people who look to you for leadership — beginning with your staff, whether paid or volunteer, and continuing to the visitor looking for spiritual guidance. One group pastors sometimes overlook is the board.
With so many looking to you for leadership, your focus can easily become divided. You can’t give equal time to everyone, so how do you prioritize? The answer is to give more time to the people with the greatest influence in your church. You will spend most of your time with your leadership team, but just as important is the time you spend with your board.
Devoting time to your church board is one of the most important investments you can make. But often, pastors rush through a board meeting to get on to what they believe are more important matters, more spiritual pursuits or more creative endeavors. Instead of leading this group, we hope just to get it out of the way.
Putting together a plan for truly leading your board will build momentum and effectiveness toward accomplishing the mission and vision of your church. And if you don’t lead your board, they may just start leading you!
What are the important elements in leading your board well? Here are five to keep in mind every time you sit down with them.
1. Build Trust
Trust is important with any group you lead, but especially with the key decision makers and stakeholders of your church. It happens over time and through shared experiences, but there are some practical things you can do right away to establish trust.
First of all, don’t waste their time. Start and end each meeting on time, and only meet when it’s necessary. If you can easily settle a matter over the phone or through email, or with a smaller contingent of the board, don’t call a full meeting. Identify the really important matters.
Next, come prepared for the matters at hand. It’s your responsibility to come with the agenda for each meeting. That means you need to understand the financial reports, anticipate the questions that will arise, and predict the obvious objections that will unfold.
Finally, bring clarity. Be focused in each meeting with the overall direction of the church in mind. These two are connected. Arm your board members with the information they need to function in their roles by providing clear direction at every turn.
2. Develop Them
Your board’s function is not to rubber stamp your ideas. You should see them as an important group of leaders. And like any leaders, they need continual development to accomplish the task God calls the church to do.
Most board members aren’t vocational ministers and may not be getting professional or leadership development in their workplaces. Make time in every gathering to teach, train and develop leadership skills they can apply at the church, at their workplaces, and in their homes.
Devoting time to your church board is one of the most important investments you can make.
How do you do that practically? One way is to begin each meeting with a 15-minute leadership lesson. It can simply be a review of a book or article you’ve recently read. (Influence magazine provides a leadership development study, Make It Count, with each issue. Beginning with the April/May issue, these are now available online as free downloads.)
You may even have them listen to a leadership podcast and then spend time discussing it. (Subscribe to the Influence podcast — free on iTunes.) Find ways to develop and add value to their lives. They will appreciate you for it!
3. Pastor Them
In my experience with boards, I was usually the youngest one in the room. But that doesn’t matter. I’m their pastor, and they need guidance and direction from me. Just like any other member of your church, they are looking to you to shepherd them. So be a shepherd!
If you ask your board to give and serve and lead, but you don’t pastor them and their families, then you’re not doing your job. Often, the board is made up of the most mature people in the church. That may not always be the case, but even when it is, they still need to grow and mature in their faith.
Are you asking the tough questions? Are you checking in on their marriages, their kids? Are you praying for them, both as a group and individually? Are you holding them accountable for their walk with Jesus? Make sure you’re pastoring your board.
4. Listen to Them
Your board is there for a reason: to provide encouragement to you and to help shoulder the load of the vision. They have insight you need to hear. They have been placed by God and chosen by the people to provide support for you.
But what if you disagree with them? If you view those differences as an obstacle to your vision and mission, then you’re missing out on a God-given opportunity for growth. Whenever there is an issue of disagreement, search for the root of the problem. Really listen to them and heed their advice. I can count more than one time the board helped me avoid a decision I would have later regretted.
5. Leverage Them
If you’re in a season where you’re doing too much as a leader, find ways to involve your board in shouldering the burden of leadership. Give them roles in caring for the people, making hospital visits, helping with certain operational functions, or even speaking and teaching, depending on their gifts. Leverage their availability, not only for your own benefit but for the Kingdom advancement they can bring.
Your board should be a dynamic team, not a stagnate group. They serve right alongside you as pastor and have the same passion for the vision and mission of the church. Don’t shortchange their value by overlooking their possible contributions.
I’ve heard my fair share of horror stories about boards. But honestly, the number of positive experiences I’ve had with a board far exceed the negatives. It takes loving them as people and releasing them as leaders. Once you do, your board meetings will become exciting times of vision and devotion rather than another burden to shoulder.
Chris Railey, D.Min., is the senior director of leadership and church development ministries for the General Council of the Assemblies of God, Springfield, Missouri.