Responses to our last two posts about the turnaround at Barnes & Noble and its parallels to church life led us into some extended conversations with colleagues who, perhaps like you, face the challenge of crafting an effective board agenda each month.
We followed up with two questions to understand this challenge better:
What makes it hardest to go deeper (spiritually) with your church board?
What are you doing, right now, to become a better and more theologically attuned board—and how is that going?
Here are some of the responses we got to question #1:
- Our board is focused on “getting the work done.”
- They think they are supposed to make decisions, not to be spiritual leaders.
- If we tell the church that board leaders are to be spiritual leaders, there is a fear no one will accept nomination to the board.
- Our people’s strengths are from a secular perspective – they are good at discussing budgets.
- It’s a feeling no one will say, but I feel, that “we have more important things to do.”
- People who agree to serve are gifted and faithful, which means they are juggling a half dozen other board commitments outside the church. It all makes it hard to focus.
- Out group are “worker-bees’ who live out their discipleship through showing up. They are exhausted as a result.
- They don’t really have these two hours to give to one more thing, so when we get together, they bring all the punch-lists of things they forgot to do between meetings, complaints people brought to them, and potential action items that they want the group’s input on. They get nervous about not getting to this stuff, so they often squirm when I say we’re going to devote 30 minutes to something other than the action items.
- We rarely get every board member at even one meeting a year.
- Only meeting with them once a month (I’m not advocating for more, just naming it). We don’t know each other well and I think deeper relationships lead to deeper spiritual growth. The larger group setting of Session (not everyone gets to actively participate without a long meeting).
- Dwelling on stories and memories of the past. Also our need to answer questions/have solutions.
- Financial anxiety takes all the air out of the room at our meetings.
- We’ve had so much transition, it’s difficult to find the time to go deeper.
- What makes it hard is that they have never had deep spirituality taught to them before. They see the role of elder more as serving on a Board of Trustees. We have to dismantle that idea as well as teach the basic building blocks of discipleship.
- There is a gap between what people say they believe and actually letting those beliefs inform our actions, attitudes, and approaches to doing ministry.
Explicitly or implicitly, nearly everyone described a gap—a chasm, even—between board members’ understandings of what leaders do and the deeper work of congregational leadership.
So, where does this leave your church board?
First, can you see the impact it would make if you could, in fact, go deeper spiritually as a board? Can you see this as a worthy goal that could potentially have good results?
Another way to ask it: do you think the “business as usual” approach (largely reflected in the comments above) has the capacity to move your church board and congregation through the whitewater rapids of change and transition almost all churches are in?
If you do see the need for something different, something deeper, then it’s time to build a bridge across the chasm of expectations for church board work.
This is a step-by-step process, so probably not done by introducing a 90-minute spiritual exercise into one meeting in place of budget review, and then returning to business as usual.
Are there those who see the need for something deeper? Are there those who see the gap in expectations? Can you build on their observations to try to bridge the chasm? Can you get permission to experiment in modest ways? To stretch the metaphor, can you at least get people onto the bridge to enjoy the view, and then encourage some to cross the bridge?
A reality of church boards is that many members end their terms exhausted and/or disillusioned. Can you talk out loud as a board about this? What if the goal of a term on Council/Vestry/Deaconate/Session/Board was that it was, above all, a spiritually growing experience? If that becomes the benchmark, you can get on the bridge.
What boards may discover, since the church is God’s idea, is that building spiritual discipleship actually helps the work get done better. God’s wind at our back is a wondrous experience.
But the first step is to acknowledge that you and your board are struggling with that chasm. And that working on going deeper is not something that “we should do because, you know, we are a church” (kind of like being compelled to eat our spiritual vegetables), but because it will aid in doing the work that needs to be done and becoming the church you want to be.
Next week we will share how some colleagues are getting on that bridge and moving across it, as conveyed in their responses to the second question we asked: What are you doing, right now, to become a better and more theologically attuned board—and how is that going?
Where do you recognize your own board experience in these responses?
Is there any usefulness simply in naming this reality to your board?
What first steps could you take in 2023, as a board, to bridge the gap between a traditional board of directors and a group of spiritual leaders?
How can you as a board directly address anxiety that, if you do this spiritual work, you “won’t get the work done?”