Board Training: Do It BEFORE You Ask Them to Serve!

I have often mentioned in my Transformational Leadership Development™ programs that a problem with our current ministry practice in Unity and CSL is that potential board candidates receive little or no training / orientation PRIOR to being asked to be a candidate. Consequently, absent of providing people with explicit accountabilities (what they say YES to) and a complete disclosure of the strategy issues and challenges facing the ministry, people who are elected to the Board may feel blindsided by what they discover.

Imagine what goes on inside a person who is asked to serve on the Board. Because they love the ministry and community, they are likely humbled, honored, and often delighted to be considered. Their YES comes from a place of appreciation and a willingness to step up and be a model of what it looks like to be in ownership of the ministry. Yet, once they get on the Board and are engaged in the role of trustee, they may be shocked to discover what is “really” going on behind the scenes that may have factored into their decision to serve. When a new Board member loses their “innocence” or when they learn about things that they can’t “un-know”, what do they do with that discomfort? The phenomenon of retiring Board members leaving the ministry after their term of service can be linked to this loss of innocence and the mismatch between what they imagined serving on the Board would be like from their actual experience.

Losing one’s innocence when coming onto the Board is a common attribute of the pastor / flock model of ministry. The Board, as the culture of stewardship, often believes that its role is to make sure the congregation is happy and insulated from ministry stresses, concerns and challenges. Whenever there is a big disconnect between the Board and how the community sees and experiences the ministry, there is the potential for those coming onto the Board to have a very steep learning curve with respect to understanding present tensions and issues. Asking people to serve on the Board absent of a complete disclosure of the issues and challenges that the ministry faces is a subtle form of  unconscious coercion. Unless a person has the ability to equally say YES or NO to the invitation, they are being coerced because information that would otherwise inform their decision is not available or openly shared prior to their candidacy.

Absent of formal board training that outlines the roles and accountabilities of board members, their responsibilities, liabilities and risks, these ministry leaders assume vital organizational roles without the training that supports their effectiveness, competence, and success. Even when people have board experience in other organizations beside the church, their experience doesn’t necessarily translate well in the realm of church dynamics, because church communities are first, a family system and second, an organizational entity. This means that their experience may actually be problematic if applied to ministry dynamics. Most lay leaders have little or no training in dealing with family system issues.

I suspect that Board training in general is not an established routine ministry practice in most churches, much less a prerequisite for those seeking to serve on the Board. Having consulted and worked with over 300 New Thought ministries in the last 20 years, I can in good confidence assert that Board training is a luxury that most church leaders believe they can’t afford or something that they don’t necessarily need. Yet in times of conflict or when there is a sense of not enough, most ministry leaders in hindsight see that a fully trained and competent board is indispensable.

Second tierIn 2nd tier ministry, two new ministry practices with respect to Board service is apparent. First, no one is invited to be a candidate to serve on the Board without having first completed a Board training that makes explicit the roles and accountabilities that they will be asked to say YES to. In addition, there would be a full disclosure of all of the tensions and issues facing the ministry.

In addition to these practices, there may be specific qualifications that individual candidates need to fulfill in order to be in alignment with your current board culture. For us at Unity Spiritual Center, our board culture is grounded in the Q Process™as the foundation for integrating both personal shadow qualities and the ministry’s shadow (pain-body). Our entire Board is conversant with how to differentiate their personal issues from the ministry’s issues; thus there is less “shadow creep” happening at the Board level. (An example of shadow creep might be when the church’s experience of lack or insufficiency triggers individual board member’s personal sense of not enough. They will deal with the church’s not enough in a similar way they deal with their own sense of not enough. This almost always creates more insufficiency.)

Last Sunday, at my request, a long-time member our our community facilitated a Board training that was open to the entire congregation. The congregation was told that in preparation for our nominating process we are conducting a Board training that outlines the roles and accountabilities of our Trustees. The training is a qualification for anyone interested in serving on the Board. It is also an opportunity for the congregation to learn more about how the organization is governed and their job of holding our Board accountable to modeling what it looks like to show up in ownership of the ministry. I cannot adequately convey the congregation’s appreciation of this event and how it elevated their respect for those in the role of Board trustee. Over 20 people participated in the training which included members of our current Board, potential nominees to the Board, those interested in Board service in the future, and members of our congregation who had questions and concerns that could be addressed. It was a profound success and will be an event that we hold each year as a part of our ministry practice.

boardJane and I believe that our Board is our greatest partner in supporting our ministry’s efforts to fulfill our purpose: Transform Lives! Our commitment to them is to give them what they need to succeed and flourish in their vital role. As above, so below.

Blessings, Gary

3 thoughts on “Board Training: Do It BEFORE You Ask Them to Serve!”

  1. Our insurance company – Church Mutual – has a good video that outlines the roles and responsibilities of a Board member. I plan to use this, supplemented by considerations specific to our Center in the way you recommend, as a pre-selection training.
    Thank you!

    1. Yes, I am familiar with the video that Church Mutual has created that outlines board roles and responsibilities. I think it is very good. Blessings, Gary

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