8 Reasons Why Our Elder Board Works so Well

I serve as lead pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario, having served my entire ministry in the U.S. prior to my move to Canada 5 years ago. One of my greatest joys has been working with our current elder board. I’ve never worked with a board that has accomplished so much with so much unanimity and harmony. I believe these 8 reasons explain why this board works so well together.

  1. PRAYER: We always begin our meetings with a focus on God’s Word and prayer. And our prayers are not the perfunctory prayer-ettes. We often pray for an extended time for the needs in the church. This keeps us focused on our shepherding role.
  2. PREPARATION: I meet with the chair and vice-chair a few weeks prior to plan our meetings. We prepare an agenda that we email to the entire team before the meeting. They know what to expect.
  3. NO TIE BREAKERS: Although I’m an elder, I don’t have a vote on the board. When the board has to approve some significant issue, I give my perspective, but I’m never in a position to be a deciding a vote. Most of the decisions the board has made have been unanimous or near unanimous.
  4. UNITY IN DISAGREEMENT: Our meetings are not filled with all happy talk. We’ve had serious discussions and shared different perspectives on issues. But we agree that when we leave the board room, we speak as one.
  5. LISTENING PERSPECTIVE: Every one on the board truly listens to everyone else’s perspectives. When we disagree, we do so with respect having first truly listened to each other.
  6. BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS: No church is perfect and neither is ours. Before I arrived the board had invested extremely long hours dealing with significant issues the church faced. They have invested much and don’t sit in an ivory tower apart from the day in and day out tough stuff in every church. They have ‘paid their dues,’ so to speak, and want what’s best for the church.
  7. FOCUSED MEETINGS: We meet once a month and just decided last year to give each meeting a  unique slant. After a prayer time, we focus on one major strategic issue while our minds are fresh. We then deal with tactical stuff.
  8. APPRECIATION: Often I hear different board members share words of appreciation to each for a member’s unique contributions. I also often thank and appreciate the board members for their service.

It’s a joy serving on a board that works through tough stuff, but does so with grace and intention.

What keys have made your board work well?

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The Moody Leader: 4 Reasons from Neuroscience to NOT to be One

Churches, non-profits, and businesses require emotionally healthy and aware leaders. While competency, good management skills, and vision casting ability certainly matter, research now shows that emotional intelligence (EQ) profoundly impacts leadership effectiveness as well. One aspect of EQ, knowing our emotions, reinforces the idea that leaders must never be moody ones. Neuroscience gives us four reasons why.

Before I list the reasons why leaders should never be moody, here’s how I describe a moody leader.

  • Employes and followers aren’t sure what kind of mood he will bring to work.
  • When he feels anxious, which is often, he’s short with others and demanding.
  • He thrives on drama in the workplace.
  • He lacks self-awareness of how he comes across when he’s emotional.

So, here’s how neuroscience informs us about the downsides of moody leaders.

  1. Emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is the term that describes how others catch our emotions. If a leader is often moody, sour, or negative, that attitude will permeate that organization or church. I was once treated very rudely when I ordered a hamburger and fries at a hamburger joint. A few minutes later the cook yelled at the person who waited on me. At that point I realized who actually waited on me, the owner of the restaurant. His employees had ‘caught’ his bad attitude. I never returned.
  2. Uncertainty. Our brains don’t like uncertainty. When we sense it (“I wonder what kind of mood the boss will be in today?”), it sets up an avoidance response in us. Or flight-fight-freeze-appease center (the limbic system) ratchets up which results in fear, less team cooperation, and less creativity in the workplace. Moody leaders infuse uncertainty into the workplace. (My blog here describes our brain’s 3 leadership systems we should be aware of.)
  3. Mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a specialized group of brain cells that cause us to mimic goal directed behavior. For example, when we see someone yawn or smile, we tend to subconsciously yawn or smile. But such behavior is not limited to yawns and smiles. If a leader constantly frowns or furrows his brow in a disapproving way, it sets a negative tone in the workplace or the church. Yet, genuine smiles can do the opposite by encouraging a positive, productive work setting.
  4. Theory of mind. Theory of mind is a concept that says our minds can somewhat intuit what others are thinking and feeling. Although not mind reading, the process called mentalizing, helps us understand another’s mental states. Mentalizing helps us imagine and interpret their needs, desires, feelings, and goals. When a leader brings moodiness into relationships, he inadvertently leads others to intuit negative intents, purposes, or desires which that leader probably does not want his followers or employees to think or believe.

So you can see that moody leadership does not contribute to healthy teams, trust, creativity, leadership effectiveness, or cooperation.

If you think you may be a moody leader, ask someone who truly cares about you to gently remind you when you start acting moody.

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The Dumbest Mistake I Ever Made as a Pastor

On the whole, I believe pastors are a pretty smart bunch. We earn advanced degrees, study biblical languages, go to conferences to learn, and constantly challenge our brains when we prepare messages and talks. I’ve earned two theology degrees and consider myself a relatively smart guy. But, brain smarts won’t guarantee ministry fruitfulness. Our walk with Christ fundamentally matters. And how we manage relationships probably ranks second in influence. As I look back over my 38 years in ministry, I realize I repeatedly made this one really dumb mistake in the relationship area.

I hid out.

I don’t mean that I intentionally hid from people. But I isolated myself too much from staff and people in the church. I didn’t make myself visible enough.

  • In one church my office was the furtherest away from everybody else. And I stayed in it way too long during work hours. I seldom came out of the office.
  • In that same church I didn’t emerge from my office until three minutes before the Sunday service.
  • In another church as a low level associate, I would never meet with anyone unless they made an appointment several days in advance. This practice certainly may be necessary for the lead pastor of a large church, but not for my role at the time, my first full time position.

Since those early years, I think I’ve grown up and become much wiser. Most church people (and staff) recognize that lead pastors are busy. Yet, they want to feel they have some connection to him or her. They don’t want to feel we are always in a rush to be somewhere else.

I now recognize that my visible presence matters greatly. And I don’t mean that we should make ourselves 24/7 accessible. We, too, must keep healthy margins. But, church people and staff need relational touches. Even small ones matter.

Here are changes I’ve made to help me be less of a ‘hider.’

  1. When I’m not preaching on a Sunday, I visit the kid’s areas, poke my head in each classroom, and thank the leaders. I don’t just sit in my office and read (which I enjoy doing).
  2. Before each Sunday service I intentionally finish my prayer time with an elder 10-15 minutes prior to the service start time so I can shake people’s hands and chat.
  3. I ask an elder to close out each service in prayer and just prior to that as I share some final comments, I explain that I will be at the welcome center after the service and would like to meet new people.
  4. I more often manage staff using the MBWA technique, Management By Walking Around. Although I still keep my door closed to minimize interruptions, I intentionally break throughout the day and wander around to touch base with staff.
  5. When I talk to a staff person during the week or a church person on Sundays, I try to give them my full presence through eye contact and genuine listening. Even a minute or two ‘fully present’ interaction can make a positive deposit into the souls of others.

I’m much wiser now and hope that going forward I won’t make as many dumb mistakes as I did when I was younger.

What’s the dumbest mistake you’ve every made as a pastor?

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27 Questions to Ask Before A Pastor Takes a New Job

When a pastor considers a move to a new church setting or any leader considers a new job, he or she should do whatever is possible to define reality.  As Max Dupree, leadership guru and writer said, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.”

When I’ve considered a new ministry change, I’ve sought answers to key questions. And over the years I’ve compiled this list of 27 questions (actually 30) to ask a search committee and/or your future boss. If you’re moving into a non-ministry setting, you’ll want to tailor your questions to your unique setting.

  1. Why me? What about me interested your committee?
  2. What stories of God’s moving do people still tell?
  3. What’s not going well that needs changing or needs to go?
  4. What are the burning issues?
  5. What are the biggest obstacles facing the church?
  6. What’s missing?
  7. What significant events, both successes and traumas, have marked your church’s history?
  8. How has your church responded to traumas and crises?
  9. How would your community describe the church?
  10. What do you most hope that I will do?
  11. What are you most concerned I might do?
  12. What are the major obstacles I will face?
  13. What ministries are struggling? Which ones are shining?
  14. What will be deemed a success under my leadership?
  15. How do you see the church in 1, 3, 5 years? What kind of growth do you expect?
  16. Describe how you see our working relationship?
  17. What should I focus on? What should be my priorities?
  18. How is the current staff moral?
  19. What is your expectation for my spouse?
  20. What were the previous pastor’s strengths and weaknesses?
  21. How was his or her relationship with the staff and board?
  22. What do you wish he had done differently?
  23. What problems seem to recur in your church?
  24. Does the church have any deep, dark secrets?
  25. Have any sins persisted in the staff or leadership?
  26. How would you describe the church’s tolerance for change?
  27. What has caused recent people to leave?

What questions would you add to this list?

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Stack your Leadership Teams with your BFF’s-good or bad?

BFF: Shorthand for “best friends forever” Dictionary definition: “Used mostly by teen girls when texting”

You may have never used this texting shorthand, but the concept captures essential human nature. We all want a few best friends. We need them. In fact, the Scriptures speak positively about friends

  • friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Prov 17.17, NIV)
  • A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov 18.24)
  • If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (Eccl 4.10)

But considering leadership teams, should we fill our upper level teams such as deacons, elders, or key leadership staff with best friends? I share a true story below from a pastor friend, but I’ve changed the details enough to protect anonymity.

My pastor friend’s church in the south was lead by a deacon board of four men plus himself. He was considered the board’s leader and the four other members were very close. Two of the deacons had been roommates in college and stayed close friends. One of those deacons was the best friend of the third member on the board. And the fourth member of the board met each week with the third deacon in a discipleship relationship. You can see that these four were very tight in one way or another. The pastor was friends with all the deacons, but not close to any of them.

Over the years at his church conflict began to rise between he and the board. It seemed that he was the odd man out each time they discussed a new initiative or direction for the church. The other four seemed to always be in agreement with each other, usually in opposition to how the pastor viewed things. Ultimately, the tension became so great that he left the church after 10 years and began to teach at a seminary.

Although other issues were certainly at play, groupthink seemed to influence the four members of the board. The BFF’s appeared blind to any other perspective except to the views of their four friends on the board.

So, based on this scenario and your experiences, what have been the pros and cons you’ve seen in boards or key leadership teams when most of those in those groups were BFF’s? Did the friendships help or hinder decision making? Did groupthink result or did the Holy Spirit simply use their kinship (like David and Jonathon in the Bible) to help them make good decisions?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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