Sunday, September 30, 2012

Do You Need a Consultant—or a Pastor?


The nonprofit ministry CEO in the back row of my workshop asked a question about term limits for board members.

He had two board members whose effectiveness, in his opinion, had dried up years ago. Yet the board continued to re-elect these two individuals to successive three-year terms—and there were no term limits.

The CEO felt safe enough in this workshop of his peers to whine extensively (on and on and on, actually) about these dead wood board members who had dug in deep—and “no way,” he said, would they exit from the board.

“Could a consultant help me?” the CEO asked.

The workshop was ending, so my nine-word response was direct: “You don’t need a consultant, you need a pastor.”

In R. Scott Rodin’s powerful book, The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities (read my review), he writes:

“If I could put one Bible verse on the desk of every pastor and every Christian leader in the world, it would be this: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8).”

If you want a healthy board, recruit healthy and spiritually mature people.  If you want a dysfunctional board, recruit people who tilt toward being “owner-leaders,” not “steward-leaders” (Rodin’s poignant labels).

Board members who have hands open—eagerly seeking to hear and obey God’s voice—will not prolong their board service one day beyond His direction.  At a minimum, authentic Christ-followers will invite frank feedback on their effectiveness.

This should be one more profound and vital distinctive of Christ-centered governance: we hold our board roles loosely, to the glory of God. And when we serve on boards that do not have term limits, we are especially thoughtful and prayerful about our tenure.

QUESTION: According to BoardSource’s hot-off-the-press 2012 Nonprofit Governance Index, 27 percent of boards surveyed do not have term limits. Whether you have term limits or not, does your board have an annual self-assessment process that helps you address the dead wood syndrome?

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