12 Marks of a Healthy Board - Lesson 3

Collaboration, Accountability, Discipline, and Families

Healthy boards use their meeting times efficiently to focus on priorities, and are able to objectively assess their own performance. They care enough about other churches and ministries to collaborate. They also take responsibility for overseeing the well-being of their staff and families.

Taught by a Team
Taught by a Team
12 Marks of a Healthy Board
Lesson 3
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Collaboration, Accountability, Discipline, and Families

C. Collaboration, Accountability, Discipline and Families

1. Introduction

2. Healthy Boards that Assess Themselves

3. Discipline

4. Families

5. Accountability

  • Healthy boards understand the roles and responsibilities of a board and of their individual service on the board. They are also mission focused.
  • Healthy boards are intentional in selection process of board members and have a board manual in place. They avoid spiritual dysfunction, monitor and evaluate results, and ensure adequate resources to accomplish the mission.
  • Healthy boards use their meeting times efficiently to focus on priorities, and are able to objectively assess their own performance. They care enough about other churches and ministries to collaborate. They also take responsibility for overseeing the well-being of their staff and families.

In Twelve Marks of a Healthy Board, Bert Downs, John Johnson and David Jones discuss characterstics that are essential in choosing board members and structuring how they interact together. They also describe how the board should minister to the staff and congregation and prayerfully lead by articulating a vision. 

Bert Downs
12 Marks of a Healthy Board
Collaboration, Accountability, Discipline, and Families
Lesson Transcript


C. Collaboration, Accountability, Discipline and Families

Healthy boards use their meeting times efficiently to focus on priorities, and are able to objectively assess their own performance. They care enough about other churches and ministries to collaborate. They also take responsibility for overseeing the well-being of their staff and families.

1. Introduction

Bert: The first session covered two very important marks: Having an accurate understanding of the role and responsibilities of board members, then making sure that we stay vision focused. The next five marks really fit in to that and filled in a lot of what we talked about. They were: evaluating and monitoring results, making sure we have metrics, help ensure that we have adequate resources to accomplish our mission, and how we do that in a right and appropriate and value driven way, avoiding spiritual dysfunction at all costs (even though we don’t like to think about it, boards can face that from time to time), adopting a policy manual which is a key to caring for some of that. Then the last one we talked about is being very intentional in finding those board members in the first place.

2. Healthy Boards that Assess Themselves

So with that let’s step in with our eighth mark which is: healthy boards have the ability to assess their own performance and accountability. Now this is a tough job, so how do we get a board to move in to that?

David: I think that at least on an annual basis; a board should have created a safe enough environment where there is that team work and that trust, so they can assess their performance. If they have a governance committee, for example, the chairman can send out a survey. It doesn’t have to be complicated but ask the question: ‘How are we doing as a board? How are we performing? Are there areas where we can improve?’ There are a lot of ways to survey the board. You can do something very scientific and comprehensive, or you can do something basic which is maybe just 2-4 open ended questions where the board has the opportunity to say: ‘These are areas where I think we can improve, these I think we are doing well, these are our strengths that we should build upon. But maybe here are a few areas that at least as a board member, I think we’ve got some weakness that if we address it, we could quickly fix and turn into strength.’ Boards do need to ask questions, of themselves and their members. I think in every board meeting there should be some questions asked about their performance so they can get a healthy dialogue going. What are the questions boards should be asking? What are the trends that are impacting this ministry and how are we going to respond? Are there some threats out there to our mission that we had better deal with? Are there some opportunities that we need to seize right away?

One of the questions in performance relates to the measurables that we talked about earlier. If the board doesn’t have measurables someone in the board better speak up and say: ‘How do we define success and measure success on this board?’ ‘Are our constituents satisfied with our programs?’ Most ministries, most non-profit organizations exist to meet a need in society. The board should be asking: ‘How are we as a board helping this organization meet that need in society?’ An obvious question for a performance evaluation (we say a board needs to be mission focused) is for the board to ask: ‘Are we mission focused? If we are, why do we think we are mission focused?’ I think another question a board ought to ask from time to time regarding its performance is to discuss the agendas and ask if the agendas are mission focused and if there are ways to improve our meetings by over hauling the agenda. John and I have had this discussion before. One thing I am not happy with in Christ centered organizations, is that we are more concerned about the rules of order for a meeting that we are about the Word of God. Years ago I was helping a church redo its bylaws. I wrote to several churches and I asked if they would send me copies of their bylaws and I was shocked at how many bylaws of churches said: ‘This church will be governed by Roberts’ Rules of Order’. I thought: ‘Oh my goodness! I mean this is a document that was written back in the 1800s by a British parliamentarian, and we are saying this is how a Christ centered organization is going to be governed? So there needs to be a healthy, safe environment in a board where they can ask these kinds of questions and assess how they are doing. One of the easiest ways to do it is if they have an executive committee or a governance committee that will at least on an annual basis, send out some sort of survey of the members that will ask: “How are we doing? How are we performing?’

Bert: So this is important, you do this regularly?

David: Yes I think as a minimum it needs to be an annual exercise.

Bert: David used a word twice that seems to be important in this and it’s the word safety. That there needs to be safety. How is that gained and what does it feel like in a church setting?

John: I think alongside formal assessment is getting together with people, especially when you sense something is not right. Having the kind of safe relationship where you can say: ‘You know as I’ve watched you and your posture on the board it seems like you’re not with us and there’s been a mounting frustration over the last 3 months. Could we talk about that?’ Hopefully you have the kind of safe relationship where a person can open up and say; ‘Well frankly I feel like people don’t listen to me or the direction we are going here really concerns me.’ Those are things you want to know about and not allow a problem to develop. The other thing is an annual retreat as a board. I would like to see it happening twice a year. That becomes a time, without a lot of structure, when you can sit down as a board and say: ‘How are we doing?’ Not only doing that as a group but individually.

Bert: Now these twelve marks have grown out of your collective experiences and I’m interested as we look down to the next one that you say that a healthy board encourages collaboration with other churches and ministries. We’ve talked a lot about what boards do in the non-profit and the church sector, which seems to be pretty internalized, and now you are saying there is an external aspect to it. So take me there; help our viewers understand the importance of that.

John: I think one of the challenges for a church as it gets larger is that they can begin to say: ‘We really don’t need anyone else. We’ve got our men’s groups, we don’t need camps we’ve got our own camping. We don’t need to be partnering in the area with Luis Palau or other organizations we are really doing pretty well.’ I think a healthy board as it grows realizes: ‘Actually as we grow we have the potential to play a more significant role in the community.’ The only way we are going to have a significant role is to have key partnerships just as we do globally, we need to do the same thing locally. We can’t be partners with everyone. By partnership we are saying: ‘We can’t do this without you and actually a lot of times we are going to defer to you because you know this area a lot better than we do.’ But also it’s coming to that mutual need, finding the select partners and saying that we are going to go with them but as we get larger we need to see that becomes actually more important not less important.

Bert: So that keeps your board in a healthy place in terms of not being too internalized, getting exposed to the ways other people operate other opportunities, and those kinds of things. Now how does that fit into your situation David?

David: Healthy boards think that way. In communities, in society there are a lot of churches and Christ centered organizations that have shared objectives. So why not work together, collaborate, you are probably more likely to be successful in accomplishing the objectives when working in partnership, in collaboration. I think there is strength in numbers obviously. But when you try to do things as an island or in isolation, it’s just a tougher road. I think for churches, especially smaller churches, when they are able to partner in that work, on a shared objective, with other churches it’s a great visual picture of the fact that there are lot of people in this community that love Jesus Christ. I think it also brings down denominational barriers that are easy to have up. Here in Portland, Oregon there has been a huge effort in recent years to foster, stimulate, and promote collaboration among the entire faith based community. This is accomplishing some amazing things in our town to the point where we’ve now gained the respect and the partnership with civic leaders and with government who are now saying: ‘The churches are great partners they do things well. When we reach out and work with the churches we know that the job will be done, it will be done well, it will be right, it will be done with quality.’ That elevates Jesus Christ in the community. For too long we have allowed ourselves to be marginalized. Now obviously with spiritual warfare there are a lot of enemies out there who have marginalized us. But part of this is that we have allowed ourselves to be marginalized by not embracing this notion of partnership and collaboration and recognizing that we are a large faith based community and that we when work together we can accomplish a lot more, more effectively and we can accomplish a lot more in a sustainable manner as well.

John: I think I would add that I think Portland is a pretty unique story in this. It’s a great thing God is doing in bringing us all together. My observation is that you need a catalyst. It’s hard for different pastors to say that they should do something as they can tend to see themselves in a bit of a competitive way. We need a catalyst like the Palau organization which asks everyone to meet together as opposed to an individual pastor asking others to come to his church. This does not work near as well. A lot of the story of what has going on here is that you have had a para-church ministry (a ministry that works alongside the church) that has really become a catalyst and it is doing some amazing things.

David: I think the key there is for the Christ centered, non-profit organizations to have the attitude and the mentality: we work with the church, through the church, and for the church, our people are church people, our staff have put roots down in a local church, we have local church ministries, we are here to serve the local church. Again where dysfunction can come into the faith based community is when you have faith based organizations who try to operate as if they are not part of the local church or they don’t need the local church or they are not there to serve the local church. I think here in Portland a lot of the non-profit organizations that are faith based, are led by men and women who really are church people. They believe passionately in the local church.

Bert: There is one little piece of this that we need to surface for just a 30 second comment. It seems to me that there is a chance, particularly in the catalyst church arrangement, that you could have board members look at the collaboration potential and say: ’But that isn’t going to help us grow our church.’

John: Or the other is: ‘Well that might demand resources that will take away from our church. We are kind of resource starved as it is.’ So part of it is that you have to go back to the mission and the vision and say if our mission is to reach the city we should be praying for Portland not just our church. We just have to go back to who we are.

Bert: It doesn’t surprise me at all that we are back to where we started and that mission focus becomes so critical.

3. Discipline

David: It’s important for that board to understand that in those collaborative efforts, networking and partnerships, it opens up new and unique opportunities for the constituents, or church members really to be blessed. It will get them out of their comfort zone to get out there and serve the community. That does a lot for a local church because once they are on fire for that service and volunteering, Lord willing, you would hope that fire would come back into the congregation.

Bert: This takes us back to the foundational things that you have told us about. The word that comes up, and it comes up in the next mark is: that boards are disciplined. So how are boards disciplined?

John: One area that is critical, that keeps our board disciplined, is to have a clear agenda. An agenda that surfaces in a different venue, such as our executive committee. We have sorted it out, we have got the input from everyone but once you come to the board; ‘This is our agenda’ and we stay focused on it. The other discipline is to say we can only give so much time, sort of like we are doing here in this discussion. We can only give so much time to it here. But I was part of a board in the Netherlands. It was one of my worst experiences because we had an agenda that wasn’t disciplined and because of that the meeting often went to 11, 11:30 pm. Of course I have come to conclusion that anything much past 9:30 pm is a worthless experience! When we got to 11 or 11:30 the board chair would say: ‘Now is there anything else?’ Of course that’s where things would come up when people are tired and you’re tired emotionally, and other issues would come that you had no rational or emotional preparation for. As I look back now it was a huge mark of an undisciplined board. I now really appreciate a board and a board chairman that say: ‘Here is our agenda we are staying right on it. If another issue comes up we can look at that maybe in the future but here is where we are going’, or they say: ‘We have had enough time on this it’s time to come to a decision.

Bert: This chairman is really an important piece of this, isn’t he?

John: Huge! And this is where again that relationship with the senior pastor is so vital, where you’re both approaching this together.

Bert: It’s not that you are ‘yes’ people to each other but have a relationship that allows you to move these things together.

John: Sometimes on a board we might notice that someone is dominating the discussion. That is where a good disciplined chairman says: ‘Thank you we’ve heard a lot, now I want to bring some of the others into this conversation.’

Bert: And don’t ask the question: ‘Is there anything else?’ Particularly at 11 o’clock at night!!

David: Well, a disciplined board doesn’t allow the meeting to be ‘hijacked’. That’s where the chairman plays such an important role. But the leader, the senior pastor, the lead pastor, the head of the organization can help the chairman as well in that regard. But in unhealthy boards the meetings do oftentimes get hijacked by hidden agenda, by something that is strictly a matter of personal taste that has nothing to do with the mission. Everything comes back to point number 2: the mission! A disciplined board is mission focused, the agendas are mission focused and the discussions in the board meeting are mission focused. Sometimes it’s easy for boards to use 3 hours just listening to reports. I do think it’s important to have reporting, boards have to know what is going on. But most board reporting could be done with written materials sent to the board members in advance so they can read. They don’t need to have a 45 minute presentation on something that could be easily understood and covered in a simple one page memo read before the meeting. I think one of the reasons, often times, that boards don’t get around to the ‘big picture’ issues, and the mission and strategic direction, and the important stuff, is because they have just spent 3 hours reading reports that could have easily been read prior to the board meeting. That is part of the discipline as well: that you are going to come to the meeting prepared, that the chairman is going to come prepared. So there needs to be some preparation time. Some boards only meet quarterly (4 times a year). Those 3-4 hours you’ve got together are vital, they are critical, so you have got to come prepared.

Bert: So a couple of steps to preparing a really good agenda? It seems to me that a good agenda, like the policy manual, is a driver piece in this.

John: I think stepping back and looking at the vision and the mission we need to ask if the agenda reflects that. Then asking what are the key components that we need to cover? We need to make sure that we don’t put so many things in the agenda that we don’t give it the necessary time and attention. You might just have to say that we don’t have time; we’ll cover this next month.

4. Families

Bert: So a couple of keys: limiting the reporting part means you have more amount time for business and then you need to prioritize to make sure you are right on track there. That’s powerful and I know we could say a dozen more things about this, which we will have to hold for another time! Let’s move into the next mark which is related, as it involves staff and families and other kinds of things that are a huge part of this ministry that we have been talking about. Healthy boards take responsibility for the care of their staff and their families. How important is that?

John: It’s critical. It’s in the best interest of the board that the staff is healthy. To a certain extent it is a responsibility they need to take, to say: ‘Are you getting adequate rest? Do you have someone you are accountable to? How is your wife? How is your family? Are we providing enough for you so that your wife doesn’t have to work? (If we prefer she not work) or do you have to work a second job because we are not adequately taking care of you?’ The board needs to pay attention to the costs of living. If the pastor or leader is getting a bit dull (low) the board needs to make sure that they are providing so the leader can get to a conference, to get away for refreshment. I think that boards that really serve their staff well watch those things and they pay attention.

David: Healthy boards need to understand that one of the responsibilities in caring for the CEO, the president, the lead pastor, the senior pastor is the compensation package. The board needs to approve the compensation of the top leaders, the officers of the organization. The board has a huge role in making sure that there is a fair pay and benefit program in place for the senior leadership and the entire staff. The board doesn’t necessarily set the salaries of the staff but they create a mind set, a culture within the organization that the board expects to have a fair compensation and benefit program in place that they are going to approve. Part of that are salary surveys, seeing what is reasonable within market conditions. I am appalled when I hear that a church or Christ centered organization has made a decision to balance their budget by cutting staff salaries. They might say: ‘We are going to have, across the board 30% salary cuts for the staff; we are going to eliminate benefits so as to balance the budget.’ I just don’t think that is the way a Christ centered organization behaves or treats its staff. I also think that the board should make sure there is some sort of salary chart in place to give some guidance to the leadership when they are setting salaries. Personally I prefer a ranking system where certain jobs and tasks and positions have a rank; then within that rank there is a salary range. Based on performance, and reviews, and how a person is doing, they are compensated accordingly. I also think that within Christ centered churches and organizations if you are serious about measuring what you do, if a member of staff is exceeding expectations, performing well, far exceeding metrics and measurables, there should be a bonus system in place. This encourages and blesses them and it tells their spouse and children that their family member is really valued and important. It saddens me, but I think that within the marriages of a lot of people in ministry; there are spouses who are very resentful because they see how their partner has been treated in regards to pay and even little things like expressions of appreciation. It’s not all about pay; part of caring for the staff is making sure that we have a mindset, a culture where we express appreciation of one another.

Bert: So healthy boards create a healthy staff family which has huge implications for the mission.

John: If boards are operating at an elder level to a certain extent there should be ‘mutual pastoring’. A lot of times people say: ‘Well who pastors the pastor?’ To a certain extent boards should be coming alongside the pastor (or pastors). If the boards say that they don’t know if that is their role then whose role is it and actually, your role is to be an elder.

Bert: That’s a great term: ‘mutual pastoring’ that will take place in that regard. Well we have one more measure that we promised ourselves we would talk about and it is that healthy boards generate a favorable public opinion. How do we help boards do that and why is it important? Sometimes I think this part is missed.

John: In your essential meetings as a congregation, for example your annual meeting its vital that the congregation sees the board and its staff genuinely enjoying one another. That they stand together with the feeling: ‘We are so excited about the vision. We hope you are with us!” As opposed to walking in and the ‘Republicans’ are sitting here and the ‘Democrats” are sitting here! Or the board is here and the staff is over here. But the congregation should not only see a unified posture but a genuine love for one another. It is like when you see a staff who genuinely love each other, that communicates such health and creates a lot of unity in the body. I think when you go to the extra level and see the board and staff posture that way it is huge!

5. Accountability

David: I think that is important for the constituents in the church, for the congregation, for a non-profit organization to see the board serving, involved, engaged, active, leading the way, setting the example in these areas we are discussing. They have a responsibility to lift up the standards and to create an environment that is committed to service and to leading the way Jesus would lead in humility and in godliness, putting others first, crucifying their ego at the cross. I was at a convention once and someone said: ‘What would you do differently if you were in charge of this convention?’ I said: ‘I would put a banner over the registration desk: “Check (leave) your ego in here’! Boards need to see themselves as credibility builders in the community. We see ourselves not only as ambassadors to represent the mission of this organization but we are going to do everything we can to lift up and build the credibility of the organization in the community.

Bert: So the board is not above and outside the ministry, instead, it is really vitally linked to the ministry. In many respects it is the ministry. It embodies everything.

John: I like this word ‘champions’. The body looks at the board and the board is saying that they are champions (the ones who ‘champion’ or make famous the mission of the organization) instead of an out of sight, out of mind, nondescript group over here.

David: I think it helps if they have the attitude that they are the ‘face’ of the organization.

Bert: Well, we have had to move fast through the 12 marks but before we wrap them up let’s just do one more thing. What is a memorable thing you would want to leave our viewers with? Out of all the marks; what do you think is the most important thing we have touched on?

David: Well serving on a board of a Christ centered organization is not only a calling but it also a privilege and it should be very satisfying and rewarding. In the faith based community these organizations exist to meet needs in society. So to be part of a board that is lifting up Jesus Christ in the community should be the most satisfying thing that you do each month. So the reason that it is not always satisfying is that these twelve marks are not being embraced. So if you want board service where you really are hitting the mark and seeing the mission accomplished in your community; I think it is really important to embrace and take seriously these twelve marks we have just been discussing.

John: It’s kind of back to where we started and that is the board that needs to own the vision and strategies. This will help ensure that at the board level meetings; we will keep coming back to those things. We need to ask: ‘How are we doing with our vision? Are we getting there? Let’s keep dreaming together’. It’s not this group separate from us doing this but we are in it together. We need to keep breaking down the walls of isolation. That’s what I see happening so much in churches where we have the board here and the staff over here and they grudgingly meet together. Instead of saying: ‘You know, we can hardly wait to get together. Because when we meet: we pray together, we eat together, we serve together, we cry together, we celebrate together.

Bert: This has been very, very good. We have covered 12 marks very quickly: beginning with understanding our roles and responsibilities, followed by being mission focused. Those were two that were foundational to everything else we talked about. From there, it was: doing evaluation, making sure that the board is involved in creating adequate resources for the mission, avoiding at all costs the spiritual dysfunctions that can plague us along the way, and adopting the policy manual that helps clarify all of the above, not just for the immediate board but for generations of boards to come. Then being intentional in picking out those key people who are going to serve this ministry as part of the board, assessing performance and accountability, getting the ‘big picture’ by encouraging collaboration and not getting too inward focused, being disciplined in what we do, taking responsibility for it and generating favorable public opinion.

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