Good Governance

An amazing valuable resource in ministry

by Chris Grantham

…or even bawd?

Well I’ll leave that one, apart from saying that all three of those homophones can happen concurrently. Let’s look at the other two.

As a leader, unless you are owner-operator of your own enterprise, you’ll either be accountable directly or indirectly to a governance board. It might be called a committee, council, board, elders, collective – or umpteen variations, but I’m going to use the generic ‘board’ to cover it. It’s organisationally where the buck ultimately stops. And it’s an amazingly valuable resource in ministry, albeit one with fishhook potential.

If you’re sufficiently up the organisational foodchain (such as CEO, senior pastor or equivalent), then it’s probably the board who signed off on your appointment, along with the terms and conditions. And in addition to God, it’s the board that you’re accountable to. There’s a whole stack of stuff involved in that – and my word limit doesn’t allow me to say it all. I’ll toss you selected reflections, arising from a couple of umpteen years’ worth of being on boards, and of being accountable to boards during my decades as a CEO (including my wonderful 4 months as an interim pastor).

We need to find a new board member. So you’re a bit thin on certain expertise or balanced representation. Frequently the chair and CEO will have a chat on this. And often you as CEO know just the people – good mates with great skills. Please don’t choose someone who you think will be compliant, scratching your back. Go for somebody who will be competent and called. Whenever I’ve approached (always with the board’s approval) a friend, one of the first things I’ve said is, ‘you’ve got to be prepared to move me on at the right time. Fire me, if needed.’ Recognise that when/if that eventuates, it can cause tension in the friendship.

Your relationship with the chair is your key board relationship. It’s a vital two-way, no-surprises relationship. As CEO I’d always meet – preferably in person – with the chair well prior to board papers going out, to chat over the key issues, together seeking to understand the likely direction of discussion – always allowing of course for what happens on the day, as God moves around the table and in the hearts and minds of other participants. When the chair decides it is time to move on and is considering who might replace him/her, I would always want to be part of the conversation. Not that I personally appoint the replacement. But I see it as vital that the new chair is someone who I can work with. While the whole board is my ‘boss’, this is personified in the chair. I seek someone who wants to work with me, and on the agreed mission and tasks of the ministry. Not someone with their own revolutionary ideas to be enacted from the chair. (If, however, that is the kind of appointment the board wants to make, clearly my hour is nearly come. I’ll go.)

I’ve had a few ‘interesting’ times with boards over the years. One I recall was when my action (moving on a problem staff member) was ratified by a one vote (mine!) margin – in spite of my keeping the chair fully involved in my between-meetings actions. At the board meeting, I understood he would back me, but he allowed the idealistic younger board members (who we need, and they are invaluable. Except for when they are not ☺) not just their say, but also their sway. The following week I tendered my resignation. It was not accepted. We all learned something…

Yes there’s boring bits – that’s life. Whatever side of the table you are on, and whether it is the routine humdrum, the exciting venturing-out, the trouble-shooting, the position-taking, the hiring and firing – some of it will be exhilarating. Some of it won’t. It goes with the territory. The 12 lads that hung out with Jesus certainly had their moments of boredom. (For them that was generally when they got into the silly stuff…)

My most recent job: they told me when I signed up that this could be one of the best jobs of my life: being Santa for 5 weeks last Christmas. Really?! Why? Maybe it was because there was no board to whom I had to present strategic plans, budgets, accounts, innumerable papers. Oh all right, I was responsible to those who hired me. But I reckoned my main accountability was to the 1499 wee punters who came to see me in amazed wonder (or, in a few cases, shrieks of terror). One of the best jobs. I wasn’t bored.

Martyn Norrie is a previous board member of Arrow Leadership NZ and has most helpfully written some very wise advice on boards and governance. Good Governance is Worth the Effort is worth having – you can buy it online from the usual outlets.

God be with you as you lead, and as you engage boardily, whatever side of the table.

Chris Grantham

Chris Grantham was director of Arrow NZ from its reboot in 2012 till 2020. He’s been on and under various boards most of his life in a range of ministries, interwoven with life as a chartered accountant and school teacher. (And dressed in varying garb to suit each particular employer). In the last 18 months he’s done swags of reading of all types.

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