This month, I wrap up two years of serving as Board Chair for our congregation. It has been an amazing two years. As someone who has had most of her life experience working with church and not-for-profit organizations, I can honestly say THIS IS THE BEST BOARD IT HAS EVER BEEN MY PRIVILEGE TO WORK WITH.
And I wanted to tell you a little bit about why.
Our group was a great cross section of those who had been in the congregation a long time and those who had been here only since we moved to Mt. Baker Presbyterian. We had a range of ages spanning over 50 years. We had members who have only ever known Joan as their pastor, and those who have been in congregations all across the country. Some had been on this board before, some never had been until now. Some of us have kids, some of us have businesses, some of us have years of social service, all of us have a calling.
We worked early on to practice building consensus whenever possible. Consensus building is hard work. It isn’t everyone agreeing perfectly. It isn’t everyone liking the compromises. It is a well informed group of people with diverse opinions being willing to see the Christ in one another, even as we worked to find middle ground and keep us moving forward. This, in my opinion, is the most holy of work that any board can do. We needed some grace with each other, we needed some faith in each other, and we needed to give time to each other. And in the end, by giving into this ideal style of community, I believe we were better leaders, and ultimately learned to be better people.
We did our work faithfully, and worked hard not to be pressured or to pressure each other into rushing the process. Our goal was to leave each meeting with one voice of leadership— saying only what we could all agree was true. Resisting the urge to take our board positions as bully pulpits to sway the congregation into what we would have instead. I saw every single member of our board faced with the challenge of having their turn being the less-than-satisfied member with some decision we made. But our ability to support the next steps and keep us pointed toward our greater purpose speaks vol- umes to the leadership tone of the last two years.
We tried our best to stick only to our leadership work—entrusting that other leaders of the church were also equipped to do things they were called to (even if they did them differently than we would have) We were dedicated to ensuring that the roll of pastor, the role of the congregation, the role of the individual member, the role of the elders and the role of the board each did THEIR OWN sacred work, and did not try to usurp other’s leadership. I suppose only those other groups can speak to our ultimate success, but a genuine effort was always with us.
We listened to the still small voice. Some of us were loud and talkative and others were quiet and spoke in hushed tones. We tried as a group to make sure that all the voices—loud and big or small, quiet or rare were respected equally.
We did our homework. No decision was just made on a gut feeling. We consulted those within and outside of the church who had more experience than we did on every topic at hand. We asked what was the range of anything— from “believing in a miracle” to “worst case scenario” and tried to aim for the middle ground where we could share comfortable space with each other, and with the congregation.
We did our best to listen. The congregation was interviewed often. Sometimes by e-mail, some- times by congregational meeting, sometimes by board members being sent to simply “strike up conversations” as see where they went. But not a single meeting went by where “how is the congregation feeling” wasn’t seriously considered.
We invested in our work theologically. It is true that the board is the legal and financial leadership of the church and the elders are the theological and spiritual leaders...but a good church must always have both in front of them. We regularly tried to think through what our decisions meant theologically, and how others could interpret them theologically as well. While none of us is ever as great a theologian as we would like to be, it was beautiful thing to observe—this effort of great faith.
We were willing to grow and find a “third way.” Not a single meeting went by in these two years (and WHEW—that’s so many meetings!) that some outcome and conclusion didn’t surprise us all. Outcomes that took us whole different directions, dramatically changed minds and hearts. That had us respecting each other, our church and the idea of sacred work in new ways. It is terribly vulnerable thing to let yourself be swayed when you are sure you already know what you think. And I firmly believe that all of the things listed above made this “third way” work easier and more successful.
I have, over the years, worked with great leaders who were willing to invest in one or two of these ideas (sometimes, if you are really lucky, you get a board who is willing to invest in 3). I have never found a board more dedicated to all of these ideals—even when it was hard. Even when it “slowed” our work. This group, this board, has been an honor to work and to serve with them for the last two years. Blessings to you all as we continue on.