by Henry Brandt
Back in 1929 Owen D. Young, chairman of the board of the General Electric Company, said what he thought of his responsibilities: “My conception is this: There are three groups of people who are interested in this institution.
Back in 1929 Owen D. Young, chairman of the board of the General Electric Company, said what he thought of his responsibilities: "My conception is this: There are three groups of people who are interested in this institution. One is a group of 50,000 people who have put their capital into this company, namely its stockholders. Another group is a group well toward 100,000 people who are putting their labor and lives into the business of this company. The third group is the general public. One no longer feels the obligation to take from labor for the benefit of capital, nor to take from the public for the benefit of both, but rather to administer wisely and fairly for the benefit of all."1
The same responsibility falls to the members of the board of a mission society at home, and to those who hold similar positions in councils and committees involved in the work of missions and national churches overseas. Their decisions involve the interests of many groups-the missionaries, their families, those who invest money and prayer, other missions, the church, the general public, nationals, governments. The name and work of Christ is at stake when mission boards and the missionaries they send out make decisions.
Board members must recognize they have an important part to play. The selection of missionaries, their placement, their spiritual life, the policies that guide them, the administration of their work, their relationship with the people they serve–all these ultimately are the responsibility of the board members.
Choosing board members, then, becomes an important task. The responsibility that falls to the board member who accepts the invitation to serve is awesome indeed. He must administer wisely and fairly in the interests of all.
Our Lord’s commission to teach people "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:18-20 ) suggests that a board member should be a person who demonstrates a knowledge of and a love for the Word of God. The wisdom and understanding that are the result of a knowledge and a love for the commandments of the Master will be a sure guide for the mission organization that seeks to carry out the Great Commission.
An effective board member demonstrates that he can keep a balance between the cares, riches, and things of his world and his devotion to the Lord and His Word (Luke 4:18-20) . The wisdom and understanding of such a man will be a wholesome, positive influence on the rest of the board and on the administrative personnel who actually administer the affairs of the mission.
GRASPING THE OBJECTIVES
Since the law charges the board with the responsibility of carrying out the objectives of the mission, a board member should be a person who can grasp and understand the objectives of the mission and who will advance and support policies that will achieve its objectives. This means that a board member strives to maintain unity of purpose; he works toward harmonizing the interests of all who are a part of the mission.
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul comments on their relationships to one another: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that Ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared to me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you" (I Cor. 1:10, 11). He was aware of differences and sought to harmonize them.
Whether or not a prospective board member is such a man can be judged by his past record. His relationships within his own family, his work or business record, his performance and reputation in his own church or other organizations are indications of his steadfastness of purpose and ability to harmonize interests.In a certain organization some of the leaders had slowly drifted away from some of thestated objectives of the group and were seeking to introduce practices inconsistent with the objectives. The president was on the fence because the situation involved some of his own relatives. He sought to keep peace by ignoring the facts. However, a board member brought the matter to the attention of the board.
One board member tried to reconcile everyone by altering the group’s objectives and standards. In the long run, however, unity of purpose and harmonizing of objectives were achieved by requesting the resignation of several members of the organization and one board member.
I mention this case to point up the fact that harmony and unity within an organization can only be considered within the limits of the stated purpose and objectives of the organization. These were guarded by a discerning board member who had a grasp of them and who was determined to protect them. Peace at any price is akin to a ship at sea without a rudder. The board acted to keep their ship on course.
It should be noted that the board acted. One outstanding service of a board is the group decision arrived at in a board meeting. Private opinions arrived at in conversations outside the board meeting can be adjusted by the wisdom and understanding of a group of people who love the Lord and His Word, and who are assembled together to achieve "the same mind and the same judgment." Objectives and policies previously arrived at when there was no issue to be considered can serve as check points in the midst of a storm. Dedicated, knowledgeable men can be counted on to hold steady. It is the man who in the past has demonstrated his dedication to the Lord who can "prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:2).
In the interests of carrying out the objectives of the organization it may be necessary to replace weak, ineffective personnel who may seek to achieve the group objectives but are unable to do so. In some cases an executive can handle a small organization, but as it grows a limit develops as to what he can grasp. In such cases the board must act with great wisdom and understanding.
The board provides for continuity of policy and the survival of the organization. The board serves as a live repository for the accumulated experience of the organization. This experience is preserved while there are changes in personnel. When the executive director retires, the board provides the bridge between the old and the new leadership.
There are times when this change can be done in a gradual, orderly fashion. The successor is chosen well in advance and the reins of leadership can gradually be shifted. Sometimes a leader dies suddenly in the midst of carrying heavy responsibilities. In such cases only the board provides for the continuity of the objectives of the organization. Whether the transition is gradual or sudden, provision for adequate leadership is the responsibility of the board. That is why the board member should be able to grasp and understand the policies and objectives.
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Earlier I mentioned the problem of a drift away from the stated objectives of an organization. This was brought to the attention of the board by a board member. This fact points up another qualification of a board member: the ability to ask discerning questions. This ability comes from a broad background of observation and experience.
The prospective board member may be a person with some specific skills. He may be trained in specific areas: accounting, business administration, law, personnel management, finance, or theology. Such a man can give invaluable aid in the selection of personnel, investments, public relations, planning, and executing the plan. Following are some illustrations:An executive was having problems in personal relationships with his staff. By asking discerning questions a board member was able to help him see some reasons for his difficulties.
A board member was able to help an executive to see that his fervent desire to establish a Bible school in his area was hastily conceived. The executive was not able to demonstrate the need and he had not consulted with other groups working in the area.
A board member was able to show an office manager how to save money and at the same time to reduce on personnel.
A father wanted to give his son a key responsibility. Others didn’t agree. A board member was able to mediate the situation by using his skill in helping all interested people to look at the son’s qualifications. The decision was made to everyone’s satisfaction on the basis of the facts.
A board member was able to save an organization several thousand dollars by examining building plans.
The board member can ask discerning questions by bringing his experience to bear on many specific issues brought up by executives, reviewing issues previously discussed and acted on, and by studying reports and financial statistics.
The board at times can help an executive to see that some decisions need to be postponed. Not making a decision that cannot be carried out saves an executive from losing the respect his staff has for his judgment. There are times when the board can show an executive that he is making a decision that someone else should make.
For example, one executive was handling all questions involving foreign governments from the home office. This resulted in delays, much confusion, and protests from missionaries in the field. Careful discussion made it plain that there were competent people on the field who could handle this responsibility. The executive at home liked the job and didn’t want to let it go. When the change was made, the executive was relieved of a millstone around his neck and the responsibility was handled satisfactorily by others who were in a better position to act.
THE DISCERNING QUESTION IS A VALUABLE TOOL
The most effective board member asks the most discerning questions. The foreknowledge that searching questions will be asked is a deterrent to the proposal of half-baked projects. When the board questions policies, the executive can follow suit in his dealings with his staff.
One board member was described as a person who never uttered a complete sentence, but he had the ability to draw out the facts, to take the measure of an executive by discovering his attitudes and reasonings. Great staff enthusiasm over a project was the signal for him to stimulate a vigorous and searching discussion. If the proposal proved to be a sound one, this board member gave it his solid backing. Truly discerning questions have a constructive purpose.
This is not the district attorney cross-examining a defendent, but the interaction of executive and directors who are responsible participants in both the search for new directions and the evaluation of earlier decisions. The process involves controlling, reviewing, deciding, advising, and approving-with enough discussion to safeguard against hasty decisions.
One executive had a domineering personality combined with ability and dedication to his task. Careful questioning of his proposals by his board was a restraining influence on him.
This teamwork between himself and his board enabled him to function effectively as a good executive.
In summarizing his study of directors and their functions, Dr. John C. Baker of Ohio University lists the following qualifications of a board member.
(a) Unquestioned personal integrity; (b) Courage and sound principles of business ethics; (c) Advances and supports constructive and sound policies regardless of conflicts with personal interest; (d) Acquires rapidly a competent grasp of problems in true perspective; (e) Understands administrative process; (f) Wide experience, broad knowledge of men and affairs; (g) Independent in questions and judgment; (h) Makes himself available for meeting and consultation; (i) Deeply interested in success and welfare of company and unquestioned loyalty; (j) If he is proficient in a field of special interest like research, law, or labor relations, he may make especially important contributions; (k) Broad social point of view, an awareness of current revolutionary changes in the world; (l) Philosophy of duties and responsibilities of directors.2
This is a big order, but missions is a big job. No one fills all of these requirements, but this list can serve as a useful yardstick for measuring the men available. Pick the one who stands the tallest.
1. Jobn C. Baker, Directors and Their Functions (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1945), p. 6.
2. Ibid., pp. 134, 135.
EMQ, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 22-27. Copyright © 1965 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.