February 9, 2017

Top Ten Traits of a Terrific Vestry Member

In the social profit sector, the leadership role of the board of directors is so important it is considered a “capacity factor” for the organization. If the board is weak in its knowledge, governance and engagement, that weakness will hold back the agency, no matter how dynamic and productive the chief executive and the rest of the staff are.

As a consultant to not-for-profits, I created a list of “ten traits of a terrific board member” for use in governance training. For your consideration, I’ve amended the list for Vestry members:

1. Live by the Spirit. A terrific Vestry member honors God and reflects the fruit of that Spirit, rather than the works of the flesh. “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5: 22-23; 25-26)

2. The work is serious – act accordingly. A terrific Vestry member is not casual about his/her service. To reflect this trait, come to meetings prepared, having read advanced materials or articles. Ask questions and listen to answers, respecting and learning from others before coming to your own decision. Pray about your decisions.

3. Understand the mission and what fuels it. A terrific Vestry member loves the mission and understands how the parish is organized to fulfill it. This includes facts such parish demographics, who are potential new attendees, what are the ministries of the church and how much is each utilized, and what are the funding sources of the congregation?

4. Focus on the vision – the IMPACT of your ministries. A terrific Vestry member understands that even in a small parish where it’s “all hands on deck” to provide ministry, the Vestry has a very important “big picture” role. One of the key aspects of this level of leadership is providing the vision towards which all operations are heading. Articulating a vision is one of the most strategic leadership actions a Vestry can take.

5. Commit to spend more time than one meeting per month. When someone is recruited to serve on Vestry, s/he may be told that the time commitment is for monthly board meetings that last an hour or two. If this is the only time expectation set for Vestry members, none will be very terrific. A board member’s fiduciary and leadership responsibilities require more time than 12-24 hours per year. Terrific Vestry members invest time in reading materials in advance of meetings, visit various ministries to see them in action, serve on committees/task forces, help with fundraising or special events, and participate in special extended meetings or annual planning retreats.

6. Think outside the box. Terrific Vestry members rely not on their own understanding nor rest on the rationale that “we’ve always done it that way.” Consider looking outside the doors of the church to discover needs to be served in the neighborhood, community or world. With what interfaith ministries could your parish collaborate? What resources from the Episcopal Church Foundation could you use to help with strategic planning, planned giving or a capital campaign? Are all Vestry members signed up for Vital Practices e-mails? No need to get stuck in a rut with so many easily-accessed resources!

7. Invest your talents. People are often recruited to Vestry because of their profession, expertise or gifts for administration and ministry. Terrific Vestry members look forward to using their strengths to help the organization. Remember Ephesians 4: 11-13: YOU are a gift to the church!

8. Be an ambassador. A terrific Vestry member is a promoter of the parish to everyone s/he knows – inside and outside the church. Keep conversations positive – joyful even! Yes, sometimes serious issues develop, but that is no reason to sow seeds of doubt and anxiousness. We have Jesus Christ on our side, for Heaven’s sake! Promote the wonderful and invite others to get involved in the life of the parish.

9. Understand the spirituality of stewardship. A terrific Vestry member is joyful pledger to the church, and not just for the financial well-being of the parish. Encourage leadership to consider developing stewardship ministry that helps people grow in their faith and discipleship, including the understanding that we do not “possess” anything; we are stewards of the time, talents and treasure with which we are blessed.

10. Promote a healthy Vestry. Terrific Vestry members support each other and the rector/clergy in positive ways. They keep God first without regard to personal power and dominance. They respect fellow Vestry members and do not participate in gossip, hidden agendas or negative after-meeting parking lot discussions. To promote a healthy Vestry, set expectations in writing; explain these in a thorough orientation process. Value transparency and openness to diverse opinions.

I offer this list as a starting point for a very important Vestry discussion: What are our expectations for Vestry members? Do they include regular attendance and showing up on time? Do we have a shared understanding of expectations for stewardship, committee involvement and attending an annual retreat? What traits would we include in our “top ten” for being a terrific Vestry member?