Ever since business guru Jim Collins spoke years ago about building a personal board of directors, this concept has been popular among leaders in various work environments, including the church. Although we want to make a general habit of humbly learning from everyone, it's good to be intentional about the handful of people you choose to most directly influence your actions and your character.
An organization's typical board of directors consists of a group of specialized advisors with diverse perspectives, expertise, and pertinent experiences, all acting in the best interest of the company. Given the many demands, priorities, and opportunities we juggle in our professional and personal lives, having a trusted group of advisors can be quite helpful. Perhaps developing a board of directors is the 21st century application of the exhortation in Proverbs 19:20 (NLT): "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life."
Do you have a group of trusted guides who speak into your life and influence you toward Christ? Who are the people you find yourself turning to in times of difficulty, discouragement, or decision-making? What do you look for in an advisor or confidante? Hopefully, you choose people of integrity, wisdom, and maturity who help you stay emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. These should be people who consistently motivate you to become the person God has created you to be.
Build Your Board
So whom should you consider for your personal board? That depends on a number of factors, including your personality, stage of life, ministry role, and personal needs. Your board will likely include a spouse, close family, and/or friends, but you should also consider the following types of people:
This is someone who is more experienced and accomplished in your ministry field—someone whom you respect and would like to emulate. Or it can be someone who works in a completely unrelated area, but demonstrates life wisdom and character you admire. In general, this person is ahead of you in some capacity and can show you the ropes. This mentor relationship is not dependent on proximity, frequent communication, or even a close relational connection.
Some mentors might include a godly parent, a church leader, an influential coach, a trusted friend, or even a Christian writer. For example, one of my mentors is a nationally renowned pastor whom I follow regularly through podcasts, books, and articles because his perspectives on Scripture, life, and spiritual formation resonate with me and consistently inspire me to become more like Jesus.
This is someone who is in a senior level in your organization or ministry field. He or she is not only ahead of you, but has the power and desire to open doors for you. This person cares about your development and is vested in your success. He or she is willing to use his or her influence and expertise to help you grow and move forward. I have a sponsor who believes I am far more capable than I think I am. He provides opportunities, thrusts me into leadership situations, and offers ministry experiences that stretch me. He provides a big picture ministry perspective along with wise counsel on navigating leadership situations and the broader church world.
Spiritual Director or Spiritual Companion
This is someone who helps you pay attention to your soul along the journey of faith. They know you well and can help you connect the dots between what is happening in your life and what God is doing in you. This person is crucial in helping you stay centered in your identity as a beloved child of God rather than whatever roles you might have. Regular times of reflection and conversation with a spiritual companion help me slow down and become more aware of God's presence and activity in my life. This then equips me not to be reactive or driven by unhealthy desires. Instead, I learn to make decisions aligned with God's ongoing work in me.
These people share your passion for small-group ministry and understand its joys and challenges. They help you get fresh ideas, think through strategies, provide resources, become a sounding board, and energize your spirit because they "get it." You can find these people in your ministry team, in other churches, at conferences, or through social media. For example, the open Facebook group for the Small Group Network is a terrific source for sharing information and building friendships among people in small-group ministry.
Because churches are filled with sinful people like us, ministry is messy. Having a friend who speaks truth in a grace-filled way is a huge asset. Much like "iron sharpening iron," this person asks insightful questions, helps us process whatever is happening, and provides clarity in murky situations. It is easy to be blinded by our egos and defense mechanisms. Truth-tellers can hold up a mirror to reveal the strengths and flaws in our character and behavior. More importantly, they speak truth in an encouraging and gentle way. These people see you clearly, cheer you on, and put wind back in your sails.
Though we may have our families and small groups praying for us, I find it powerfully comforting to have someone to whom I can always turn for prayer. There are people with the gift of intercessory prayer who make it their ministry to pray for others. Several years ago, God blessed me with the gift of a prayer warrior at our church. I barely knew her, but this elder's wife approached me and told me that my new responsibilities on the executive team would require more prayer support. She was absolutely right. She then made a commitment to pray for me every day. I am so humbled and thankful for her faithful prayers.
Life Skill Experts
This is a catch-all category for experts who help you manage certain necessary areas of your life. It could be a financial planner, therapist, medical professional, life coach, dietitian, or personal trainer. You might consult this person for expert advice before moving forward with a plan or ask him or her to keep you on track with your goals. This person can assist you in particular areas so you can be more effective overall.
Like organizations with a board of directors, a healthy leader needs a personal board of trusted advisors with different functions and perspectives. A personal board of directors is not created in one day, but rather developed over time. Though it might be challenging to find the time or energy to intentionally invest in these relationships, it's well worth it. Look around and see whom God has already put into your life to fulfill some of these roles. They will help you become a more effective leader, and, more importantly, encourage you to be the person God has created you to be.
—Carolyn Taketa is the Executive Director of Small Groups at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California, and an editorial advisor for SmallGroups.com; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.