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CENTERBOARD: Decision-Making During Change

July 2009
By: Tom Lothamer
Pregnancy care center leaders regularly respond to this column, and often their comments and questions lead me to the subject for the next article. That's what happened this time. A director wrote:

I enjoyed your web article in the At the Center magazine concerning who's the boss when it comes to boards. One thing that has bothered me for the last few years is the emphasis on a corporate image. For example, some ministry consultants want executive director titles to be changed to CEO. One organization that was providing us with consulting services strongly suggested that I change my title to CEO. Therefore, with the board's permission, I did.

My problem is that I've been the director of this center for many years and 'CEO' sounds so impersonal compared to 'executive director.' I've been in PCC ministry for so long and I've seen many changes. My concern is that we will go the way of so many other ministries that begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh where the Gospel message is minimized. What are your thoughts?

She made some good points, and I tend to agree with her evaluation; but I'm not going to suggest her board made a mistake or fault ministries that refer to their chief administrator as President or CEO. That's not the point of this article.

What we're going to consider here is this: When a board is confronted with changes to the ministry, how do they go about it? What information do they need to help them make an appropriate decision? In the case of a decision between 'CEO' and 'Executive Director,' the board would need to know why consultants make this suggestion and what the possible benefits and losses would be.

Consultants provide a tremendous service to PCCs and other ministries; yet when the day is done and a decision has been made, the board, administration, and other staff must own it. They understand the environment in which the PCC serves and they, not the consultants, have to live with the decision.

Knowing she's the CEO of Chester County Women's Services of Coatesville and West Chester, Pennsylvania, I asked Karen Pennell for her thoughts on this issue, and she was very helpful. She suggested that whether the decision involves adding or changing a program, adding or reducing staff, moving to a new facility, or changing the center's mission, boards should consider the following questions:

What is our ministry's mission and vision? (What is the why and how of what we do?)
What is our plan for the ministry, and what impact will this proposed change have on it? On the ministry in general? On our community, our outreach, and our testimony?
Are there budget implications?
Karen explained how CCWS's board concluded they should adopt the CEO designation as her title. Since her centers are located in suburbs of Philadelphia, where there are many corporations and businesses, and since her job necessitates visiting with corporate executives in order to seek donations, having the CEO title gives her quicker entrée into their offices. A center in another community may operate in a completely different environment, and its board may come to a different, but equally valid, conclusion.

Our own board considered an important question for over a year — whether or not to establish a new staff position. At a special board meeting this past June, the position of Associate Director of Ministry Development along with a job description was approved. In my next article, I'll describe the path we took to finally reach this point and outline the various roles that the board, the staff, and I carried out.

Meanwhile, the director with the original question emailed to say she'd come to a decision about her title. "I think I'm going to change my title back to what I feel comfortable with. May our Lord continue to strengthen and encourage you to do that which is meaningful in His sight!"

Her last remark puts it all in perspective, doesn't it? In all decisions, boards must have the courage to do what is meaningful in God's sight. In so doing, we'll be on target for doing His will in the ministry.

Tom Lothamer is Executive Director of Baptists for Life, which is celebrating its 25th year in 2009, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, go to www.bfl.org.

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