Although sometimes hard to serve with, a trustee or two for whom single-mindedness, persistence, tenacity, and perhaps even stubbornness are spiritual gifts that can help keep the board focused on the mission.
I spent last Sunday at a baby shower, an exercise I prefer only narrowly over root canal therapy. People I love persist in having babies though, and I am happy to coo and celebrate, really I am. It's the game playing that drives me scatty.
It isn't that I dislike games in general. I can, and do, when the situation requires, play "crazy eights" by the hour with my four-year-old. Every few years, I indulge in a brief backgammon spree to remind myself that I'm not as noncompetitive as I might appear. But an afternoon of identifying jars of baby food without labels does not gladden my heart (notwithstanding the lovely photo album I won because I can do so with alacrity).
It was at a baby shower, though, that I was reminded of a lesson I'd learned in another game-playing context. In this case, everyone was given a pacifier on a string to wear around her neck. (I make none of this up.) We were forbidden to say the word "baby," and if someone said the word in your presence, you were free to take her pacifier. This one was won in fairly dramatic fashion by a young woman with Down's syndrome, who ended the afternoon with an array of pacifiers draped here and there. As someone pointed out, she was uniquely gifted at focusing on one thing at a time. Ah, yes, single-minded focus.
Some years ago, at a training event for leaders in small churches, our facilitator announced a simulation game. Now I respond to simulation games with the same glee with which I approach baby showers. I half listened to the instructions that had to do with selecting a mission statement and sticking with it. My group chose its statement and we were off and running in what was a mercifully fast-paced series of peculiar situations coming at us. I recall people desiring to give us large gifts to do odd things, and, to be perfectly honest, I don't remember much else except telling my group -- which included some people who were becoming increasingly annoyed with me -- "This isn't part of our mission. We can't do it."
Meanwhile other groups were becoming fabulously successful by all sorts of standards -- publicity, cash holdings, and so on. The game was constructed to make a point, though, and all those goodies slipped away. My team won handily. And simply because I was -- at least for one hour of my life -- single-mindedly focused, persistent, tenacious, and stubborn.
Now, many people, myself chief among them, will consider it an act of mercy if you don't put your board through a simulation game to teach them to value those traits. But teach them you must.
The world of theological education governance is without a doubt full of peculiar situations. People will offer your school large amounts of money to do odd things. There are lots of temptations to broaden your mission statement beyond recognition. You need a person or two on your board for whom single-mindedness, persistence, tenacity, and perhaps even stubbornness are spiritual gifts.
If you're very lucky, these people will also be gifted with senses of humor and of proportion. If they aren't, they may be hard to put up with. Do it anyhow, and help the rest of the board understand why. When those gifts are authentic, they are lifesavers. Some things aren't play, and your mission is one of those. So engage fully with those who insist upon it.
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