Now, I’m not one of those types who thinks that because they are doing something, so should everyone else. You know, the pastor who has joined the local squash club to get themselves out of the ministerial bubble. They’ve only been at it a month and a bit, yet that’s the thing. All self-respecting pastors should be out there slamming squash balls into walls.
No, if everyone was doing exactly what I’m doing, I’d lose my USP. Anyone who’s watched Dragons Den knows that’s a big no, no. Besides, the knowledge that there might be loads of other people out there, all doing my stuff, might make me have existential crisis, or something. Can’t be doing with that at my age.
None the less, in this post I’m going to suggest that if you’re a pastor, or have some kind of leadership responsibility in the church, then being a school governor might be something to consider. Not that all pastors should be govs. Some might be rubbish at it. It is the case, however, that ministers often have skills that are transferable to school governance.
For one, you’re a leader, right? And not in the sense of a boss telling employees what to do, or they can collect their P45 on the way out. You’re a leader of a group of volunteers. No one forced your people into church membership, or to take on a role/responsibility in the church. Same with school governors, apart from the Headteacher, for whom it’s part of the job. You can’t just order volunteers around. You have to take them with you. Ever managed to get a difficult decision past a church members’ meeting without creating a split? The same skills will come in handy as a governor. Definitely, if you become chair.
Plus, you’re used to delegating responsibility for certain tasks to others and seeing their skills develop. I mean, if as well as pastor, you’re church secretary, treasurer, main musical accompanist, welcomer, leader of the toddler group, etc, etc, you’re probably doing it wrong. The concentration of too many roles in the hands of too few people means the overworked few eventually burn out and the undeveloped many eventually drop out. Again, same applies to governing boards. You get that.
Another thing pastors should be good at is vision & strategy. You’ll have your vision for your church and its mission to the community that is both biblical and contextual. And unless there’s something badly wrong with you, you’re a theology geek, yes? Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology, Historical Theology. How everything fits together as a coherent whole. That should help with strategic planning and monitoring progress towards the realisation of the board’s vision for the school. A wide range of factors will make for a good education and they’re all interrelated. School leadership, teaching and learning, curriculum, pupil attendance and behaviour, school context, and so on. The Department for Education publish richly detailed breakdowns of school data that enable governors to spot strengths and weaknesses in their school’s outcomes. Long hours spent reading Berkhof and Bavinck means you should be able to join the dots.
John Calvin said that pastors should have two voices. One for gathering the sheep, and another for driving away wolves. Governors similarly have a dual role. Their task is to support and challenge their school to make sure it is making rapid and sustained progress. Governors should also be willing to support and challenge one another. It is essential that the board remains focused on its side of the strategic/operational dividing line and doesn’t try and meddle in the everyday running of the school. Sometimes it may be necessary to have ‘courageous conversations’ to bring wayward governors back into line. Wolfish govs who would enrich themselves at the expense of the school, or who are hugely disruptive, must be warned off.
Governance requires moral courage. Some schools ‘off-roll’ underachieving students so they don’t have a negative impact on results. Others have narrowed their curriculum to devote more time to subjects that attract additional points in the School Performance Tables. Arts subjects have suffered as a result. It is for governing boards to ensure their schools do all they can for vulnerable pupils and that they offer a broad and enriching curriculum. Boards must be prepared to stick by their guns and not chase an improved standing in Performance Tables as the main indicator of success. The question must always be, ‘What’s the right thing for our students?’ Pressures to compromise will come from various points, but as Martin Luther charged us, “Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
Pastors should be aware that becoming a governor does not mean they should try and impose their faith upon a school, especially if it has no religious affiliation. There may be opportunities to be ‘salt and light’. But I’m not arguing for a Christian equivalent of the Islamic infiltration of governing boards exposed under the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal (see here).
If your children are of school age, why not consider becoming a parent governor? If a local school governing board is looking to co-opt members of the community with skills you possess, why not at least go along to find out more? If the part of the world where you minister is disadvantaged, people from a ‘professional’ background may be at a premium, so you may be well placed to make a real difference.
Not for everyone, I know, but perhaps think about it.