Called to Serve: Violence and Committee Meetings

By John Pearson

The last blog of the last day of last year referenced Max De Pree’s quick-reading book and we asked you, “What Will You Measure in 2017?”

So this year, we’re encouraging you to keep that question in mind as you inspire your colleagues on the board to reflect on their sacred calling. David McKenna writes that board members must see themselves as “stewards of a sacred trust.”

Stewards are lifelong learners, so before your board members groan or whine about one more book to read, insert this at the top of your board agenda:

“An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth;
fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies.”

Proverbs 15:14 MSG

SUGGESTION: Order one copy of this 91-page gem (not a fad, it was published in 2001) for every board member and senior team member—and, together, we’ll dig deep into Max De Pree’s Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

In each blog, we’ll highlight a big idea from the book—and suggest how you might leverage that wisdom with your board. For example, as we approach Super Bowl Sunday:

Commenting on board committees, De Pree notes the story of the English visitor who watched his first American football game and observed, “The game combines the two worst elements of American culture—violence and committee meetings.”

EXERCISE: Using a scale of 1 (Not at All Effective) to 5 (Extremely Effective), invite every board member to evaluate every committee.

Called to Serve is short, says De Pree, because “We believe good people need reminders and an occasional nudge, not a sermon.” So instead of a 300-page snoozer, De Pree crafts a coaching conversation (a series of letters) with a young leader and his first CEO/board relationship. It’s easy reading and the short epistles are extraordinary.

Great boards, says the former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller (he was also board chair of and honored by Fuller Seminary), should have at least four characteristics:



--Fun to serve on

--Demanding in the best sense of the word

EXERCISE:Using a scale of 1 (Definitely No) to 5 (Definitely Yes), ask board members to indicate if these four characteristics are representative of your board’s culture.

EXTRA CREDIT: If you gave a “5” rating for one or more characteristic, share one—and why.

In the next blog, we’ll begin thinking about Max De Pree’s “Top-10” answers to “What would a really good board look like.” It’s not this, he writes:

“I once sat in on a board meeting as a visitor. Before the meeting was to begin, I asked the man next to me if I could have a look at his agenda. He said, ‘Oh, we don’t have a real agenda. What you see is simply an exercise in random trivia.’ Well, that’s exactly what we don’t need.”

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.