Wednesday, July 1, 2020

LESSON 26 - Big Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

Welcome to More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. David Ingerson is our guest blogger this week for the third of four lessons in "Part 7: Boardroom Best Practices.” And during this COVID-19 era, the role of the board becomes even more critical. We pray that your board will have God-honoring wisdom as you spiritually discern next steps.

LESSON 26 OF 40: Big Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand
Ministry boards have a natural gravitational pull toward issues that should be reserved for the staff.

THE BIG IDEA FROM THE BOOK: In Lesson 26, the authors note that boards which are not disciplined to focus on the big issues, or “big rocks,” are destined to mediocrity and inefficiency. The board must allow, and insist, that the staff handle the minor issues, “small rocks, pebbles, and sand” in order to reserve their attention, time, and wisdom for the larger issues that are worthy of their focus.

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 26, pages 140-145: 
• “If rocks, pebbles, and sand are analogous to the various issues that ministries must address, they are all important at some level, but it’s just the big rocks that should be on the agenda of the board.”
“The board chair, vice chair, and CEO must build into the board’s DNA a stewardship conviction that big rocks are their focus.”
• “If the board agenda includes smaller rocks, pebbles, and sand, there is no hope (or time!) for the board to focus on big rocks.”

Just as the tragedy of the Vietnam Conflict, for the USA, was understood to have been caused by the president and his then-secretary of defense, in 1963, diverting the joint chiefs’ attention from strategic thinking and planning, so a ministry board that distracts its focus from vision and strategy and instead zeros in on specific budgetary line items—operational, pebble/sand issues—will likely also lose the war and fail to effectively accomplish their mission, or at the very least, make successful mission accomplishment all the more elusive.

The hard-working ministry staff will likely appreciate the top-cover a board provides by dealing with strategic issues, the large issues—big rocks. An efficient staff will likewise feel unappreciated and devalued when the board diverts its attention from the large issues (big rocks) and micromanages the tasks they are assigned—thus distracting themselves from big rocks to focus on pebbles and sand.

A board that insists on focusing on the operational, day-to-day duties and issues, pebbles, and sand—instead of the larger issues that actually makes up their charter—will leave the staff feeling not only second-guessed, but also untrusted and unprotected at the all-important strategic level at which the board is supposed to govern.

Listen up, boards! Give your staff a break—don’t try to do their job! Instead provide the strategic top-cover they long for, so they can fully explore and exploit their commitment and creativity for accomplishing the mission. 


DAVID INGERSON is the president/CEO of Christians in Action Missions International (CinAMI). His passion for evangelism and disciple-making commenced at his conversion to faith as a freshman at the US Air Force Academy after hearing Astronaut Jim Irwin share his testimony at the Academy Cadet Chapel. After 20 years serving as an Air Force pilot and officer, David spent 12 years initiating and operating several for-profit enterprises. Having traveled to 75 countries, David fervently loves learning about other cultures and how to best communicate the Gospel in their contexts. His mission, CinAMI, has approximately 80 workers making disciples in 21 countries. David and his wife, Kathleen, along with Deborah, their youngest of five children, make their home in Fresno, Calif. He is the author of The Caleb Years: When God Doesn’t Make Sense.


• Use the big rocks, pebbles, sand, and water illustration at your next board meeting. Accomplish the jar-filling exercise twice. First time: put the sand in first, then the pebbles, then attempt to put in the big rocks. You should be able to put in only one or perhaps two big rocks—show the “left-out/no-room” rocks. Try to “pack” them in—clearly showing it’s impossible. Second time: put in the big rocks, then the pebbles, then the sand, and finally the water and be sure ALL go in—vividly demonstrating the all importance of starting with the big rocks FIRST, or you won’t be able to get the big rocks in!

Inspire your CEO and board chair to review your agenda together before your next board meeting. See if you can find any small rocks, pebbles, or sand—and make a commitment to scrub each agenda for future meetings, or until you succeed in incorporating nothing except big rock issues to take to your board. It will be a refreshing and liberating feeling!

Visit the ECFA Knowledge Center and read and share the short chapter, Lesson 26, “Big Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand.”

On July 8, 2020, watch for the commentary by Tom Beaumont on Lesson 27, “Address Absentee Board Member Syndrome. There are three unhealthy ways that many ministry boards respond to empty chairs at board meetings.”

BULK ORDERS: Click here. For more resources and to download the book's Table of Contents, visit the book's webpage.

No comments:

Post a Comment

BONUS LESSON – Index to 40 Blogs

OUR FINAL BLOG! We hope you’ve found value for your board in More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog , this 40-week journey through t...