I left town this morning for a meeting in Dallas. My young children, especially my youngest, didn’t want me to leave. She wanted to know what I was doing and why I had to go out of town.
I said, “I’m going to a board meeting, honey. B-O-A-R-D.”
My son laughed, because he’s old enough to get the joke.
My daughter asked, “Why do you have to go to a board meeting?” To which I said: “Well, honey, I was asked to serve on the board and agreed to do it because I believe in what they are doing and want to be part of it. When you agree to serve on a board, you make a commitment to go to meetings.”
Then she wanted to know how many of these meetings there are and other things about which a young mind is curious.
The most important thing she asked in all her questions—although she couldn’t put it into these words—was, “Daddy, what’s so important about that board that you have to leave us for it?”
Indeed, what’s so important? Why do we do things like sit on boards—B-O-A-R-Ds?
We sit on some boards for prestige. We sit on other boards for perks. We serve on the best boards for purpose.
The verb matters
Notice the change in verb—sit, sit, serve. The verb makes all the difference.
When my kids ask, “Daddy, why do you have to go out of town?” I want to be able to tell them I’m doing something worth leaving them for a night. I want to be able to tell them I’m doing something with purpose, something that makes a difference. To be able to tell them this with a straight face and a clear conscience, I can’t merely sit. I must serve.
Many years ago while I was working with college students and thought I was very mature and wise, I asked, “How do you reach self-absorbed people without feeding into their self-absorption?” I thought the young adults around me were very self-absorbed and I was not. Chuckle, chuckle.
Now that I am mature and wise—don’t roll your eyes—I am still asking the same question. I am asking the question as I work with my fellow board members to figure out how to engage a wider audience with our mission. Though I don’t say it out loud as much as I used to, I still wonder to myself, “How do we reach self-absorbed people without feeding into their self-absorption?” And as that perennial question resurfaced in my mind this afternoon, I thought of my children.
Seeing what’s important
All my children want to know is if they matter more to me than a board meeting. At this point in their lives, they can’t see the results of my service on the board beyond what it means for them. They can’t see what is so important about serving on any board if it takes me out of town. And this stops me, because those self-absorbed people aren’t in the abstract anymore. They are my own children. How can I reach them?
How can my time away from my children serve a greater purpose in their lives?
For several minutes, I couldn’t get past this question. Then I thought about what serving on the board does for me and the possibility it can do the same thing for them.
Serving on the board gets me outside of myself and my immediate surroundings. Serving on the board broadens my thinking as I am stretched to make decisions with outcomes that will influence people far from me in space and time. I hope what I learn while serving helps me be a better dad by helping me encourage my children to grow outside of themselves and their immediate surroundings, making good decisions that will affect people far from them in space and time.
Is it worth it?
You may not serve on a board, but you probably give time and energy to something else that stretches you beyond yourself. Sometimes, maybe many times, that something means you must spend time away from those who very much want your attention right here, right now. You may be like me and feel torn between two very important things—those who want your attention and that something. And when you feel torn between the two, you want to know the tear is worth it.
I serve on the board because when I go home, I can tell my wife and children how we are working to poke a hole in the noise of this world in order to reach as many as we can with the good news of Jesus Christ. I can tell my family how the boring stuff—our financial decisions, and marketing, and development efforts—is helping to get our message about Jesus out to more and more people and how that message is making a real and positive and lasting difference in people’s lives.
My kids will be B-O-R-E-D with this, but the seed will be planted. And I will water that seed. And one day, with patience, trust, perseverance and hope, a self-absorbed person—and his kids—will grow beyond himself.
And that’s exciting!
Eric Black is pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, Texas, and a member of the Baptist Standard Publishing board of directors.