Ask the Gold Standard Question

A “pruning moment” can improve your board meetings.


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


Questions to Ask about Your Meetings

What ways are we spending time in these meetings that are
good and helpful but not the best use of our time together? . . .
What do we do here that is sick and not getting well?[1]

Henry Cloud


Several years ago, I (we co-authors are generally staying anonymous to keep us out of trouble!) conducted one-on-one phone interviews with nine board members who served together on a ministry board. I asked each of them my favorite engagement question:

You’re driving away from a typical board meeting, and you say, “That was a great board meeting today!” Tell me, what happened at the board meeting to provoke that positive response?

I call this my gold standard question because the responses are always indicative of a board member’s satisfaction level with his or her board experience.

Over the years, when I ask this question, board members with unsatisfactory experiences often respond:

  • “No one asked me for advice, wisdom, counsel, or ideas.”
  • “The staff read aloud the reports that had been provided in advance.”
  • “Clearly, I’m not needed at the board table. The senior pastor did all the talking.”
  • “There was no sense of the holy except the perfunctory bookend prayers.”
  • “I came to explore bold, daring steps of faith, but everything presented to us Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have seemed small-minded, not really needing us.”

Conversely, here’s what highly committed, deeply engaged, thrilled-to-be-serving board members tell me:

  • “Everyone’s prepared. Everyone participates. Everyone prays. It’s the best board I have ever served on.”
  • “It happens all the time! We’ve omitted the petty stuff and focused on the important agenda items only. And we know where we are financially.”

During one phone call, a board member outlined four primary ingredients of memorable board meetings. (I was the consultant, yet he was teaching the course!)

  1. “There is deep joy in every meeting.”
  2. “We listen to what the Spirit is saying to our board.”
  3. “Energetic discussions abound. We’re not looking for agreement; we’re looking for insight—spiritual insight.”
  4. “There is solidarity. We foster a board culture that eliminates the unhealthy giving up of personal beliefs for the sake of unity. Instead, we wait for the Spirit of God to speak.”

Imagine! What if your board had frequent moments characterized by deep joy, spiritual insight, open sharing, and waiting for God to speak?

Imagine! What if when your board members are driving home, their post-meeting reflections were deeply satisfying?

How do you move from your same-old-same-old board meeting routine to a new level of board excellence?

Dr. Henry Cloud, a leadership coach as well as a clinical psychologist, introduced a new term into the leadership lexicon: “the pruning moment.[2]

He defined the pruning moment as “that clarity of enlightenment when we become responsible for making the decision to own the vision or not. If we own it, we have to prune. If we don’t, we have decided to own the other vision, the one we called average. It is a moment of truth that we encounter almost every day in many, many decisions.”[3]

Church leader Jeff Jenness says: “When we take time to truly think about the privilege of service—and that our actions as board members have eternal implications—it changes our perspective. This makes it much easier to consider necessary pruning.[4]

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1-2 NIV).





Some church boards slowly, almost imperceptibly, descend
into the same-old-same-old board meeting routine
and settle for average. Others focus on intentional improvement
and reach a new level of board excellence—
and they ooze God-honoring joy to others!

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Ask: “Before we start this meeting, we’d like every board member to think back and tell us about a great board meeting you attended and why it was so memorable.”[5]

  2. Evaluate: Distribute a short evaluation survey at the end of each meeting that is reviewed by the board chair.

  3. Read: The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance by Gary G. Hoag, Wesley K. Willmer, and Gregory J. Henson.[6]



Lord, we don’t want better board meetings just to satisfy our personal needs
or to meet an arbitrary human standard.
We desire highly effective board meetings to impact eternity. Amen.



[1] Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward (New York: Harper Business, 2010), 30-31.

[2]  Ibid., 24.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jeff Jenness, “Ask the Gold Standard Question,” Lessons from the Church Boardroom (blog). February 27, 2019, http://churchboardroom.blogspot.com/2019/02/lesson-2-ask-gold-standard-question.html.

[5] Adapted from “The Gold Standard Question for Board Members.” Posted September 10, 2015. ECFA Governance Blog, http://ecfagovernance.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-gold-standard-question-for-board.html.

[6] Gary G. Hoag, Wesley K. Willmer, and Gregory J. Henson, The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2018).


From Lessons From the Church Boardroom: 40 Insights for Exceptional Governance, ECFAPress, 2018, www.ECFA.Church/KnowledgeCenter.

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.