In the many years in which I have worked with church boards I have kept a mental list of unfortunate (dumb) things boards do. If we can avoid the “dumb tax” of others we can save ourselves a lot of pain. Here are some of the unfortunate or poor practices of boards – church or other.
Manage staff beyond the senior leader
Boards have one employee: the senior leader of the church and that leader is responsible for managing the rest of the staff – often through others – but ultimately they are responsible. When boards do not allow the senior leader to manage the rest of the staff, including letting staff go when necessary, or, when they try to meddle in the staff, they confuse the lines of authority. People cannot report to more than one person .
Cave to loud voices
It is not uncommon for boards to make a decision and then hear from a few loud voices in the church who don’t like the decision or direction. Poor board members are immediately intimidated by the voices and start to waver and question the decision. Wise boards count the cost before they make the decision and then hold fast when the loud voices complain.
This sounds nice. In reality, a board that requires unanimity set themselves up for not being able to move forward at critical junctures because it only takes one person to hold up the decision making process. And, it puts tremendous pressure on those who might not agree. If Paul and Barnabas could not agree on everything, we certainly will not.
How often, people in a church or organization know that there is conflict but its leaders, the board try to ignore it not wanting to face it. Conflict avoidance comes back to bite you with even greater conflict. Unresolved conflict does not go away, it becomes more viral. Courageous boards deal with conflict, weak boards do not.
Spend most of their time managing the present
Boards are not designed to manage - they are designed to chart the future and deal with the large rocks of the organization – mission, vision, values, strategic initiatives and direction. Boards that are spending the majority of their time on the present are doing work that others ought to do, and it is not leadership.
Ignore the spiritual
Congregations will rarely rise above the spiritual commitments and level of their leadership. Healthy boards never ignore the word and prayer, in fact they ensure that it is central to everything they do. They lead on behalf of the Lord of the church and thus need to spend time in His presence, discerning His direction.
Work without a covenant
Healthy boards have a board covenant that spells out how they will relate to one another and the commitments to healthy relationships they will agree to. Never allow anyone to join a board who is unwilling to agree to Biblical rules of behavior that are spelled out and signed.
Don’t guard the gate
Every board is one new board member away from moving from healthy to unhealthy if the wrong person is placed on the board. Wise boards pay a huge amount of attention to who is selected to serve and a best practice is to have prospective board members serve for a year in a non official role to ensure a good fit.
Don’t make decisions
One of the frustrations of good board members is the inability of many boards to make decisive decisions and then stick to them. If a board has to revisit issues time after time or is unable to make decisive decisions they have the wrong board members. Boards lead and equivocation is not leadership.
Don’t require accountability
The ultimate result of our decisions must be ministry results. Healthy boards not only make decisions but require accountability for their own behavior and work and for the work and results of staff. Sometimes we are too “nice” and in our “niceness” we don’t require real ministry results – which God expects.
Allow a church boss to hold informal veto power
It is amazing how many congregations have an individual – whether on the board or off the board who holds informal veto power over decisions. In other words, unless they agree it does not happen. This is not only unbiblical but it hurts the church. No church should have a church boss which is what this is. Healthy boards are never held hostage by a church boss.
Healthy boards let their congregation know what they are thinking and working on in appropriate ways. Secrecy breeds mistrust while transparency breeds trust. They don’t reveal those things which must be confidential but neither do they withhold what can be shared.
Don’t police problem members
Healthy boards never allow a rogue board member to continue with attitudes, words or behaviors which are counterproductive to spiritual and healthy leadership. This is why it is critical to have a board covenant that spells out acceptable behavior. Boards that will not confront unhealthy board members are displaying cowardice rather than leadership.
Listen to reports
Board meetings are not the place for long reports. Those should be sent out ahead of time and read prior to the meeting unless it is a sensitive subject. Board time is a time for all board members to engage in critical issues, prayer and thinking and learning together.
Don’t use an agenda
Healthy boards have an agenda and stick to the agenda including start and finish times. Board meetings should be very carefully thought out ahead of time and led by someone who can help the group move through the agenda in a timely fashion.
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