Church board leadership is always a challenge. And, often boards or individual members are confused on the role of the board. If these areas of confusion can be resolved, the work of the board becomes far easier. Here are eight issues that often cause confusion on a board.
1. What are we actually trying to accomplish?
This sounds like a simple question but the truth is that a majority of church boards cannot answer the question with any specificity. They have a mission but apart from that general statement which generally reflects the Great Commission (more believers and better believers), there is often no objective target that the church is pursuing and without a target there are no metrics to gauge one's progress.
It is the board's responsibility, working in conjunction with staff to clearly determine what the church is trying to accomplish and then to assign metrics to the target so that it can evaluate its progress.
2. Who is responsible for what?
When there is ambiguity between the responsibilities of the senior pastor (and other staff) and the board there is in the worst case scenario conflict and in the best case confusion. If there is not a written document clearly delineating the responsibilities of both there will be issues that create frustration for both parties. The role of a board is governance while the role of the staff is the day to day ministry. Wherever you draw those lines, be sure you draw them so that there is both clarity and accountability.
3. How does the board interact with the church staff?
The short answer is that boards interact with staff only through the senior pastor. Staff can have only one supervisor and boards are not in a position to supervise or tell staff (apart from the senior leader) what they should or should not be doing. This does not mean that board members cannot have relationships with staff members but it does mean that they cannot direct the work of staff.
4. What is the senior pastor empowered to do on their own and in what areas do they need board approval?
None of us like micro management but this is what happens with many senior pastors who are never sure what they are empowered to do and what decisions they can make and alternatively what issues they need to bring to the board for approval. Constantly needing board approval is demeaning and demotivating for leaders.
It is incumbent on the board to make clear the leadership parameters of the senior leader so that they are free to lead but are still aware of the boundaries that the board has established. It is the difference between a permission withholding culture and a permission granting culture.
5. What is the board's job description?
In the absence of a clearly written description of the responsibilities of the board every board member has their own definition of their role. That means there are multiple definitions of the board's role. And, it creates confusion and even conflict on the board. Furthermore, it is not possible for the board to evaluate its own work in the absence of a clear job description.
That role description should include the fiduciary and legal pieces of their responsibility along with the responsibilities delineated in the New Testament for leaders. If you are not clear on these Biblical requirements ask me for the PDF to my book High Impact Church Boards and I will gladly share it.
6. What are the board's rules of engagement?
In other words, how does the board operate? How does it make decisions? What happens if a board member disagrees with the majority? Does the board always speak with one voice? How does it deal with rogue board members? Is there a board covenant that spells out how the board operates together?
Because many board do not have that clarity, there is a great deal of dysfunction on church boards. This need not be the case but the board must clarify its roles (number 5 above) and how it operates. Without clearly defined guidelines, confusion and conflict will emerge.
7. Who does the board represent?
Many board members believe that they represent their particular ministry interest or constituency in the church. This can easily lead to divided boards especially if there are factions within the congregation that board members see as their job to represent. This view of church leadership has more to do with how we think about American political polity than it does a Biblical theology of leadership.
Board member do not represent any constituency in the church. Rather they are called Under-Shepherds of the Chief Shepherd - Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church and church leaders lead on His behalf (1 Peter 5:1-4). This does not mean that board members ignore the concerns of the congregation but their leadership is a sacred trust given by the Chief Shepherd. Church leaders lead the congregation where they believe Jesus wants them to go.
8. How do your choose and engage new board members?
Too many congregations do not have a process in bringing new board members on that is designed to set the board up for healthy leadership. Furthermore, in the absence of clarity on 1-7 above, there is no objective way to acclimate new board members to their role as it has not been clarified.
The most powerful group in most churches is not the board but the committee or group that chooses board members. For a healthy board it is critical to guard the gate of leadership. Only healthy board members can contribute to a healthy board.
All of this comes down to good clarity. A lack of clarity in these eight areas create confusion. Clarity allows you to move forward in greater health. If you desire help in any of these areas, contact me at my email below.
Need an outside perspective for your board issues or challenges? I am available to meet with church boards and dialogue with them on the challenges they face and possible solutions. With zoom technology, this can be done easily at low cost to you. If interested, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.