One of the most disempowering issues for senior pastors are boards that want to second guess much of what they do - or require them to ask permission before they can act. Frequently, churches are permission withholding rather than permission granting and many senior pastors chafe under controlling boards. 

It need not be the case and in fact controlling boards actually slow down and hinder ministry rather than facilitate it. So how does a board empower their senior leader - and therefore their staff - and still ensure that adequate safeguards are in place for the organization?

One simple solution is for boards and their senior leader to sit down and delineate those thing that the leader must do and those things that the leader cannot do without board assent. In policy governance used by many boards these are called executive limitations - the limits put on the senior leader by the board. Aside from those limitations, the senior leader is free to act with "reasonable interpretation" and make decisions as they see fit. 

By putting these into policies the senior leader knows what his or her limits are and are free to make decisions consistent with the ministry vision of the church without needing to run all of those decisions by the board - a redundancy that makes for inefficient ministry. Policies that make sense in one stage of a church's life may not make sense in another and these limitations can be either relaxed or tightened depending on the need. It also clarifies which issues are management issues delegated to the senior leader and which issues are board issues so that there is no longer confusion around responsibility and authority - a common issue in church governance. 

Often in working with boards, someone will ask the question, "But what if we don't trust that our senior leader will make the right decision." The question is either about trust or about competency and if the question needs to be asked there are other issues that the board and senior leader need to work on. Often a board member is simply not willing to allow the senior leader the latitude to do their job as they want to control not empower.

It is always amusing to me to see the competencies that churches look for when hiring a senior pastor and then the lack of empowerment they give this individual who they believe matches those competencies. Pastoral work is hard enough without a board second guessing everything that one does. Clarifying what the expectations are and then giving maximum freedom outside those limitations is one of the greatest gifts a board can give their leader.

  • Jan 05, 2013
  • Category: News
  • Comments: 0
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