Church and non-profit boards can be divided into four kinds according to how they operate. Unfortunately only one of these board modalities is consistent with good board work. If you have served on a board or currently serve on one, consider these four ways that boards operate and whether your board is operating in an optimal way. Here are the four kinds of boards:

The controlling board
Members of controlling boards see their job as "keeping watch" over their leader to ensure that they don't do anything that they would consider improper. All ministry decisions are required to go to the board for their approval. Often these boards, see their jobs as guarding the status quo and ensuring that there is not too much change. Controlling boards believe that they are the real decisions makers which means that their leader and staff are not empowered to make very many decisions. Essentially there must be agreement by the board before anything happens. I will address the deficits of this board modality later. Thousands of church boards are controlling boards.

The passive board
Passive boards see their job as largely to simply give their leader the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for his/her proposals. In many cases, passive boards are led by leaders who have hand picked their board members for their "cooperation" and often these leaders are intimidating, "forces of nature" and not people you want to disagree with. In many ways, the descriptions of the board at Harvest Bible Chapel. According to former board members it was not possible to contradict their leader without repercussions. The same can be said for the recent board Willow Creek Community Church which was unable to hold their leader accountable or disagree with him in a meaningful way.

The management board
This is a board that sees its job as making decisions that staff ought to be making. They get into the details of the day to day management of the church or organization: hiring staff, pay grades, staff deployment, and all kinds of daily management decisions. In this modality of board work, there is significant confusion between the disciplines of management (day to day details) and governance (the mission, vision, direction and values of the organization). Again, a high percentage of church and non-profit boards operate in this mode. In the process they miss the most important part of board work.

While these kinds of boards are common they are also deficient in important ways. First, these three do not focus on the most important board work which is to define the mission, direction, values, and Big Rocks that the organization needs to pay attention to. Good governance answers three questions: Who are we?; Where are we going?; and How are we going to get there? They define the mission, culture, direction and values of the organization and guard these non negotiable pieces of who they are.

Further each of these three board models have a fatal flaw. Controlling boards handcuff leaders by preventing them from moving forward. Passive boards allow leaders to do as they please without accountability. Management boards focus on the wrong thing: managing the day to day instead of the larger and most important issues. Of course, no board would call themselves by these three names but their behaviors do!

The governance board
This is a board that focuses its efforts on governance or the Big Rocks of the organization and leaves the day to day management to the staff. Governance boards focus on the large issues such as culture, mission, direction and values and are always looking at the future and the opportunities that should be anticipated. For churches, the board must ensure that the five responsibilities of leaders are fulfilled, even though they may not do them personally: Ensuring that the congregation is taught; protected; led well; the spiritual passion kept high and people released into meaningful ministry. Rather than deal with individual issues, a governance board makes policy that can cover other situations as well. Governance boards empower leaders within limits that are clearly defined so that leaders are free to lead.

Good governance boards know what they are responsible for and focus on those things. They know what staff are responsible for and release those issues to them. They spend more time focused on the future than on the present, pray often and seek God's agenda rather than their own. They stay within time limits and operate off of a clear agenda.

TJ Addington of Addington Consulting has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

Creating cultures of organizational excellence

  • Apr 17, 2019
  • Category: News
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