It grieves me when a healthy pastor is saddled by a board that is weak, ineffective, unsupportive and continually critical. And the sad thing is that it only takes one or two malcontents on a board to infect the atmosphere of the whole board. I know how painful it can be – I have been there and I feel deeply for friends that are in that situation today.
The problem is greater than the discouragement that this brings to the senior leader as disunited boards usually infect the congregation with their lack of unity. So your own senior team of leaders is working against you and the health of the church when they cannot get their act together, act in unity, and support their pastor (I am assuming here a healthy pastor). No matter what a pastor does in a situation like this, he is continually undermined by the dishealth of the board because make no mistake that lack of health does not just stay at the board level.
What advice would I give a pastor who finds himself in this position? First, I would encourage them to be upfront with the board about how the board culture is impacting them and their ability to lead. Second, I would work through a book on healthy boards such as Larry Osborn’s Unity Factor or my High Impact Church Boards. Both books put the critical issues of board health on the table for discussion and give the board permission to police itself.
In particularly onerous situations it is often helpful to bring an outside individual who can help the board think through its culture and behavior and help the board develop a covenant of how they will work together. An outsider can say what others on the board often do not have the platform to articulate.
I would also ask myself the question about whether it is worth my time, energy and emotional health to stay in a situation where I don’t have the support of those from whom I need it the most – the board. I am convinced that churches get what they deserve when it comes to pastors. And it often comes down to the board/pastor relationship. There is a time to try to help the board get to health for the sake of the church and there is a time to conclude that you are not going to be the one who can do that and choose to move to a place where one can use their leadership and ministry gifts with the synergy of supportive leadership rather than the anchor of unsupportive leadership.
Obviously we need the direction of the Holy Spirit in determining which course of action to take. But, many pastors in unhealthy situations stay too long and in the end are deeply hurt by unhealthy boards. That pain often takes years to heal. There are situations we cannot fix this side of heaven. Others might be able to lead in that situation but if we cannot, it is not worth compromising our family, our emotional health or our ministry opportunity by staying in a situation where we cannot lead from health. Remember only healthy leaders can create a healthy church. Unhealthy, divided, critical and dysfunctional leaders create the same in their church. Unless that is changed, even a healthy pastor cannot lead the church to health.
Having walked this path years ago, I would encourage pastors not to stay too long when their board is not healthy. Those who followed me in my situation faced the same situation I did for many years. That is the reality of church DNA. Unhealthy churches can become healthy but not without healthy leaders. They may choose their path of dysfunction. I want to work in a place where I can maximize my gifting and calling and that only happens if I have the support of leadership.