It sounds like a good idea. The church has six or seven major ministries so why not have the leader of each of those ministries on the church leadership team - whether it is a council or board of elders or some other name. After all, we don't want any of these ministries not represented at the leadership level!

What sounds like a good idea can actually be a bad idea and in this case cause negative consequences that can linger for years. Let me explain.

Let's start with the mission and vision thing. In representative church government there are by definition multiple missions and visions - each ministry has one. It is challenging enough to drive one central mission in any church and to stay focused on that. It is impossible to focus on multiple missions and visions. What you end up with is an incoherent mission that is being pulled in various directions as each leader and team seek to exert their authority and advocate for their piece of the pie. 

Healthy and effective churches have one central mission that every ministry contributes to. In representative governance the situation is reversed as the church is to serve multiple missions. In healthy church governance the leadership group puts the mission of the church first, sees the whole rather than the parts and makes decisions that are best for the church as a whole.

There are politics in the church just as there are in other organizations. Representative governance will by its very nature become political. If you doubt this, try to change your governance to a healthier paradigm and you face the difficulty of trying to convince those who represent a ministry, have power in their sphere to give that power and fiefdom up. 

I was asked to meet with the leaders of a church in the Midwest who had this kind of a system. They called because the pastor and several leaders of the church were experiencing huge frustration in getting decisions made and moving the church to a healthier place. The church was stuck in a rut and getting anything done was frustrating.

In or conversation two things became clear. No one thought the current system worked well and no one was willing to give up their respective authority in their area to make it work better. Even though they would have denied it, this was church politics and personal power at its worst - but not uncommon.

In representative government:

  • There is not a true central missional focus
  • Decisions are hard to make because they need to be negotiated with too many parties
  • Politics and turf wars are built into the system
  • The health of the church as a whole suffers
  • Pastors cannot lead as there are multiple leaders doing their own thing
  • Meetings are long and unproductive
  • No one truly gets served well in the end
  • Your best volunteers see the above and often opt out after experiencing the system that provides inertia rather than progress.

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

  • Jan 13, 2020
  • Category: News
  • Comments: 0
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