How individual board members see their role as a church leader directly impacts the ethos of your board and the effectiveness of its work. Often, however, we have not defined the role of the board and board members with clarity, so these individual beliefs about one's role create hidden but real barriers to effective board work.
Having worked with thousands of church leaders, here are some of the common but faulty beliefs about why one serves in church leadership. Each of these views will impact decisions that a board member is willing to make.
- I am here to represent the desires of the congregation - similar to how an elected official serves their constituency.
- I am here to guard the status quo and ensure that we don't upset the status quo. In general, what we have done in the past has worked well.
- I am here to represent my faction or group in the church and guard their interests.
- I am here to steer the church in a better direction and I have strong convictions about what the church should be doing and how it should do it.
- As a church leader, I have the authority to bring any issue to the table for board discussion.
- I want to ensure that the pastor stays in line and that ministry goes smoothly.
- I am here to ensure that the staff does their job.
- I am here because it is my turn to serve in church leadership.
- I am not sure why I am here except that the nominating committee asked me to be.
- I am here as part of a team of under shepherds of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church to ensure that the spiritual temperature of the church is kept high, that the congregation is taught well, empowered and released, protected, cared for and led in healthy directions. I work with the board and Senior Pastor to ensure that our staff are empowered, encouraged and that our congregation is empowered and released in meaningful ministry and that we are moving toward our agreed upon ministry goals.
Only one of these views on why we serve in church leadership is valid - it is the last one. But all too often, this is not the common understanding of what it means to be a church board member because we don't have job descriptions that are biblical or understood by all on the board. In other words, there is not clarity on the job description and parameters of church leadership. All but the last statement are deeply flawed but common descriptors of how church leaders see their role.
The various reasons that board members give to why they serve in leadership are also the reason that so many boards experience conflict, gridlock and difficult decision making. If we have not stacked hands on why we are there and if it does not reflect the Biblical teaching for senior leaders, we will not be unified, effective or missional. It is that simple.
How does a board get on the same page?
Agree on a simple but Biblical job description for leaders including the Biblical job description (keeping the spiritual temperature high, ensuring that the congregation is taught, protected, cared for, empowered and released and led well.
Be clear on lines of authority as to what is a board responsibility and what is staff responsibility. One of the problems in many boards is the confusion of authority and responsibilities between these two entities. Clarity prevents a great deal of confusion.
Be sure that board members understand that they represent the whole church and not a section or constituency in the church. Board members are always there for the whole. Never a part.
Be sure you have a team covenant that lays out how your board will make decisions and how it will work together. Agree that you will hold members accountable to that covenant. If you don't, you will have confusion, gridlock or conflict.
You must have an agreed upon document that spells out the qualifications for board members. If the wrong people get on the board, you will have trouble leading.
My book, "High Impact Church Boards" can help you on these topics. What I can say is that getting on the same page together is one of the most important things you can do as a board.