The relationship between senior pastors and their board is a critical factor in the success or failure of any pastor and it therefore impacts the health of the church. It is not always an easy relationship and takes time to build and nurture. Here are some things that pastors and boards need to know about one another.
Boards need to know that pastors see their role not as a job but as a calling. It is one of the reasons that many pastors are deeply sensitive to what they perceive to be criticism. This is their life, not just a job! Board members who are insensitive or critical are likely to get a defensive reaction from many pastors. Yes, pastors (I was one) can be insecure and sensitive. Much of that is that they care a lot about what they do.
Boards need to know that a pastor can weather almost any storm as long as the board is with him. But, if the board is not supportive publicly and privately the relationship is likely to go south. This does not mean that they always need to agree. It does mean that a pastor can count on the board to guard his back and take arrows for him. Boards that are not supportive are likely to lose their pastor as no pastor can effectively minister without the support of his board. Pastors are much more likely to listen carefully to board members who they know they can trust than whose support is tepid.
The job of a pastor is often a lonely one and it brings with it huge pressures. Someone is always unhappy and unlike the workplace you cannot fire your congregants! If a pastor can rely on his board for friendship and support it goes a long way for them.
Boards need to know that pastors resent being micromanaged. Pastors have lots of people who think they can and should tell them how to do what they do. What they don’t want is the board doing the same thing in terms of their day to day duties. Healthy boards don’t do management – they leave that to the pastoral staff (or volunteers). Instead they focus on vision and direction and policy.
Pastors on the other hand need to know that board members are used to having robust dialogue without people getting defensive over direct comments and opinions. That is the way it is in most workplaces. People express their opinions openly and candidly and it is expected that others can take it without it causing angst. Just because board members express differing opinions does not mean they are not in your corner. They are used to candid discussion.
Pastors need to know that board members have a tremendous amount of expertise from their experience and work which can be brought to bear on ministry. And they want to use their gifts in the ministry setting. But they often feel like this is not welcome because “this is a ministry not business.” Good leadership, good practices apply in the workplace and the church. Whenever we give the impression that “business and ministry” don’t match up we disemempower board members who come out of the non ministry world.
Pastors need to know that board members care about bottom line results and getting things done. They are often frustrated by the slow pace in ministry or staff members who don’t have a plan or cannot execute that plan. Return on investment (ROI) is something they value in their business – they want to stay in business. Return on mission (ROM) is something they value in the church. Lack of effective planning and execution on the plan will cause great frustration to good leaders.
Consider having a candid conversation as a board with your pastor on areas that each side sees that cause angst or frustration. You may not agree on everything but at least you will understand one another better and the needs that both have from the other. As this relationship goes, so goes the church.