How to Design and Lead a Healthy and Productive Church Board

My heart aches when I hear a horror story about a church board filled with division, conflict, and competition with the pastor about who leads. But thankfully, more stories are closer to a dream come true than a nightmare.

What makes the difference?

It starts with selecting who’s on your board, but that’s just the beginning. I wrote a brief post a few years back covering an introduction to selecting church elders. I’ll include a couple of abbreviated thoughts from it today, but you can read the full post here.

When it comes to selecting your church board, don’t give in to politics, people-pleasing, or pressure. Always start with biblical standards (I Timothy 3:8-10)

You may be part of a denomination or system where it’s difficult to make a change with those who serve on the board, but as a pastor, you’re a leader with influence, so don’t give up.

Take a stand for what’s right, don’t lower standards, and invite those more interested in their agenda than the mission to surrender their seat on the board voluntarily.

This must be handled redemptively; don’t just go “Spiritual Rambo” on the board. Instead, prayerfully lead the way to a church board that seeks God first, is loyal to the mission, and is supportive of your leadership.

NOTE: This post does not cover technical governance issues or by-laws. Both are highly unique for each church, often denominationally connected, and require wise legal counsel.

We’ll focus on practical functionality, including specific roles.

Hopefully, your board is not a nightmare, but that doesn’t mean that you and the board are highly effective or that the staff and board function together well. My objective is to provide content and direction that helps take your functionality to a higher level.

5 Values Toward a Healthy and Productive Church Board:

1) The best church boards know and embrace the difference in roles between the church staff and church board to form a great partnership.

Clear expectations are essential for a healthy and functioning church board. This help prevents the pitfalls of micromanagement or the other extreme of abdicating responsibility.

Here’s an example of a partnership between a board-governed, staff-led church.
(Roles and Responsibilities)

Board Members

  • Affirmation of the vision (usually originating from the Senior Pastor and Lead Team) through prayer and discernment of God’s voice. (Where is the church headed?)
  • Spiritual discernment and affirmation of values and big picture ministry direction with the Senior Pastor. For example, multi-site or not? (What does the church look like in 5 – 10 years?)
  • Determine the pace and values for facility and finance, and partner in major financial decisions, such as purchasing land or building buildings.
  • Act as discerning partners with the pastor: e.g., theological, political, social, and community issues and public position on key issues.
  • Ask productive questions and serve as a provider of solutions.
  • Decision-making partnership for major business matters of the church. (example, church budget)
  • Serve as prayer warriors for the general ministries of the church and lead with a positive influence in the congregation.
  • Serve as trusted accountability for the pastor’s life, leadership, and walk with God.
  • They are usually serving in a hands-on ministry within the church in addition to the board.

Staff Team

  • Earnestly seek God through prayer for unity, purity, and honor on the staff team, and pray diligently for the congregation.
  • Lead and implement the vision and strategy for the church.
  • Cultivate and lead toward positive morale, vision momentum, and the overall spiritual culture of the church.
  • Carry the day-to-day leadership of all church functions, events, systems, and processes to support the vision and strategy.
  • Design and implementation for all ministries and their effective and measurable outcomes.
  • Decision-making and responsibility for all staffing functions, including culture, hiring/dismissal, teamwork, development, and outcomes.
  • Responsibility for unity in thought for practical expression of theological issues in ministry.
  • Budget design and management (approved annually by the church board.)
  • Creative design and execution of all worship services
  • Leadership development and equipping for ministry within the congregation.

You can see two things from these lists.

There is more than enough work for everyone.
The overall health and growth of the church is entrusted to the partnership between the ministry staff and the church board, each with its own specific roles and responsibilities.

The potential of such a partnership is powerful!
At a minimum, it’s a healthy check and balance, but even more, it expands the scope of collective leadership wisdom.

2) The best church boards function as a unified team of spiritual discernment rather than individual advocacy for specific ministries.

Passion for a particular ministry is good, but not if it compromises the overall effectiveness and impact of the church. Therefore, each of us must set aside our preferences for the greater progress of the church.

Unity within the church is one of the most essential elements to strive for and one of the most difficult to achieve. It requires a clear vision and humble leadership.

3) The best church boards are loyal to the mission and supportive of the pastor.

A church can get in trouble if it elevates the pastor over the purpose of the church or elevates the purpose to the detriment of the pastor’s ability to lead. The pastor needs to lead with their own style, gifting, and personality.

It’s clearly a problem if the leader becomes bigger than the vision, but we also know that there can be so many requirements and expectations attached to the vision that the leader can’t function.

The beautiful balance is when a church board is very loyal to the mission and highly supportive of the pastor. This is achieved through honest conversation, heartfelt unity, and diligent obedience to God’s voice.

4) The best church boards are strong enough, to be honest, hold the pastor accountable, and simultaneously mature enough to empower the pastor and staff to lead.

Mutual and abiding trust is at the core of a great relationship between the pastor and the church board.

The pastor and church board must have each other’s best interest at heart and together pursue the best use of all church resources toward the measurable progress of the church’s mission.

Through honest and transparent conversation, long before any lines are crossed, the church board stays close with the pastor to help ensure a life and leadership that honors God.

Equally, the church board trusts the pastor (and staff) to lead by fully empowering them to accomplish their responsibilities in tandem with God and in alignment with the vision.

5) The best church boards seek more of God’s voice over more authority.

As I write these thoughts, I want to say how fortunate I am to be part of a church like 12Stone. The board members are amazing. They are godly and wise. They care about the vision with passion, will speak the truth, ask tough questions, and they are fun to be with.

Our board meetings last longer than needed because we enjoy time together while getting our work done.

One of the things I appreciate about our board, and hopefully, you feel the same way about yours, is how they seek God’s voice. They have tremendous authority, but their spiritual authority is earned by seeking God’s voice, lovingly speaking the truth, and always putting the church first.

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