101. Case Study #1: Decision Time

[In all case studies the names and incidents are fictional and have no connection with any specific persons, board or congregation.]

Frank was in his third year of serving as church board chair for Community Bible Church. During this time the congregation had grown steadily under the consistent guidance of the lead pastor and Sunday attendance was pushing 300. Finances were reasonably healthy and they had just completed a project to replace the roof on their twenty year old facility. Pastor Bob was in his fourth year as lead pastor and well-respected in the congregation. Frank was enjoying the ministry of being a board member and chairperson, even though it had its challenging moments.

At the previous board meeting Pastor Bob had proposed the creation of a new ministry staff position. Bob had undoubtedly been thinking about this staffing issue for a while, but had not communicated his concerns or his intent to Frank, the board chair, or any of the other board members. So when he brought forward his proposal at the last board meeting, it caught everyone by surprise. Without question Pastor Bob’s workload had increased because the church was growing. Yet, when the budget for this new fiscal year was passed three months ago at the annual general meeting, he had not raised this issue at all. And in the modest  strategic plan the board was developing, no new staff additions were contemplated for at least a year. To add further complication, the Sunday offerings were starting to reflect the influence of the recent economic downturn because five key congregational members had become unemployed in the past month.

As chair Frank had done his best to facilitate a fair, but thorough discussion of Pastor Bob’s proposal. Even though Pastor Bob had overlooked some key issues in his proposal, e.g. how it would be funded, where and how the required office space and equipment would be secured, and a clear statement of this new staff member’s responsibilities, the board members wanted to be supportive because they respected Pastor Bob and wanted to encourage him.

A year ago Frank had worked with the board to initiate a procedure that major decision items would be introduced for discussion and prayer at one meeting, but then voted on at the next scheduled meeting. Accordingly he had put Pastor Bob’s proposal at the top of the board’s agenda for this meeting. He did not know how the board finally would respond to the proposal. Because Frank had been away on a business trip, he had had no time to discuss the proposal further with Pastor Bob.

When the board engaged in their second discussion, the interaction was robust to say the least. Several wanted to forge ahead and trust God for the finances. Others felt that the financial situation of the church just could not sustain a new salary at this point. And two others were quite unsure, now speaking for it and then a few moments later apparently opposing it. After an hour of discussion Frank decided to call things to a close because no new points were being raised and there were several other items on the agenda that needed attention. One board member put forward a motion to approve Pastor Bob’s proposal and immediately it received support. Taking a deep breath and making a silent prayer, Frank called for the vote. As he feared four voted in favour, including Pastor Bob, three voted against, and two abstained. Technically the proposal was approved, but over half the board had in fact registered lack of support.

As chair of the board, what was he going to advise the board to do in the light of this decision? If Frank had called you the next day for advice, what would you say to him?


1. Observations:

a. Church boards generally should not permit significant proposals to be inserted into their agendas without prior notice. If a board person wants to bring forward a proposal for which prior notice has not been given, then the board member should bring it forward as an item of concern, noted and then deferred to the next meeting. Rarely is any matter so urgent that it must be attended to immediately. If this board had employed this procedural principle, then it would have given some time for the chair or some other board person to guide Pastor Bob in the development of his proposal.

b.It is good that this board had in place the principle that in major decisions they had discussion at one meeting and then made the decision at the next meeting, allowing time for prayer, further interaction, and reflection. Normally this procedure would give time for Frank to work with Pastor Bob to address some of the deficiencies in the proposal. When Frank knew this could not happen because of his business travel, he could have asked the vice-chair of the board to work with Pastor Bob to address some of the key questions raised in the board discussion before it came to decision at that following board meeting.

c. Although Pastor Bob obviously felt strongly about this matter, he did not exercise good leadership in forcing this issue in this way. He probably lost some of his credibility as a leader by bringing the proposal to the board like this.

2. Options:

a. If the chair had a clear indication from the discussion that the board members had not received consensus, he could have advised them to table the motion before the vote was taken and then asked two board members to work with Pastor Bob to address serious concerns. A revised proposal could then be submitted at the next meeting.

b. Just because the board has voted, it can still defer action on the motion. At this point Frank needs to discern whether retaining unity within the board is more important than enabling Pastor Bob to proceed. Pastor Bob also should be sensitive to this issue of unity. A divided board ultimately will be unhealthy for the congregation. If board unity is a priority, then the chair could advise the board to defer action until it has better information or a more adequate proposal around which to develop stronger consensus.

c. If finances are the issue, then it may be advisable to build this proposed staff position into the strategic plan, but defer implementation until the board senses the congregation is able to support it financially. In this way the board supports Pastor Bob, signals its concern about the issue, but exercises good risk management regarding the financial stability of the congregation.

d. Pastor Bob’s action may signal that he does not feel the board is aware of the situation the ministry staff is facing and is ignoring the pressures that are building because of recent growth. If this is the case, then perhaps the board needs to develop a personnel committee and take greater responsibility to ensure that the needs of the staff are being cared for.


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