120. Case Study #8: “Relative” Interest in a Church Board Member.

[Although the story in this case study may seem to resemble a real situation, the names, places and actual circumstances do not describe any actual church, church board, pastor or chairperson.]

The nominating committee presented two current church board members as nominees to the annual general meeting of Popkum Community Church for an additional term on the church board and they were appointed. However, one board position was not filled. The board chair had asked several congregational members whom he perceived could make a good contribution to allow their names to be placed in nomination, but none had felt they could let their name stand. The new board terms did not start for several months and so the board chair still had time to recruit an additional candidate and make a recommendation to the nominating committee.

One Sunday the chair felt led to talk with a person whom he had not really considered previously about letting his name stand as a board member. During the conversation the person disclosed that he had thought about this possibility but was uncertain whether it would be wise. He was cousin of the lead pastor. The individual was concerned about conflicts of interest and the impact such an appointment might have on family relations. The chair respected the concern, but suggested that there were ways to deal with this on a case by case basis. There was an opportunity to serve and make decisions in the best interests of the congregation.

The person agreed to give it further thought. Undoubtedly, he would have further conversation with the lead pastor about this. A few weeks later the chair discovered that this person had scheduled a conversation with a current board member to discern whether he should let his name stand. The chair was encouraged at this and continued to pray that God would give wisdom to all concerned.

Several weeks later the person agreed to let his name be placed in nomination. The other board member made the recommendation to the nominating committee and asked that they consider the person for the role of board member. At the next membership meeting his name was brought forward and he was appointed.

So now the chair had to consider how best to orient the new member to the work of the board and what advice he should provide in the matter of conflicts of interest.


1. Navigating the world of kinship relationships within congregations can be tricky, particularly when it comes to board roles. In some cases the bylaws speak to the issue and strictly limit the number of board members serving at one time who have family relationships — a good idea by the way. From time to time, however, well qualified board candidates may be reluctant to serve because they have heard about some bad experiences in churches where related parties have become members of the board. Sometimes congregational members become suspicious that too much “power” is being concentrated in one family group. This will be particularly relevant in the case of smaller churches. Or there is concern that the board members may not make decisions in the best interests of the congregation particularly when the issues affect people they are directly related to. Given the nature of church congregations it is quite probable that you as a chairperson will face this situation sooner or later.

2. Church boards should develop guidelines for board members regarding conflicts of interest, i.e. where a board member has a direct “interest” in the decision because they might be affected financially, positionally or relationally. The policy should stipulate what constitutes a conflict of interest, the responsibility of the board member to be proactive in bring a conflict of interest to the board’s attention, and normal responses when a conflict of interest is detected. The board itself needs to deal with such situations carefully and seriously. For example, if the church board is discussing a matter of church member discipline that involves a person related to one of the board members, that board member should be excused from the meeting for that discussion, with the minutes clearly showing that this was the case.

3. If your church board has such a policy, then it would be wise in the orientation meeting to review its stipulations carefully with new board members in this situation . You can discuss with them possible scenarios in which conflicts of interest could arise and how you suggest they handle it. Seek to work at this collaboratively and let the board members know that you will seek to signal in advance where they may need to take appropriate action.

4. It would also be helpful to have a similar discussion with the lead pastor. He may also experience additional conflicts of interest, particularly if new, related board members encounter difficulties.

5. Finally, this occasion may provide you with an opportunity to review with the entire board the issue of conflict of interest. If your board has a policy in this regard, take time to review it and ask whether it needs to be revised. Be transparent with the board members about this matter, because not all board members may realize that kinship relationships exist among board members or among board members and staff.

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