159. Case Study # 11. The Accountability Vacuum.

[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.]

Bob pondered the proposed agenda for the next church board meeting. The annual general meeting of the congregation was scheduled to occur in six weeks. The past year had gone relatively smoothly with no wrenching decisions and most ministries seemed to be functioning well. Yet Bob, in his second term as board chair, sensed that things were not as rosy as they appeared to be. He wondered what would happen when a serious matter arose that challenged the board.

At the last several board meetings two of the board members through their comments indicated that they had not read the reports circulated prior to the meeting. So they came unprepared. Were they capable of evaluating potential risks when they make uninformed decisions? And there were some disconcerting bits of information suggesting that Jerry, completing his third term as a board member, was encountering some serious marital difficulties. Bob wondered about the spiritual tone of the board. Of course, board meetings began with a short devotional and prayer time, but it seemed rather perfunctory at times. His recent attempt to encourage the board to develop a code of board member expectations had met with a very lukewarm reception. These diverse events were significant indicators that some board members were becoming complacent and losing their sense of accountability for the important work they did together.To his knowledge the board members never evaluated their effectiveness as a board.

Bob’s mind skipped back to a recent conversation he had with his pastor. He valued his relationship with Pastor Ed and looked forward to these monthly meetings when they talked about the health and welfare of the congregation. However, Bob knew that the board had no policy that defined an annual performance evaluation of the lead pastor. Bob had no reason to doubt that Pastor Ed worked hard, but his observations of how the various church staff operated led him to the inevitable conclusion that they received little direction. Each did his or her own thing — often with tremendous creativity and commitment — but with little awareness of the larger mission to which all of their collective work should be contributing. Bob was afraid that sooner or later this rather lax method of leadership was going to generate serious problems. Yet without a regular performance evaluation of the lead pastor and his work with the staff, this issue could not be addressed by the board naturally and effectively.

Bob also knew that the board had no policy that required regular performance evaluations for the paid staff. At several meetings through the year some board members had shared concerns about the activities of one of the paid staff. However, the board did not know how to process the information because it had no mechanism by which to implement a review. The board had asked Pastor Ed to investigate but so far he had not reported back.

The board’s reports to the congregation in the annual general meeting, although comprehensive in their content, did not communicate the sense that the board considered itself accountable to the congregation for its work. At the most recent congregational meeting several astute members had posed some probing questions to Bob as board chair and they were not very satisfied with his responses. He knew that more questions would be coming to him at the AGM and he wondered how he well he could respond on behalf of the board.

Bob knew that one key way the board could grasp its responsibilities for the health and development of the congregation would be to become more accountable itself. As well, it needed to develop a culture of accountability within the pastoral staff. But how could this be done given the current state of things and the lack of any strong tradition of accountability within the agency?


1. How would you advise Bob as board chair to lead this board strategically in the next twelve months to develop a culture of accountability? And what essential rationale (including biblical principles) would you suggest Bob use to persuade board members and lead pastor that such a development is a necessary and responsible step to enhance the board’s capacity to function effectively as the strategic ministry leadership team in that congregation?

2. What’s are the risks to Bob as chair, the lead pastor and the board collectively if Bob is unsuccessful in leading the board to develop and implement necessary policies of accountability?

3.  Whose support does Bob need to have and maintain in order to help the board members step up to the challenge? What possible changes does Bob as chair have to face if only some of the board members support him and the lead pastor refuses to see the need for annual performance evaluations?

4. What message is the board sending throughout the congregation if it cannot develop a culture of accountability? How will this message impede the board’s ability to advance the congregation’s mission?


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