223. Governance — Making a Church “Work.”

In this blog article I continue the discussion initiated in blog article #222 when I reflected on the question “what is the work of a church” and the implications of this question for governance. However, I move on in this article to consider the question “what makes a church work” and how does the answer to this question influence our understanding of the work of a church board.  As with the first question I suspect that few boards have carved out time in their agenda to discuss this question “what makes a church work”?

From a biblical standpoint one might want to rephrase the question to read “Who makes the church work”? The answer would be God, the Holy Spirit. He enables and resources local churches so that they have the potential to work well. But having said this, we still need to give attention to the first question “what makes a church work.” As the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament teaches us, God expects us to apply our knowledge and skills to advancing his kingdom priorities. So it is important the church boards and their individual members have some idea of “what makes a church work.”

In the case of church boards answering this question formally or informally is key to making good decisions. If church board members have little or no conception of what it takes to make a church work, then how will they discern whether a decision is good or bad, i.e. whether it will be beneficial or detrimental to the making the church work? This applies to the very practical and relevant question of appointing leaders. What kinds of leaders make a church work well? What does a church board do when an appointed leader no longer is able to make a church work well? Or consider the matter of financial resources. How does a church board determine the size of the budget and how those resources should be applied to enable a church to work well? What is the appropriate balance between expenditures on human resources, programs and facilities?

I think one of the keys to “making a church work well” has to be continued and intentional focus on achieving the mission. When a church board loses its direction, usually it occurs because the board is meddling in management or giving too much attention to non-essential issues. The board chair needs to serve the board by helping to keep it focused on the governance task even as it negotiates the rough and tumble of congregational life.

If a church board is not evaluating its primary leadership and itself, as well as the programs used to advance the congregation’s mission, then it reduces substantially its ability to determine whether the church is working well. What are the key indicators that the church is working well? Are these indicators being monitored regularly with the results reported to the board? When one of the dashboard indicators reveals a problem is emerging, does the board take initiative to discern what is occurring and seek to implement effective responses?

When a church board knows how to handle conflict constructively, then it demonstrates an understanding of what makes a church work. Whenever a group of people unite to address with passion and energy a particular goal, conflict will occur. It should be no surprise then when conflict occurs within a church board or in congregational life. People feel strongly about the Gospel and the way in which it should be lived. Church boards need to know how to manage such conflict in non-destructive ways, recognizing that differences of opinions can be a catalyst to discerning more clearly God’s direction.

This is a good segue into the last point I will make. Church boards often experience conflict in their relationship with the primary leader of the congregation. Knowing how to make a church work requires that the church board give much attention to sustaining a good, productive relationship with the lead pastor. When this relationship deteriorates, the church will not work well.

The chairperson of a church board needs to have some awareness of how strategic good board leadership is to making a church work. At times a chairperson will be at a loss to know exactly what to do to help the church work. Prayer and reflection, as well as reliance upon the Holy Spirit’s wisdom become the major resources. In other cases chairpersons can equip themselves through reading, consulting, or careful attention to good board practices in order to serve a church board well. And sometimes a board chair will come to realize that for the church to work well, it is time for a new board chair to take leadership.


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