290. Building an Engaged, Effective Church Board: Who is Responsible? # 3

In related blog articles #288 and #289 I have considered the role of a church board chair and church board members in developing an engaged, effective church board.  In addition, we must also think carefully about the role of a lead pastor in church board development. Different assumptions about a lead pastor’s place in board development undoubtedly exist among your church board members. I would not be surprised if your lead pastor has a slightly different perspective about his role in board development than any of the other board members. So the opportunity for misunderstanding and conflict lurks so long as these differing perspectives remain hidden and unresolved.

  1. Pastoring “elders/board members”: the lead pastor is the pastor of the church board members/elders. Just because a person becomes part of the church board does not change this fundamental relationship within the congregation. This becomes a challenge for board members, because they want to honour and respect the lead pastor as their pastor. So a wise lead pastor will give permission to church board members to fulfill their role, which includes appropriate oversight and care for the lead pastor. What kind of pastoral care do church board members require? I think two aspects are critical. First, a lead pastor does need to interact with each board member at some level, because relationships are important. Whether it is meeting for coffee every three to four months or playing a round of golf together or going for a walk — lead pastors need to spend time with board members. I know this is counter-intuitive because lead pastors will assume that board members do not need this kind of care and attention. However, sustaining the spiritual life of board members is critically important for the general health of the congregation. Second, a lead pastor needs to be building the discipleship of each board member in a systematic way. Just because people are board members does not mean stuff stops happening in their lives.
  2. Theological expertise: frequently church boards face difficult theological and ethical issues about which the congregation seeks advice and guidance. In such discussions a lead pastor becomes an “expert” witness, helping board members sort through biblical texts and understand how the church in previous centuries has responded to similar issues. In a sense this is an expression of a lead pastor’s “duty of care” as a board member, because he has the expertise to speak professionally to some issues (just as a board member who is accountant can speak professionally to financial issues). This becomes important in developing policy relative to theological and ethical issues. Lead pastors must be careful in this regard lest their “theological expertise” shut down meaningful discussion and contributions by other board members.
  3. Helping board members understand their role: a lead pastor can provide significant support to a board church when it comes to educating board members about their role and responsibilities. The goal is not to “put the board in its place,” but rather entails respecting the important work that church boards do on behalf of the congregation. It may also require a lead pastor to set aside personal interest and counsel board members to make good decisions, even when the outcome might not be positive for the lead pastor personally. In other words a lead pastor can model how a church board member manages conflicts of interest with integrity. If board members also function as elders in the congregation, then a lead pastor can help board members understand how to fill both roles with excellence.
  4. Praying for board members: just as lead pastors expect board members to be praying for them, so church board members should anticipate that their pastor will be praying for them with respect to their board responsibilities. Perhaps part of this will be commending the board when it is doing exemplary work, but also challenging the board when its work is substandard, something that requires a deep relationship of trust between both parties.
  5. Collaboration and accountability: at every meeting of a church board a lead pastor presents a report (hopefully one in writing that is circulated in advance of the meeting!). Usually the board will require a lead pastor to report on specific items (for purposes of accountability), but there will also be opportunity to highlight particular aspects of congregational life or draw to the attention of board members important developments in the larger community or denominational family. Every report becomes a conversation with the board members about the accountability of lead pastors and their collaboration with a church board. Celebrating successes happening because of this leadership collaboration will be an important part of this interaction.
  6. Self-learning about church board operations: it is rare for a lead pastor to receive much training about church boards, governance, and staff leadership within seminary. It is often assumed that somehow pastoral leaders just “know” about boards. Frequently this lack of education about church boards and the relationship between a church board and lead pastor results in conflict and inappropriate behaviour. It is important that lead pastors educate themselves about good church board practice. In turn they need to understand how a lead pastor works with a church board in ways the enable a church board to work effectively for the good of the congregation. One of the functions of this website to provide such information to lead pastors.

It is probably not possible for a church board to be engaged and effective in cases where a lead pastor fails to recognize the important work that a church board contributes to congregation life and even works in opposition to the board or regards it as irrelevant. I would encourage lead pastors to make their work with church boards a priority.

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