#333. Book Review #13: Dave Beckwith with Joanne Beckwith “God Meetings. An Awakening in the Boardroom” (Plymouth, MA, Elk Lake Publishing, 2022).

The Beckwiths write from a strong desire to promote revival in churches. Their thesis is that this revival can only begin “with leaders who humbly seek God, confess sinful behavior, and rely on the Holy Spirit to direct their work. God meetings ignite the flames for revival” (xxv). What holds churches back from experiencing revival is unwillingness of pastoral and board leaders to acknowledge God in all of their work, and particularly in their meetings. The solution is for every leadership meeting (even congregational meetings) to become “God meetings.” When church leaders gather it is “for one transcending purpose: to meet with God” (1).

The Beckwiths states that “if churches and Christian non-profit organizations functioned in harmonious, spiritually uplifting ways and pursued kingdom goals, the course of Christianity would march forward…” (11). With this foundation established Beckwith proceeds to explain how pastoral leaders and volunteer church board members can form spiritually effective ministry teams who transform their work through God meetings.  In 1995 Charles M. Olsen published a book entitled Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders. His goal was similar to the Beckwiths, namely to help church boards embrace “worshipful work” as the key to reigniting their passion for God’s purposes expressed in their congregation’s mission.

While I applaud the Beckwiths desire, I found his book frustrating for several reasons. First, he obviously is writing both for pastoral leaders and for volunteer church board members. The last third of the book is a manual of pastoral practice (199-322) and really has little relevance for church board members. The first section of the book entitled “Pursuing God—the Almighty Waits” addresses some common causes of church board dysfunctions. These include confusion about the relationship between lead pastor and church boards (“who’s in charge?”), the benefits of teamwork, what board meetings can become when they are “God meetings,” planning together, turning plans into workable budgets, and communicating with the congregation. A number of the appendices (325-354) provide helpful tools to address each of these issues. However, in my opinion he fails to address “the elephant in the room,” namely how does a church board define its relationship with the lead pastor? In this review, I focus on the segments of the book that may have direct relevance for church board chairs and board members.

Second, the Beckwiths answer to the question “who’s in charge” is “Jesus!” (31), although biblical, is a little simplistic. It does not provide the guidance congregations need to help them constitute their governance requirements adequately. After reviewing and rejecting what he calls the “Corporate Model” (i.e., church board is in charge) and the “Presidential Model” (the senior pastor is in charge), he proposes the “Team Ministry Model” in which Jesus is the leader. Of course, Christians know and acknowledge that Jesus is the head of the church. However, having said that, we still have to work out what that looks like in reality of a human organization such as a local congregation.

Third, the Beckwiths’ answer to the question: How does Jesus, as head of the church, delegate his authority for the care and protection of his flock? is simply incomplete. His answer seems to be: “through a team of elders” and a group of deacons” who assist the elders’ team—at least I think that is the model he presents (117-124). However, as far as I can tell he never defines how these two team groups work together. On page 128 he rejects models of church governance that split responsibilities among two governing groups—a sound conclusion in my opinion—and in that context seems to set the elders’ team in the primary position of leadership. However, if that is their answer, then perhaps a more careful study of New Testament texts would reveal that the term elder merely refers to mature believers who have the qualifications to care for the congregation (episkopoi) and to assist the congregation (diakonoi) in many different ways, so that “body grows the body” (Ephesians 4:16). Paul does not use the term “elder” in 1 Timothy 3 and when he does use it in 1 Timothy 5 he refers to older, more mature male and female believers in the congregation who would include both managers (episkopoi) and assistants (diakonoi). I do not have space to treat this question in greater detail. I refer you to my discussion of this issue in my book Kubernēsis. Leading as the Church Board Chairperson (2019).

Fourth, in my opinion, he overlooks a basic New Testament principle that all early Christian leaders seem to support in their writings, namely that the congregation under Christ is in charge. If there is authority, they wield it under Jesus Christ. They delegate it to gifted leaders who will serve the needs of the congregation. However, such leaders, whether we call them managers (episkopoi) or assistants (diakonoi), ultimately are fully accountable to the congregation, who appoints them. When lead pastors or volunteer board members forget that they hold the mission and values of the congregation in trust and complete accountability to the congregation, then they endanger their leadership and begin to abandon their responsibilities to care for and protect the flock.

Fifth, the Beckwiths do not clarify the nature of the lead pastor’s accountability to the church board, the group to whom the congregation entrusts their mission and their care. In appendix 9 he offers guidance for “staff reviews,” but there is nothing that specifically addresses good processes for church boards to conduct annual lead pastor performance reviews.  He stresses that pastors are elders and elders are pastors, even those who are volunteer elders. However, he proposes a very different hiring or appointing process for paid pastors (and staff). This creates an inconsistency. If an elder is an elder, whether paid or volunteer, why are the processes and qualifications for appointment different? Or for that matter, the process for performance reviews?

I regret writing a negative review, but in my opinion, the Beckwiths’ book does not offer members of church boards the kind of help they need to understand their role, avoid dysfunctional board member actions, both individual and collective, and to educate their congregations in appropriately biblical ways of congregational governance that advances their mission in alignment with biblical values. Although Beckwiths’s publication may motivate you to pray for revival, if you are a church board chair, I am not sure you would gain much assistance in fulfilling your distinctive role within the board and the congregation, and in relationship to the role of the lead pastor.  

This entry was posted in Board, Board Chair, Board Member, Book Reviews, Senior Pastor. Bookmark the permalink.