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Defining Church Board Responsibilities

Defining Church Board Responsibilities October 17, 20192 Comments
Church Board Responsibilities

This post, which looks at church board responsibilities, is the second post in a series on church boards.

In my previous post, I proposed that church leadership should be elder-led, not board-led. I do not believe elders and board members are one and the same thing, despite this being the case in some churches. This model of leadership, via a team of elders, which I believe is more biblical, the spiritual governance of a church – the organisationalspiritual and leadership health of a church – falls under the remit of the elders. This means that a boards role is supportive and serving, assisting the elders not by governing, but by ensuring their government is wise, legal and financially viable.

In this sense, we can say that a church board are more like trustees who steward the practical affairs of the church, releasing the spiritual leaders (elders) to lead. They are similar in scope to the deacons appointed in Acts 6:1-7, tasked with practical duties to ensure the health of the church.

So what does this support and partnership look like practically? What are some of the specific areas that full under church board responsibilities?

Church Board Responsibilities: Financial Oversight

I see a church board as having responsibility for oversight of the financial matters of the church. Again, this does not mean the board lead the church, nor do they have authority over the elders, as this would undermine what I believe to be God’s model of church governance. Rather, they ensure financial health is ensured through responsible stewardship, financial accountability and ongoing solvency.

The board should seek to resource the elder’s vision and strategy through financial means. A healthy board mustn’t be ‘yes men’ but neither are they ‘no men’, and nor should they fall into the trap of running interference, blocking and frustrating anything the elders believe God is leading the church to do. This doesn’t mean a board should be passive though, rolling over and letting money be spent frivolously or foolishly.

Areas of finance that involve the board would include any areas that impact church direction or vision, any significant investment, staff hiring, or anything else that significantly influences the mission, vision, culture or structure of the church.

Primarily in this area of financial oversight, a church board has the responsibility to determine, approve and oversee the overall budget available for the leaders and staff to spend. However, the leaders and staff are empowered to spend it how they feel best serves the church vision. This budget figure will, of course, need to be influenced by input from the church leadership as they will be aware of strategic initiatives or plans they have in the forthcoming period. But once the budget figure has been agreed, the management and spending of funds is down to the leadership and staff and should not be subject to further transactional approval. This will all be part of a dialogue, with church leaders and board members discussing such things as strategy, priorities, and desired and available resources. This collaborative yet defined approach prevents any disempowerment of either the board or leaders, enabling both to perform their roles in the partnership well.

The board’s financial oversight will also include ensuring accurate accounts are prepared and filed with the relevant accounting professionals to comply with legal requirements.

I would also recommend that the board determines an overall salary budget for the leaders to manage recruitment with. This budget would cover new hires, as well as pay rises for existing staff. Even if the actual spend is determined by the leadership, the board needs to arrive at the overall figure by researching average market rates of pay, benefits and allowances to ensure people can be paid appropriately depending on their role.

Church Board Responsibilities: Legal Oversight

A church board also has responsibility for oversight of the legal matters of the church. Practically, this would include adherence to legal requirements that apply to nonprofit or charitable organisations. The board ensures legal obligations are fulfilled by protecting against any risk of such requirements being missed, ignored or violated, and proposing or implementing necessary procedures, policies or systems to protect the church.

The board will also need to keep accurate records including minutes, bylaws and any policy statements or documents that govern or shape the function of the board.

Church Board Responsibilities: Leadership Team Support

Additionally, I see the role of the Board is to provide covering and support to the eldership in a number of ways:

Senior Leader Support

There are no bones about it; church leadership is tough! Many people think they can do the job, do the job better, or do it differently. Whether they can or can’t is beside the point. Church leaders will often be their own harshest critics. Therefore, the board should be a source of life, encouragement and support by ensuring the elders, and the senior leader especially, is personally healthy physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. It is key that the church board regularly ask “how are you doing?” and “how do you feel things are going?” from a genuine and informed place of care and concern. The board might not necessarily do any pastoring, but it can be involved in a support level to make sure their leaders are doing well, or have a connection to resources to help them if they are not. The board also will need to be the body that sets the job description and salary of the Senior Leader.

Wider Eldership / Associate Leader Support

Consider the same approach and questions, but with the other elders or Associate Leader, depending on your model of church government. This is an important role. More than once, I’ve worked with churches where the senior leader has one perspective of church life but the rest of the senior team have a very different perspective. This leads to conflict and ultimately disunity if humility isn’t a team culture.

This isn’t to say that one side is right and one side is wrong, but by hearing all sides and perceptions, a healthier picture of proceedings can be painted. Hearing more than one opinion or perspective is wisdom and leads to successful leadership decision-making. For this reason, it is one of the guiding principles in my Church Health Assessment process. A well-rounded perspective from multiple angles is just healthier, and connecting with the wider leadership team allows for this.

Financial and Operational / Executive Leader Support

The same support questions can be put to the Executive Pastor, operations manager, C.O.O. or person(s) who administrate and manage the operational and financial day to day life of the church. It is imperative that a church board has access to up-to-date and accurate financials as and when they need them. These are essential to their role, which allows them to provide a check and balance financially, monitor income and expenditure, and be part of a conversation when either increase or decrease.

What Are Not Church Board responsibilities?

  • Trying to keep everyone happy or people-please by making political decisions to ‘keep the peace’ in the church.
  • Bottlenecking the leadership by slowing, questioning and checking everything.
  • Managing the leaders and putting restrictions on what they can and can’t do, keeping them neutered and unable to lead how they feel God as called them to.
  • Acting as a lobbying group, primarily representing the interests of one specific demographic within the church i.e. older people, traditionalists, families etc.
  • Rubber-stamping everything the leaders do without questioning, inquiring or challenging.

Summary

A church board has a number of responsibilities, so it needs to be more than just an advisory body or a redundant group. Rather, it does need to have a level of authority and standing. The board need to be empowered and permitted to ask challenging questions of the elders.

Church board responsibilities can be summed up as ensuring a church fulfils its mission. This is done through partnering and supporting the church leaders, and monitoring legal and financial performance. The board ensures that there is an effective implementation of the right procedures, which protects and stewards the long-term health of the church.

If a church board is tasked with making sure the church remains financially solvent and legally compliant, then any eldership decisions that impact these need to be questioned. The church board is not in place to let anything and everything happen, but neither is it there to run interference on the leadership plans, blocking, frustrating and making momentum difficult.

Ultimately, a healthy church board attitude to eldership plans is “sure, let’s work out how” as opposed to one of “no, we’re not going do that”.

The other articles in this series look more closely at the following areas:

  1. Overview and summary
  2. Defining board responsibilities
  3. Choosing board members
  4. Board structure
  5. Running effective board meetings

To find out how I help churches like yours develop healthy church structure, click here. You can also take a free church health check here.

2 comments

  1. Very useful article Anthony. Just going by experience (which appears to be vast), how many churches fail in their governance responsibilities not to mention having less than adequate Boards. Whilst the spiritual calling should be foremost in the Church Board members mind, is there also a case that there should be (whenever possible), expertise in a church’s Board covering areas such as Finance, Legal, HR, Operations…. Would love to hear your views on these questions.

  2. Ideally, hands-on and real experience in those areas is hugely beneficial. But that is an ideal, and as long as a board recognises where they lack experience and insight, and are prepared to bring in experts who can cover those gaps, then it’s fine if they aren’t experts in all of those areas. Problems arise when boards aren’t aware of knowledge gaps, or worse, assume they know enough. That’s when mistakes and oversights can occur….

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