Church boards: essential part, inconvenient obstacle, or irrelevant forum? Over the years, I’ve heard various accounts of how different boards function. Some verge from the encouraging, such as the board that would only approve increased spending if firstly, every member of staff received a pay rise at the same time. Other examples veer to the frustrating, for example, the church board that refused to support any of the church leadership’s proposals until a dated and dysfunctional ministry was reinstated, or the board who plainly just didn’t like each other!
Across different networks and denominations, church boards tend to vary in their exact form and specific function. They may be called boards, or trustees, or a council, or elders, or a number of other things. But ultimately they should serve a similar role – if healthy.
What do church boards do?
How you answer this question of purpose will determine everything else. But it is clear that church boards are an essential component of leadership and governance. What this looks like may vary from church to church, and can healthy or unhealthy. In some churches, it can be a power struggle to determine who leads: the board, or the staff. In either case, clarity of roles is essential.
In some churches, boards are senior leader or staff-led, and the other board members really are ‘yes-men’ who rubber-stamp what has already been decided. This neuters the board, who are reduced to the level of puppets with no real voice or influence, and removes a key check-and-balance financially and strategically.
In other churches, the board actually lead, hiring and firing a pastor or senior leader in accordance with the board’s vision, or perception of the leaders’ performance. I understand the importance of accountability, and this board model guarantees that. Yet the risk is that this model can neuter or paralyse a leader, preventing them from actually leading. I will discuss this further later on, but I believe this model of a senior leader working for a board takes things too far.
Both these models I’ve just described are dysfunctional, but fortunately, they aren’t the only options how a board can work. I’m convinced scripturally that elders are, in fact, a team of mutually accountable senior pastors or church leaders responsible for the spiritual governance, direction and leadership of the church. What does this mean, then, for the role and responsibilities of a church board?
In this series of articles, I will consider the following:
The following table summarises the overall picture of the difference in roles between a healthy church board and a healthy eldership/church leadership team. But if there is a different church structure model, for example, a senior paster leading the church, then some of these may need to be re-evaluated.
|Area of Concern||Eldership Team||Board Member|
|Mission||Generates and develops||Affirm and support|
|Vision||Generates and develops||Affirm and support|
|Values & Culture||Generates and develops||Affirm and support|
|Structure & Operations||Decides and develops||Affirm and support|
|Strategy & Momentum||Generate and implement||Affirm and support|
|Budgets||Present overall budget requests; manage approved amounts||Set and approve budgets|
|Doctrine & Theology||Determined||No role|
|Staff||Day to day oversight and management||Wider support|
|Legal & Financial Concerns||Productive questioning, information and input||Oversight, governance and decision making|
|Ministry Expression||Design and implement||No role|
|Recruitment||Hiring and dismissal of candidates||No role|
|Overall Role||Day to day leadership and implementation||Support, productive questioning and solution providers|
This model, which I believe is scriptural, gives the board responsibility for oversight of the financial and legal matters of the church. They do not lead the church, nor have authority over elders and senior leader. Rather, they ensure financial health is constant, legal obligations are fulfilled, and seek to serve the church vision and culture through financial means. Church boards aren’t ‘yes men’ but neither are they ‘no men.’ In that sense, they are more like trustees who steward the affairs of the church, releasing the spiritual leaders (elders) to lead and partnering with them to see the church flourish.
The other articles in this series look more closely at the following areas:
- Overview and summary
- Defining board responsibilities
- Choosing board members
- Board structure
- Running effective board meetings