The main board of a church is either a very good car that helps to get the church where it should be going, or a clunker that goes as slow as can be and could never pass a state-of-the-church inspection if there were one.
In the one case, it is a shame, for there could be correction.
But let’s start with two huge factors that call for unselfish thought if the best is yet to come: the number of boards, and the function of the board.
How many boards does it take to make a church go?
Let’s define a board as a policy-making team that gives guidance and protection to the local church.
If you agree with that definition, or even something close, you must say there should only be one. Period.
Many established churches started with a board for guidance and a board for care and one for finances for sure. Throw in one for ministry or service – often called The Deacon Board in some traditions — and you can see the confusion coming. Are we talking three or four heads to this church?
Travel back in time 200 years or more in the States, and many churches had a circuit-rider preacher who moved between two or even five churches, so he preached and up to 14 “commissions” did the planning and ministry in the various areas of what was church life then – worship, Christian education, youth, Bible study groups, care, etc. Sometimes that system has stayed, in spite of the assignment of one or more pastors to that one particular church.
Then the confusion often is about how the worship pastor relates to the worship committee or commission, and what the youth director must clear with the youth committee, and who does the actual work, and who says to do it that way?
The ideal is to have one board that has the clear assignment of Big Picture, allows the pastor and staff and volunteers to do the ministries, using teams of volunteers in every area.
Some of those volunteers might be members of the one main board, but they serve as Christian volunteers or servers, not as board members or elders.
Even when a church has just two boards or policy-making committees, and one is the finance people, the church is asking for fist-to-fist conflict or slow clunker confusion at best.
Ministry takes finances. If the board frees the staff and volunteers to do a certain ministry, but the finance team or board does not get it or want to get it and do it, there go the finds.
And here comes the stalemate.
Welcome to our church!
And what does this one board do? Let’s see its agenda!
A second major checkpoint relates to what the board of a church is to do. Why do they meet? What is on the agenda?
Since we are talking the established church here, it is healthy to look back to the way this started.
Let’s say the church started 35 years ago, probably with the vision of a church planter-pioneer or the plans of a “mother church.” The lead pioneer naturally gathers an advisory group or church board or ministry team to get church going. It makes sense to have one of those people on that board or team be responsible for evangelism, another for youth ministries, and, “Eric, would you be responsible for missions? We have got to always keep missions a big item for our people?”
Now, 35 years later, the appendix have never been taken out. One of the board members is the overseer for evangelism, and another for youth, and the agenda can even include reports from them and their areas.
Or this board still goes down through the various main areas of church ministries to see how they are doing to give direction.
We’re talking nice people with high motives holding a church to a certain size, freezing it at a common plateau of about 200, for instance.
I mean if a board is going to handle most ministries of the church, growth of those ministries is going to be severely limited.
We have us a clunker.
It can chug along with good feelings, even, but there will be no rapid growth.
One board chairman, who obviously liked the way that board covered everything, was honestly clear: “We like to control everything, and we think it is good for the church.”
Of course they did, but they were wrong.
And everyone who spends time studying churches and the ministry of the boards would say they were wrong. If all ministries and even volunteer appointments in many cases have to be routed through the main board of the church, it will chug and stay about the same size. Usually under 200.
And clearly there is nothing wrong with a church being under 200. Some of these best community or fellowship happens there — even better when the total is under 90!
But every healthy church that size wants to grow bigger, to touch more lives, to help to win more unbelievers to the truth.
And they should have such a mission in mind.
What should this one board do? What is its ideal assignment?
This is the major issue, for many church boards do whatever. Many spend much of their time on what the chairman decides to bring up, or the concerns of one of the charter-member families.
Often there is unprepared discussion into the late hours of the evening in response to the open question from the chair, “Anything else we should discuss?”
Some churches when being established wrote a constitution that said what should go to the main board or council: “All matters of direction for ministry for the church.” That would be everything.
This is why I like and propose “The Soccer Field.”
The one board is called by the church to be responsible for the four “sides” or boundaries of the church, and the pastor and staff and people involved in the daily and Sunday ministries of the church, are free to minister and grow and care and evangelize and plan – all within those boundaries.
The main board cares for the big picture – with the pastor involved in that as a voting member of course; the pastor and staff and ministry leaders have the freedom to grow ministry and carry out vision in the daily work of love and grace. They “enjoy the game” while “keeping the rules.”
Let’s explain the four sides of The Soccer Field:
Statement of faith—this hardly ever changes, for good reason! But any clarifications or questions of deviation would go to the main board. When changes are necessary, they would recommend them to the membership.
Constitution – many of these do need clarification or updates. Often they were written when the church thought it needed many “commissions” to carry out the ministries of the church. Often the governance of the church was given to the entire membership, calling for frequent members meetings. Maybe that was fine when the church was fifty strong, and the schedules of people were light, but will not work today.
Restoration-discipline – this suggestion is that the board establishes policies for this controversial and difficult area, not that it handles all the cases.
Budget – the one main board must establish a process for the budget formation that is workable and geared to the number of staff and ministries. They should also approve the annual budget or recommend the exact totals to the membership.
Finances — using a finance committee that has leadership and multiple members from this board, to avoid stalemates, this board watches monthly reports, sets salaries, manages audits, and makes policies for strong financial ethics. Gone are the days when the financial secretary and the treasurer were husband and wife, or the pastor signed the checks!
Building expansion — any recommendations for purchase of property and building programs would be recommended by this board after a study that they ordained.
Property – this is also related to purchase or possible sale of property, and detail work can be done through a committee charged with that purpose of course. When the church is over 4-500, we recommend that a properties committee do the study and make the recommendations to the membership. This standing committee should have leadership from this board and one or two other members in addition to some others skilled in this area. Again, this is to avoid stalemate that can happen when the staff and board seek one direction and a property or trustee group is not in on the planning and goals.
Purpose — the purpose or mission statement should be adopted by this main board, and it most cases it is developed by them and staff. Some of the profit for doing this is in the actual writing, for those doing this think hard about “why we are here.” Then this board keeps this in mind, along with the values, as any new directions for the church are considered.
Values — these also are important for self-assessment, and to guide the growth of the church. They will always be some memorable variation of grace, worship, community or connections and groups in the church, mission (including missions local and global, but also defined DNA of the church and why it is there), and integrity (of ethics and true “oneness” of its message with Biblical truth and real life).
Overall policies – these are the ones that apply to all events and staff and operations of the church. Any perks for staff – mileage paid for car use, health insurance, reimbursement policies — are determined here, often after first study by the finance committee. Also factors determining who can serve on staff or in a teaching role would be formed here.
This is not about issues determined about procedures in particular ministries – whether to have a men’s breakfast, or when to charge for an event, or when the youth group should meet. (Many of the details of church life are indeed determined by this board or the advisory groups as a church starts, so this may involve change for the sake of expediting ministries.)
Culture — the term seems nebulous, but it is important. This involves the mood of the church, its involvement in politics, the characteristics of the pulpit presentations in general. How does the church determine the leadership areas for women, new attenders, youth? These may come under policies finally, but they first show up under this culture issue.
“Product” – not that we see people as commodities! But the board might best determine “what we would like to see people know and believe and do if they are here for five years and more.” This is not about dress and political views, but rather emphasizing what the church seeks to teach, and what practices it advocates for personal growth and mission. For instance, some churches have diagnosed certain characteristics they would hope would be formed in their people through the years – people who pray, worship, give, serve, witness, love others, advocate for God’s view of family, etc. All departments of the church then pull in this same direction.
Other board responsibilities:
As noted on the diagram, the main board is responsible for the call and annual review of the senior pastor, and clear recommendations of any votes that go to the membership. Constitutions differ on how many issues must be handled by the larger membership group.
Yes there is trust from the membership to have such a board, but with clear guidelines for them.
Yes there is trust from the board to free the pastor and staff and all who volunteer their time for ministry and teaching and outreach, but with defined lines.
It works well.
So how do we get to one board rather than multiple policy teams?
Carefully — full of care.
If “people hate changes and surprises,” as church consultant Lyle Schaller always warns, we don’t spring this on them with urgency – “Let’s go to just one main board, and eliminate the others.”
In some churches that would be a declaration of war, perhaps a seven-year war, or maybe 40.
Change must begin with the pastor, usually, then with prayer and information, starting small with the second. Often there is a council or church leadership group made up of either all of the main boards or committees, or at least their leaders.
It is there or with the main spiritual leadership board, often called elders, that the plan to move toward one main board can start. They and other “tribal chiefs,” influential people who care and speak up on such things, should know the reasons why!
The issue is simplicity of mission, not, “We have more than one board.”
There is no way to prove how they did church from the Bible, either, since the variables are so numerous. Who gave policy input in the house churches, for instance? If you had apostles, what else do you need for vision and direction!
People do care about the church, and those who have been involved in the various boards of the church know when it is cumbersome and care to expedite ministry. Hopefully they will get it as they see the good of one board and what it can do.
And that is the good of “The Soccer Field” diagram. The picture says more than a thousand words, and the call for freedom for the “ministers” of the church – all the pastors and directors and volunteers also – to “play” and serve within the boundaries, is important.
Also, the clear protection or boundaries for the staff and ministries answer the concerns about the proverbial power-hungry pastor or renegade ministry leaders. The one board has strong responsibilities.
What does the pastor and pastoral staff do?
They “play” in the infield, within the boundaries of The Soccer Field indeed, but with freedom and flexibility to move swiftly.
They recruit and train volunteers for their areas, including sometimes volunteers from the main board, who serve not as elders or board members but as Christians who wish to help others.
They report to the pastor, not multiple people, or the board in general. Often church boards have asked all the staff to report to them, causing confusion, multiple bosses, and weakening the role of the staff leader.
Obviously the lead pastor may designate associates to help in staff organization and reporting, but he or she cannot abrogate responsibility for the staff.
Long-time traditions in established churches have the membership electing all kinds of “offices,” most of which might be better left to appointments by the appropriate staff members.
A lot more about the pastoral and staff responsibilities are in their appropriate chapters.
I do think movement to this type of one main board for a church can be a very good and comfortable vehicle to help get a strong church where it wants to go!