Church Board Development: The Next Frontier

Dr. Bruce Hopler

Vice President of Church Strengthening

Point Magazine // January 2022

The past two years have been quite a learning time for the American church. Many have referred to this season of crisis as one that caused many problems for the local church.

If we were brutally honest, though, the many challenges we faced did not cause as much as they exposed.

They exposed many churches that have been on autopilot, valuing their programs over the mission of God. For years, many churches drifted from Sunday to Sunday.

We had to rethink so many things. We had to make so many adjustments. Many of those adjustments were reactionary ― which were quite necessary at the time.  We quickly jumped into how questions.

How do we do digital?

How do we stay financially solvent?

How do we operate week-to-week?

As things seem to be leveling out, it is time we rethink deeper questions: why and what.

Why do we exist?

Why do we meet from week-to-week?

What is the purpose of our existence?

What makes our church unique?

Why has God placed this church in this town with this group of leaders?

The answers to deeper what and why questions do not come from quick knee-jerk reactions. We must slow down and think long term.

I’m picturing you saying, “Well, isn’t this obvious? We exist to live and share the gospel.”

Absolutely! Yet, if we are painfully honest, many churches have lost their way.  Their many programs, as meaningful as they thought, drifted away from our crucial what and why. The past 22 months simply exposed this.

What your board should focus on

The critical force in effecting positive change in a church is found in the church’s board. Now I’m picturing you saying, “Wait, isn’t that the senior pastor’s job?

And, again, I say, “Absolutely!” The problem is most boards think of the pastor as the person whose foot is on the gas pedal while the board’s job is to apply the brakes. Healthy boards, on the other hand, see themselves in partnership with the pastor to become the local expression of the Great Commission in their unique context.

Church boards come in various forms: church board, elder board, deacon board, church council, board of trustees and the list goes on. At the end of the day, though, in conjunction with the staff and leadership, boards should focus on the why and the what of living out the gospel in their local context.

No matter its size or its history, your church inevitably has a leadership board. The ability of this board, pastor and staff to remain focused on the church’s God-give mission may be the ultimate measuring stick to determine your church’s health.

Related: The roles of board members (Whiteboard Leadership video)

The terms you use and what you call your board aren’t the issues. How board members think and actare the issues. Board members must act together as leaders of the spiritual maturity of the church.

The board’s job goes way beyond determining the color of the women’s restroom or dealing with a leaky roof. They should see themselves as partners in the mission of the church. When distractions happen ― and they do happen ― it must be the work of the board to navigate (not ignore) that reality, and then quickly get back to mission and stay on course.

I mentioned earlier that the past 22 months revealed more than caused. One thing it revealed is that we have done an ineffective job in training boards to own the unique vision in the biblical mandate of living out the mission of the gospel. It is time to change that narrative.

At the end of this article, we will share ways we would like to come alongside you. To get started, though, here are six critical components of a healthy board.

1. Spiritual health: growth over programs

Many churches are quick to say they are good here. After all, their pastor preaches great sermons and lots of people are engaged in small groups. We can check the box here, right?

Perhaps. But, let’s ask some deeper questions:

  • Are you regularly checking in on the spiritual and emotional health of your staff and leaders?
  • As a board, are you spurring each other on in your own spiritual development during and between meetings?
  • How do you measure the health of your congregants?

Related: Staying emotionally healthy as a pastor: Leaders that last (video)

For example, when COVID-19 hit, were those who were in your small group systems for years able to grow in spiritual vitality without your structures? Are those in your small groups for at least a year sharing the gospel where they work? Are their marriages healthier than before COVID-19 hit? Are they more Christ-like now compared to 12 months ago?

Far too often we are more concerned with how many are in our programs than with the level of transformation that is happening.

2. Unity: fight for something, not about something

Jesus prayed for our unity in his final days. Why? Because he knew that we humans can turn on each other faster than we can serve each other.

Related: 3 observations about crisis, leadership and the church

Boards cannot drop their guards; we are in a spiritual battle. They need to fight for their pastor, not against him. They need to fight for the gospel, not for congregational comfort. They need to fight for the church’s health, not for what divides them. They need to fight for the lost, not judge them. They need to fight for community health, not appease the complainers. They need to fight for the mission, not for tradition.

3. Clarity: avoid mission drift

The church board has an exceptionally high calling to protect mission. They should be regularly asking: 

  • “Is what we are doing propelling ourselves as a local expression of the Great Commission?” 
  • “Are we reaching people for Jesus?” 
  • “Are we loving God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul?”  
  • “Are we loving our neighbor as ourselves?” 
  • “Are we taking seriously the apostle Paul’s call to be the ministry of reconciliation?”

Related: Married to our mission

It is very easy to drift away from the mission with “good” activity. If the board is not regularly asking these questions, mission drift will happen. They should tenaciously guard the mission and core values of their church

4. Strategy: Become intentional about the what and why

All healthy growth involves intentional strategic systems. A tree in the forest doesn’t just happen. While it is highly dependent on God to provide the rain and sunshine, it has systems for growth, getting the water from the ground to the leaves, growing bark to protect itself. You get the point.

Likewise, raising children doesn’t just happen. While we are highly dependent upon the Spirt of God to influence them, we are responsible to provide love, nurturing, provisions, boundaries and more. All healthy things partner with the Spirit of God with faithfulness on their part.

Related: Five questions for clarity (Whiteboard leadership video)

The church is no different. In every meeting, the board should reflect on whether what the church is choosing to do is in alignment with the church’s mission, vision and core values. Be on careful guard not to just have a battle of opinions, but question how the board can be in alignment with the mission at hand.

5. Stewardship: Being both wise and generous

Budgets should not be set with a scarcity mentality. On the flip side, great wisdom is needed to make sure the church is being responsible. This is a tension to be managed.

Board members need to ask what will help the staff and leadership lead in fulfilling the church’s mission. While the board needs to be responsible, their role is not to control in the negative sense. It is their role to ensure financial responsibility to enable the church to be an expression of the gospel.

Related: Creating a culture of generosity (Unfiltered podcast video)

Further, board members should partner with the pastor in teaching their people to be generous, so that the church can be generous in its community. The first step toward this is modeling. A board should never be filled with leaders who are not generous themselves. If board members are not modeling generosity, they will not be faithful in leading the congregational members to do so.

6. Communicators: don’t leave the people behind

Communication is a two-way street; it involves both listening and expressing. This needs to happen both within the board and in how the board works with the leadership at large.

First, during and between meetings meaningful conversations must take place. Going around the room and giving reports does not count for this. Unity requires open dialogue.

Next, the board should be in regular open dialogue with the pastor and staff. The leadership on the front lines and their decisions should never be made without listening to the ministry leaders.

Related: Leadership lids: Communication (Whiteboard Leadership video)

Finally, communication to the congregation should not be reduced to announcements about events. To be certain, the board does not have to reveal private matters, but there are public themes that would encourage the congregation.

Are you praying together to reach lost people? Let the church body know that. Is a current challenge heavy on your heart? Let the people know you are leading the way in seeking wise council.

At the end of the day, when you feel you have communicated enough, double down and communicate even more. You cannot over-communicate.

We are here to help

Converge is creating an online training platform for board development and this spring will launch a learning management system. This will include a short training video that church boards can watch together and follow up with discussion questions and resources. We challenge every board to devote 30 minutes of their meeting toward long-term development. Your Converge district can connect you to this Board Development Training platform, so look for an announcement when it is launched.

A healthy board, in partnership with ministry leadership, is one which is in alignment with God’s calling by being faithful on their part to reach and disciple people in Christ. To serve on a church board is a high calling. The world is rapidly changing, but the good news will never change. Partner with your pastor and live out the Great Commission.

 


Dr. Bruce Hopler, Vice President of Church Strengthening

Dr. Bruce Hopler has been coaching pastors and church planters for over 20 years. He now serves as the executive director of Church Strengthening at Converge. Bruce started a church in Maryland against all odds with no core group and no upfront funding, but it has grown for 18 years. He then moved to Las Vegas, where he was the Spiritual Formation pastor for the eighth-fastest growing church in America. During his time in Vegas Bruce completed his doctorate in spiritual formation and leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. After four years there, he moved to Orlando to join Converge. Bruce loves planters and pastors. He has been certified in StratOps, Church Unique and SOULeader coaching. He strives to help pastors discover what healthy means, within their unique calling and context.

Additional articles by Dr. Bruce Hopler