Posts Tagged ‘choosing church board members’

I recently conducted a workshop at the Christian Leadership Training Association Convention in Pasadena, California, on the topic, “Strengthening Your Church’s Immune System.”


The goal of my workshop was to present ten practical ideas designed to prevent most conflicts in Christian churches.

A severe conflict can damage a church, its leaders, and its people for years.  The trauma of a major conflict wreaks havoc with personal relationships, church budgets, pastoral careers, and spiritual lives.

So long before a church experiences serious conflict, the pastor and church leaders should discern, model, teach, and implement healthy, biblical behaviors for resolving differences.

And the best way to manage and resolve conflicts in churches is to prevent them before they escalate.

For a church to grow today, a pastor must initiate change … which involves taking risks … which provokes anxiety in some people … which leads to complaining … which usually focuses on the pastor … which can lead to antagonism, plots, secret meetings, accusations, demands, threats, church splits, forced resignations, and ultimately, a decimated congregation.

I believe that pastors must implement these strategies over time to protect their churches form internal attacks – as well as the pastoral position – or a major conflict can wipe out a congregation for years.


First, identify and communicate why your church exists and where it is going.

Many of the conflicts I experienced in my first ten years of pastoral ministry were related to our church’s direction … or lack thereof.  I had a mental picture of where I wanted those churches to go but I didn’t articulate it clearly and concisely, and consequently, major conflict resulted on two occasions.

Your mission is your church’s overarching purpose, the reason you exist.

Your vision is your church’s preferred future by a certain date; the direction you’re going.

Let me share four thoughts about mission and vision – and I have done what I’m suggesting:

*Utilize a bottom-up approach.  Let the people of your congregation have input into the creation of your mission and vision statements.  Avoid using a top-down approach where the pastor rams through his ideas without congregational buy-in.

Start by asking your congregation four open-ended questions on a handout, such as:

  1. What do you like about our church?
  2. What are our strengths as a congregation?
  3. Where can we improve?
  4. What should our church look like in five years?

Reserve 10-15 minutes during a worship service to do this.  Let people write whatever they want.  Ask them to turn in their surveys anonymously.

Then choose a mission/vision team to compile the responses.  Ask the team to meet, maybe on a Saturday morning.  Share the responses.  Look for patterns.  Create draft statements.

Let the pastor refine the language.  Send the statements back to the mission/vision team for further input.  When the process is complete, the board should officially approve the statements.

*Create compelling statements.  Make them shorter rather than longer.  The trend today is to have mission statements that are ten words or less so they can be remembered.

“Loving Jesus and others” is boring and vague.  “To transform our families and communities for Jesus” is exciting and unifying.  Make them simple but somewhat edgy.

*Announce the statements to the church in final form. Post them everywhere: your lobby, website, bulletin, classrooms.  The pastor must refer to them often … at least once a month.

*Every consequent decision will flow from your mission/vision statements which may relieve as many as 90% of your church’s “problems.”  Those who don’t like the direction – because they wanted to turn your church into Lakewood West or Saddleback North – will be forced to get with the program or leave the church.

Yes, some churches grow without those statements, and some churches that have mission/vision statements never go anywhere.  But people want to know, “What’s the plan?”  Growth is intentional, not accidental.  Without a clear direction, your church will drift.

Second, choose only leaders (pastor/staff/board) who follow and embody Scripture (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

It’s well-known in evangelical circles that church leaders should be biblically-qualified according to Paul’s lists in the Pastoral Epistles.  But selecting leaders of high character doesn’t prevent a church from experiencing a horrific conflict.  I know all too well.

*It is crucial that every leader embrace the church’s mission and vision statements.  My failure to nail this down was a primary factor in why major conflict surfaced in my last ministry.  I assumed that board members were with me without ever asking them directly.  Board members can smile when their pastor is present and stab him in the back when he’s absent.

*It is essential that prospective leaders are interviewed (maybe by the pastor and board chairman) and that after they take office, receive training (at least quarterly) and undergo periodic evaluations.  (Either every major leader should be evaluated or nobody should be evaluated.)

*The pastor should check with the financial secretary and make sure that any prospective board members are regular, generous givers to the ministry.  The pastor can do this by asking the person who knows the givers and their amounts, “Just let me know if this person is a stingy giver … an average giver … or a generous giver.”  Believe me, you don’t want any stingy givers on your board because they will tend to shoot down budget increases and special projects because they won’t want to give themselves.  You only want regular givers handling church finances.

*It is better to have nobody than the wrong person in leadership.  Why?  Because it can take a long time to get rid of the wrong person … and there is a price to be paid for doing that.

*It is better to have just a few qualified leaders than any non-qualified leaders.  If the church’s governing documents state that you need to have a minimum of seven board members, but you can only find four that are qualified, just go with four.  If you don’t, the other three “fill-ins” will kill you.

Third, ask your leaders to study and summarize the biblical principles for conflict resolution.

I believe that the lead pastor in a church must take the initiative to prevent major conflicts from surfacing.  One way to do that is to hold regular meetings involving every key leader in your church: staff members, board members, ministry team/committee leaders, small group leaders … and to broaden the ownership base by making the group larger rather than smaller.

The meetings can be held monthly or quarterly … maybe after the last service on Sunday morning, which means you’ll have to provide lunch … but it’s essential that they be held.

This article I wrote several weeks ago describes the process of formulating these principles:


The aim of such a process is to create a one-page document stating Ten Principles for Resolving Conflict at _________ Church that should be posted in many rooms all over the church.  (Just try and envision the rooms where conflict surfaces, like the church office, the associate pastor’s office, the board room, the kitchen … you get the idea.)

Fourth, create a Conflict Resolution Group inside your church of at least three strong, wise, and healthy individuals.

The reason I advocate a CRG is because when a pastor is attacked, there are usually some board members and/or staff members who are involved in trying to oust the pastor.

And when this happens, they almost always use shortcuts to expedite his departure.

They ignore Scripture … the church’s governing documents … labor law … and common decency because they have their eye on one goal: the pastor’s speedy exit … and they are anxious until “the deed is done.”

*The CRG’s job is to make sure biblical principles and processes are followed whenever a conflict surfaces, not to determine an outcome.  They make sure that the pastor is treated justly and fairly at all times.  They watch over the entire congregation, but engage in special surveillance over the board and staff.

*CRG members should be voted on by the congregation, making them accountable to the whole church.  If the board appoints the CRG, it can just disband the group should the board plan to take action to force out the pastor.  But if the CRG reports to the congregation, the board and staff may think twice about railroading the pastor unfairly.

*Terms should be for 1-3 years.  Consider especially former board members … retired pastors … and people who work in human resources.

*Make provision for them to receive training, such as that offered by Peacemaker Ministries in Colorado Springs.  Their website is http://peacemaker.net

Realize that Peacemaker University at its lower levels centers upon how to resolve conflicts between two individuals.  I have taken their course on coaching people to resolve conflicts.

*The penalty for violating the CRG’s directives is church discipline and possible expulsion.  For example, there might be a statement in the church’s governing documents that if the CRG rules that the board didn’t use the approved process for dealing with the pastor, the board could be suspended or must resign en masse.  The CRG cannot function effectively unless they can recommend discipline to the congregation.

Fifth, update your church’s governing documents (constitution/bylaws) every five years.

As churches change, their governing documents should keep pace.  While I believe that church constitutions and bylaws should be slaves, not masters, whenever a conflict breaks out, the leaders and congregation must abide by the latest version.

*Insure that your governing documents align with your ten principles for resolving conflict. (Covered under the third step above.)

*Make sure you specify the pathway to remove the pastor from office and to remove troublesome board members and staff members as well.

*If a major conflict ever breaks out, some people will become so reactive that they will resort to “the law of the jungle” to win.  If your governing documents are clear, they may think twice.

*If your church is ever sued, and a judge takes the case, the judge will decide for the party that most closely followed the governing documents.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but it can be implemented over time.

In fact, let me go further: if a pastor plans on making changes in his congregation, he should implement as many of these strategies as possible first.

The best time to prepare for war is during a time of peace.

I’ll share the remaining five ways to strengthen your church’s immune system next time.




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