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Posts Tagged ‘conflict with church board’

Sometimes when I’m reading, I run across a comment that makes me stop and think long and hard.

That’s how I felt when I ran across this statement from Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander in their book Extreme Church Makeover:

“If I had to determine the spiritual health of a church on only one issue, I would find out if the governing board of the church consisted of people coming together to persuade each other of their own independent will or spiritually mature children of God coming together to collectively discern the will of God.”

In a nutshell, the authors are asking:

Are the members of the governing board first asking God about church direction, or are they first asking each other?

I’ve worked with boards that run the gamut on this question.  Here’s what I’ve noticed:

First, a spiritually mature board takes time to listen to God’s Word.

The church I pastored in the 90s did this at every meeting.  The chairman would choose a passage … some of them a bit on the long side … and he’d read it to us.  We’d discuss it afterward.

This simple act was a way of saying: “This board … and this church … are under the authority of the Word of God.  Before we do anything else … and before we talk among ourselves … we want to hear what God is saying to us.”

But I’ve also sat on boards where the Bible wasn’t read, or if it was, it was done hurriedly.  It’s like saying, “Let’s give God a nod but get right to the good stuff … our ideas.”

It seems to me that if a board is serious about Scripture, it will gravitate in the direction of fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission.

And its members will listen to what the Spirit is saying to their church.

Second, a spiritually mature board takes time to pray unhurriedly.

This may seem like a given, but I’ve sat in board meetings where we barely prayed at all.  I distinctly remember one meeting where neither the chairman nor anybody else prayed to open the meeting.

That meeting didn’t go well … and no wonder.  We didn’t invite God’s presence or direction into our time.

But I’ve been in many meetings where all the board members prayed before starting the meeting … everybody prayed at the conclusion of the meeting … and we’d stop and pray anytime we got stuck on an issue.

I’ve heard excuses for not doing this like “we can pray as individuals at home” or “we have such a packed agenda that we need to start immediately.”

But if the board is truly composed of a church’s most spiritual people, wouldn’t they want to ask God for His intervention in church life?

Didn’t Jesus tell His disciples, “Apart from me, you can do nothing?”

And that’s what happens when a board doesn’t take time to pray: nothing.

Third, a spiritually mature board values transparency concerning each person’s spiritual progress.

This can be done in conjunction with Scripture reading and prayer, but it’s essential … because only a board that’s growing spiritually can lead a church that’s growing spiritually and numerically.

As the Book of Malachi clearly specifies, as the leaders go, so go God’s people.

It seems to me there are three levels of sharing that go on between spiritual leaders:

Level One: how I’m doing at work

Level Two: how I’m doing with my family

Level Three: how I’m doing emotionally, morally, and spiritually

Most boards feel free to discuss Level One, especially if board members attend their meeting right after work.

Some board members will discuss certain family issues … especially the need for healing if a family member is physically ill.

But few if any board members will discuss their spiritual, moral, or emotional lives with each other … and yet Level Three represents the greatest opportunity for spiritual growth.

I once worked with a board where we had monthly meetings to discuss church issues … and weekly meetings to discuss our own spiritual growth.  The longer we met together, the more transparent we became with each other … and the more bonded we ended up becoming.

So when we came to do “board business,” decisions came quickly because we knew each other so well.

Finally, a spiritually mature board sets aside personal agendas and seeks God’s agenda for their church.

I once worked with a board member who had a dream: he wanted to see a worship center on the front lawn of our church’s property.

Our church at the time didn’t have a proper worship center, having met in a fellowship hall and a small gymnasium in the past.

This man was so influential that several of the buildings were named after members of his family!

But as God got ahold of his heart, he gave up his dream and chose to follow the Lord’s dream for that church instead.

And to do that, he pledged to follow the leadership of his pastor.

A prominent pastor once told me that several members of his governing board would meet in a restaurant before the official board meeting … and that was the real meeting.

Then they came to the official meeting and imposed their wills on everybody else.

That’s the exact opposite of what Anderson and Mylander are saying.

They believe that if board members say, “Our will be done,” that church is headed for disaster.

But if board members say, “Your will be done, Lord,” that church has a far greater chance to succeed.

In your church, do you think your board members are saying:

“Our will be done?”

or

“Lord, your will be done?”

Why don’t you take the time to find out?

Because the answer to those questions may well determine your church’s future … as well as your own spiritual growth.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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What’s the role of a governing board in relation to its pastor?

Is their job to:

*Support the pastor’s agenda for their church?

*Keep the pastor from making stupid mistakes?

*Prevent the pastor from instituting significant change?

*Substitute their agenda for his?

Personally, I believe a governing board should work in concert with their pastor to discern God’s agenda for their church.

While the pastor may be the one who articulates the dream, once the entire board has discussed and prayed about it, those leaders should back their pastor to the hilt … even if their friends threaten to leave.

At least, that’s what I believe … but it didn’t take me long to discover that mine can be a minority position.

When I first became a pastor, I was 27 years old.  The deacon board chairman was 74 … and the other two deacons were both 60+.

The chairman – who was also named Jim – loved baseball.  We used to travel together on BART to watch the Oakland A’s.  We talked for hours about all kinds of things related to church life.

One day, Jim came to me very upset.  His older sister – who led the deaconesses – was a member of a fraternal organization for women.  (I know that last sentence sounds contradictory, but I don’t know how else to phrase it.)

Jim’s sister was actively recruiting women to join her lodge … and using the women’s missionary meetings to do so.

In addition, Jim’s nephew … his sister’s son … was the head usher, and he was giving the lodge handshake to every man who came to church … trying to discover who else might be a lodger.

Jim felt that his sister and nephew were more committed to their lodge than the church and that their involvement was keeping them from growing spiritually.  (They both knew next to nothing about Scripture.)

In seminary, my Church History teacher said that you could be both a Christian and a lodge member, but you couldn’t be a good Christian and a good lodge member at the same time.

So I offered to do some research on the lodge.  I found some literature on the topic – this was pre-Internet – and secured a tape by an expert in the field.

One night, with Jim’s support, I presented the materials to the entire board … which had added a younger member by this time.

During the ensuing three hours, I was very careful about my presentation.  We weren’t trying to make anyone leave the lodge …no witch hunts allowed … we just didn’t want anyone from our church to recruit people for their lodge.

And we all agreed on this decision.

Shortly afterward, a woman I thought was spiritually mature (I’ll call her Rita) informed me that she had begun attending lodge meetings because of the influence of Jim’s sister.  This was exactly the kind of thing both Jim and I were concerned about.

I shared some concerns with her that I had about the lodge.  She had no idea.

Before I knew it, the board wanted to meet with me … and they were pretty upset with their rookie pastor.

Why?  Because when Jim’s sister and nephew heard about my comments to Rita, they demanded that I apologize to them … or they threatened to leave the church.

The board had two choices at this point.

They could either back their pastor or demand that I apologize.

Guess what they decided?

They demanded that I apologize.

I refused.

Why?  Because I was carrying out the directive of the deacons.  We had researched the issue together.  We had discussed it together.  We made a decision together.

But when their friends threatened to leave, the entire board collapsed on me.

I ended up visiting the home of Jim’s sister and nephew, along with a deacon.  I listened to their pain and tried to make them understand my/our concerns.

They lacked the theological foundation to understand my viewpoint.  It was like talking to a couple of cats.

That experience took a toll on me.

I broke out in hives all over my chest due to the stress of the situation.

I no longer trusted the board.  We had made a decision together but they all wilted on me.  How could I ever trust them again?

When I asked for my lodge materials back, one of the deacons refused, claiming the materials had caused enough trouble.

My family went on a scheduled vacation.  When I returned, I wondered if I’d still have a job … and the board wondered if they’d still have a pastor.

Several weeks later, the leader of a sister church five miles away called and invited our church to initiate merger talks with them.

Two months later, our churches formally merged … and the church I came to as a rookie pastor no longer existed.

I have often wondered if God closed the church down because the deacons chose friendships over faithfulness.

Fortunately, I’ve only been betrayed by a church board twice … and the story of the second betrayal won’t be in blog form.

It will be in book form.

The overall lesson from this story is this: when a pastor and a board agree on a decision, both parties need to support each other in public.

On rare occasions, the pastor or a board member can revisit an issue … inside a board meeting.

But when a board backs the pastor’s detractors rather than their pastor, they shouldn’t be surprised if the pastor either resigns or starts looking for a new ministry.

It just occurred to me that all four of those board members eventually left that new church separately and angrily.

I sure wasn’t going to chase them down.

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