Posts Tagged ‘selecting church leaders’

The single greatest human indicator of a pastor’s success in a church is his relationship with the governing board.

A pastor can be a visionary … and a great Bible teacher … and an insightful counselor … and a superb administrator … but if he does not work well with the board, his ministry will go nowhere.

For most of my ministry life, the boards I served with let me know they were there to support my vision for the church … although they reserved the right to tell me when I was suffering from temporary insanity.

But if a pastor wants to take a church in one direction, and the board wants to go in a different direction, the eventual aftermath will be heartbreaking for everybody involved.

This is why the selection process for church leaders is so crucial.

How should the process be managed?

*The selection process should begin months before leaders are approved.  If you wait to the last minute to select leaders, you will pay for it by securing people who are available but not necessarily competent.

*Nominations can come from the congregation, a nominating team, the board itself, or the pastor.  However it’s done, you can’t allow yourself to be pressured by lobbying.  I’ve found that the best people are initially reluctant to serve and that some who appear eager just want power.

*There needs to be some kind of vetting process for each nominee, including a criminal background check.  Some churches require the written approval of a supervisor at work and/or people in the community (consistent with 1 Timothy 3:7) as well.

*I don’t know how far to push this, but the pastor needs to find out the giving levels of all prospective board candidates in general terms (not specific amounts), especially if the board oversees church finances.  You cannot allow someone on the board who does not give generously to the church.  Board members need to set a financial example and can’t be managing tens of thousands of dollars when they haven’t invested in their own local ministry.

Besides, giving is always an indicator of a person’s spiritual temperature.

I once read that about half of all pastors know how much the people in their church give every week, and that half do not.  (Some pastors come into the office on Monday and the giving records from the weekend are already on their computer.)  While I was one of those pastors who never wanted to know (and never did know) how much people gave, I would make one exception: the pastor has to know whether any prospective board member is already a generous giver … or that person should be dropped from consideration.  (This suggestion came to me from a former district minister.)

*Before board members are officially approved, the pastor and/or chairman should sit down with each candidate and let them know what is expected of them in writing … maybe asking them to sign a document to that effect.

*I believe that if a church votes on/ratifies its board members, the percentage necessary for election should be greater than a simple majority.  In fact, I believe it should be the same percentage that a senior pastor candidate has to receive (usually 75%).

When I was still a teenager, I was selected to count the votes for elders and deacons at my church two years in a row.  Out of 95 votes cast the first year, one man had 20 votes against him.  The second year, one man had 11 votes against him.  Since a simple majority was all that was required for election, both men were put into office … and both men later crashed and burned morally.  I always felt that the people who voted against those men knew something they weren’t sharing.

However, my former church in Phoenix never votes on elders.  The board nominates three men every year, and their brief biographies are placed in the program.  Then the men are introduced in each worship service, and the congregation is encouraged to write down how they feel about the nominees.  If you think they should be elders, or you have reservations, you can write those down … and I assume someone follows up those responses.  (The basis for this process is Titus 1:5 where Paul tells Titus to appoint – not elect – elders in every city.)

*I do not believe that a staff member … with the possible exception of an executive pastor … should sit on a church board.  If the pastor supervises the staff, as in most churches … and the board supervises the pastor … how can a staff member be put in the position of supervising the pastor?  When the staff member is having problems with the pastor, the staffer will inevitably share his concerns with a board member, who may very well take the staffer’s side against the pastor … a classic recipe for a major conflict.

This scenario blurs the lines of accountability.  Who supervises whom?

I’ve tried it both ways, and believe that allowing a staff member to sit on the church board eventually results in one of two scenarios: either the staff member aligns himself with the board and pushes out the pastor, or the pastor aligns himself with the board and pushes out the staff member.

If you know of cases where this works well, please let me know.

*There needs to be some kind of an installation service for new board members … maybe with former board members laying hands on them and praying for their ministry.

*The board needs to find a way to report to the church on a regular basis about what they’re doing, whether orally or in writing.  A board that resists accountability will claim that everything is confidential, which is often an excuse for cloaking things in secrecy.

Whenever I placed a priority on the selection of governing leaders, the ministry went forward at a steady pace.

But whenever I neglected to select leaders carefully, the board, the church, and their pastor paid a heavy price.

Your thoughts?

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A pastor friend recently asked if I would post something about how to select a church’s governing leaders.  Whether they’re called elders, overseers, deacons, the church council, or the board of directors, what’s the best way to choose such leaders?

While I don’t consider myself an expert in this area … like most pastors, I’ve made some mistakes in selecting leaders … let me offer three suggestions (each post this week will cover one suggestion):

First, choose people whose lives reflect the biblical qualifications.  Paul instructed both Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-13) and Titus (Titus 1:5-9) to look for certain character and behavioral qualities in church leaders.  Some thoughts:

*Scripture isn’t dealing with a person’s history but with their lifestyle.  When Paul lists “not given to drunkenness,” is he saying that if a person got drunk once, that person should never be a church leader?  When he says “not a lover of money,” is Paul referring to someone’s overall life pattern or elimininating someone from consideration because they did love money for a time?

There are obviously some one-time incidents that would eliminate a person from consideration (murder comes to mind), but we must also leave room for the grace of God.

I once knew a man who was divorced early in life.  He was the most well-respected man in our entire church – he preached, did counseling, taught an adult class, shared his faith freely – but some people refused to let him become a governing leader because he was divorced (as a believer) soon after his first marriage.  They believed he violated the qualification of being “the husband of but one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2).  However, he married a fine Christian woman after his divorce and they had an exemplary marriage for several decades.  Did he meet the biblical qualification?  I believe he did.  Others would disagree.

*Scripture encourages us to look for people who can manage their own lives.  Someone once asked about former Yankee baseball manager Billy Martin, “How can he manage a team of 25 men when he can’t manage his own life?”

In looking for spiritual leaders, we need to look for people who can manage their money, their temper, their alcohol, and their tongue.  If they can manage themselves, then we want to know if they can manage their family (1 Timothy 3:4-5).  If they can manage both themselves and their family, they stand the best chance of managing their church.

*Scripture encourages us to look for people whose lives have been consistent over time.  In 1 Timothy 3:10, Paul says of deacons (and the same principle applies to elders/overseers), “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.”

In general, I only asked someone to serve as a governing leader if I had been able to observe their life for at least two years.  That made their behavior predictable … though not necessarily perfect.  A church’s governing leaders are sometimes under stress … maybe they have to deal with a wayward staff member, or declining offerings, or a case of sexual immorality … and you’d like to know ahead of time how they’re going to handle tough situations.

This is why I wanted all potential governing leaders to serve in a leadership position somewhere in the church before I considered them for the governing board.  If they hadn’t served as a leader first … and then they became a governing leader … how could I predict their behavior on the board?  I couldn’t.

Sadly, some people are exemplary believers in non-leadership positions … but they become tyrants when they become leaders.  The only way I know to minimize this risk is to make sure everyone serves as a non-board leader before they’re ever considered to become a governing leader.

*Scripture encourages us to know something about the spouses of leaders as well.  Bible scholars are divided as to whether 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to deaconesses or deacon’s wives.  Let’s assume for the moment that Paul is discussing the wife of a governing leader (whatever applies to deacons also applies to overseers/elders).

The wives of leaders need to be “worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, but temperate, and trustworthy in everything.”

It is possible for a man to be perfectly suited to become a governing leader … but to be disqualified because of his wife.  The problem?  She can’t keep a secret.

I’ve had governing leaders tell me, “I never tell my wife a thing about what’s going on in the church.”  However, I had one leader tell me, “I tell my wife everything that’s going on in the church” … and I’ve served with leaders whom I suspected told their wives plenty if not everything.

I do not believe that everything discussed by a church board should remain confidential.  That’s ridiculous.  The governing leaders make all kinds of decisions, and most of them can/will be shared openly with the congregation.  I believe that a church with transparency is far healthier than a church full of secrets … especially concerning issues and policies.

But when governing leaders meet, they also discuss people in the church … by name … and those discussions need to be kept confidential.  As a pastor, I was willing to discuss anything and everything at the church except what was going on in the lives of individuals … unless it was already public knowledge.

In other words, we need to be open about the institution of the church but be protective of the individuals in that same church.

Any thoughts about what I’ve written?

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