A contentious or divisive team member can destroy established unity or any attempts to build it. Here are five questions to ask before recruits make the team. These questions will help to preempt unnecessary conflict.

1. What is the team's primary purpose? Is the primary purpose of a church board representation or leadership? Our answer significantly affects our potential for unity.

Many churches have opted for the representative model. But in a board of representatives, the emphasis on representing various interest groups makes it difficult to justify keeping anyone off the board. From a representative perspective, any church member, no matter how divisive, has a right to lead.

I've become a strong advocate of a leadership-oriented board. Rather than figure out what everybody wants them to do, the members of a leadership board have only one focus: finding the best course of action and following it. When faced with a difficult decision, they ask first not "How will people react?" but "What does God want us to do?"

2. What are our minimum qualifications? In many churches, anyone who faithfully supports the church and works hard eventually finds himself or herself rewarded with a seat on the board. But passages such as Acts 6, 1 Timothy, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 make it clear there are spiritual qualifications, and they don't stop at being born again. They go way beyond to issues of character. That's not so much a matter of what a person knows as who he or she is.

As important as spiritual maturity is, though, to build a harmonious and effective leadership team, there are other qualifications to look for:

  • Is this person in basic agreement with our current philosophy of ministry?
  • Will this person fit the leadership team we've already assembled?

3. How can a leadership group work as a team? First, make sure your group is the right size—I suggest somewhere between five and 12. If you have too many people, there's no way to keep the lines of communication flowing. Frankly, it's the slightly-too-large board that often gets the time-bomb member—because the board is trying to fill that last slot or two. Second, spend time together. The more time we spend together, the more we like and understand one another. Too many boards gather, quickly pray, do business, and go home. I look for ways to have some play and socializing time together. Third, create shared experiences. That's what training does. We get a common lingo, a common background that helps us—not necessarily to agree, but to understand our disagreements better.

4. What is the purpose of a board? What should members see as their function? That changes as the church changes. In a smaller church, the purpose is usually helping a pastor get the job done. In a larger church it's helping a pastor make and communicate good decisions. In the largest churches, a board's primary function is to be the brakes of the organization, the accountability, people who can stop anything. A larger church is staff-led, so the board is more wise counsel than hands-on leaders. They also serve as a crisis team in waiting.

5. Who should guard the gate? Every church has gatekeepers, the folks who nominate. Unfortunately, even churches that are careful when choosing a governing board can be casual when deciding who will control the initial selection.

The nominating committee may be the most important committee in our church, because it serves like the headwaters of a river. If there's pollution upstream, it will eventually defile everything downstream. A pollution-free river demands a good working relationship between the pastor and the nominating board.

-Larry W. Osborne is pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California.

Winter 2013: Callings  | Posted
Church Board  |  Elders  |  Lay Leadership  |  Recruiting  |  Teamwork
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