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The Poor Shall Inherit the Boards


Feb 12 2014
Calling for more economic diversity in church leadership.

Several years ago, Carl Ruby, then vice-president of student life at the university where we both used to work told me, "You know, Marlena, you'd make an excellent trustee of the university." I inquired, "What does it take to become a trustee here?" Carl paused. Then he said, "Money and influence." I jovially shot back with "Well, I have very little money and not much influence—I guess there's no chance for me to become a trustee no matter how well qualified you think I am." Carl was sorry, too. He didn't even try to contradict my assertion. He couldn't.

I left his office sad that whatever leadership skills he saw in me were insufficient for me to become a trustee, though the reality was that I simply didn't have the clout to make it onto the board.

Our conversation left me wondering: How often are board members selected because of their deep pockets or their influence alone? How often do we bow to Mammon, the almighty dollar, instead of God? Far too often. Dale Hanson Bourke bears witness:

While I heard Christian concern expressed about poverty, the stronger message was that I was rewarded for accumulating wealth. The farther I moved away from poverty, the more I was asked to join church committees and nonprofit boards. The poor may be "blessed," but the wealthy are popular, especially in Christian circles.

The boards that Dale Hanson Bourke references set the priorities, or course, these churches and nonprofits take. They appoint leaders, make hiring decisions, and set budgets. Their opinions and votes are of utmost importance. That's why it is imperative that our boards reflect the faces of the kingdom, not just the rich.

It would be naïve to deny that even some of our best churches and Christian nonprofits select people of affluence for their ruling boards because they crave access to these people's financial incentives, renown, and business savvy. Having the wealthy and influential involved can be greatly beneficial, but it's wrong for us to limit board membership to these individuals.

As far as I know, being wealthy and influential isn't a requirement for church leadership, though. When we select nominal Christians as board members because of their clout over faithful disciples of Jesus we boldly declare our love of money and power. This habit also betrays our prejudice against the poor. We assume, being poor, they do not have wisdom or anything worthwhile to offer us.

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