The 7 Essential Purposes of the Church Board - Leaders.Church

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The 7 Essential Purposes of the Church Board

One of the things I’ve seen for years, in working with pastors and church boards, is the frequent lack of understanding of the real purpose of the board. Why does it even exist?

For the wise and discerning pastor and church board, I am excited about the journey the Lord has you on, as you grow to understand the real purpose of the church board.  In doing so, you will grow together to be all God wants you to be.

In this post we’ll look at the following 7 essential purposes of the church board:

Spiritual Support
Missional Fulfillment
Policy Guidance
Strategic Planning
Intentional Communication
Document Curation
Fiduciary Responsibility

Unfortunately, lots of church boards view themselves as protectors of the church.  In fact, I’ve seen board members who view their role as to protect the church “from” the pastor.  I’m not kidding you.

There are a few church board members who really believe the pastor needs to be kept in check and the church needs protection from the pastor. Really, I’m not kidding.

Other boards see themselves as the “representatives of the people.”  I can understand how without real guidance and instruction board members can come to this conclusion.  They are left to figure this whole board thing out on their own.

I mean let’s think about this.  If I asked you what is the best form of human government in the world today, what would you say? Democracy, right? That’s right – democracy is the best form of government ever created by man.  Perfect?  Nope.  The best yet?  Yep.

So, what does the average new church board member think when they get elected or appointed to your board?  Well, first they reference what they know in the human sense.  They know in a democracy the people have a voice, versus a dictatorship.  In the U.S. democracy we have three branches of our government.

Along these lines, here are some other helpful blogs you might find of interest for the pastor and church board member:

Church Government: Democracy or Theocracy
Church Board Members: Disagreeing without Drawing Blood?
10 Steps to Navigating Change with Your Church Board
How to Set the Pastor’s Salary
Top 3 Responsibilities of Every Church Board
How Self-Policing Can Help a Negative Church Board Member Become Positive

First, we have the Executive Branch.  That’s the President. Then we have the Legislative Branch.  That’s the Congress, comprised of the House and the Senate. And of course, the third one is the Judicial Branch – The Supreme Court.

Now let’s think about how that new board member translates human government into church government.  So, the Executive Branch, the President – the pastor must be that guy.

Then the Legislative Branch, Congress must be like the board in our setting.  Then the Judicial Branch, the Supreme Court might be a little harder to make a correlation. But maybe if you’re a denominational church you could say your district, region, network, conference or synod could play that role.

Most board members are elected to serve by the members and frequently serve a three-year term. So, here is the person new to the board and they now view themselves like a senator or representative.  Senators and representatives are elected to serve.

When they are sitting in a board meeting, board members can wrongly feel like representatives, they represent the people.  If the board is talking about spending more money on the sound system in lieu of a project for Children’s Ministry and this board member is a Children’s Ministry volunteer, they can feel like they need to be a voice for the Children’s Ministry.

That is an incorrect view. Individual board members do not represent varying segments of the church. They represent the entire church.

Individual board members do not represent varying segments of the church. They represent the entire church. Click To Tweet

Therefore, in the example I just mentioned, the board member who is a Children’s Ministry volunteer needs to be able to think for the overall good of the church, not the overall good of the Children’s Ministry. Because when the overall good of the church is accomplished, the Children’s Ministry wins, even if the Children’s Ministry project that got bumped didn’t happen.  Make sense?

In short, this whole idea of church governance is less about being a democracy than it is about being a theocracy.  I write extensively on that subject at the blog Democracy vs Theocracy. Now don’t get worked up because I’m sure I’m not using that word correctly, but hear me out.

The best church governance acknowledges that the Lord calls the lead pastor and that calling is confirmed in the minds of the board and congregation.  Once in place, the lead pastor must demonstrate leadership with and through the church board.

The pastor prays to hear the mind of the Lord and takes the vision the Lord gives to him or her and begins to process it with the board.  Together they agree on a direction for the church.  They work in harmony, and not as a democracy that has competing interests and frequently gets highly politically charged.  That is not the way to govern a church.

When church boards can come to a full understanding of the purposes of its existence as a board, the individual board members can fulfill their calling to serve at the highest possible level.

Now, in going forward, there are seven essential purposes of a church board. We’re going to flesh out what those purposes are. Let’s take a look at the first essential purpose.

7 Essential Purposes of a Church Board

1. Spiritual Support

While we understand the church to be an organization of people, it is first and foremost a spiritual entity.  The very first thing the church board provides the pastor, the board and the church is that of spiritual support.  This is of the highest value.

A church board undergirds the pastor, board itself and church.  Churches that grow have pastors and church boards that are in unity in providing spiritual support.  Church boards that spend their time fussy and squabbling over budgets, bylaws, buildings etc. do not grow.

Pastors dream for church board members who are diligent in prayer. These board members are deeply involved in the ministry, serve at the highest possible level, and see others before they see themselves. As well, they adhere to the 18 Rules of Engagement for Church Boards and do so joyfully.

These church boards understand the spiritual versus corporate.  Again, they understand the organizational nature of the church, but they hold the spiritual nature of the church in highest regard.

Growing churches have pastors/church boards that are in unity in providing spiritual support. Church boards that spend their time fussy/squabbling over budgets, bylaws, buildings etc. do not grow. Click To Tweet

Church boards have three top priority responsibilities, that of seeking the ministry services of the lead pastor, supporting the pastor and board in prayer and protecting the mission of the church.

In providing spiritual support, church boards provide spiritual and temporal counsel to the wise and discerning pastor.

These boards also understand the high calling of being an advisor to the senior spiritual leader of the church. They walk with the pastor. They intercede on the pastor’s behalf.

For these church board members, serving on the church board is not a power position. It is a deeply spiritual servant position.

Board members that are serious about providing spiritual support to the pastor come onto the board and find their own personal walk with God going deeper.

Everyone wins when church board members pray and provide spiritual support.

(NOTE: Want to know the proper roles and responsibilities for Church Boards? Click here)

Guidelines for church boards & pastors

2. Missional Fulfillment

The second essential purpose of the board is missional fulfillment.

There are four major things that are in the purview of the church board; World View, Mission, Core Values and Goals.

World view is almost always such a universally understood position that it is not debated, questioned or ever spoken of much. Things like “people matter to God,” core doctrinal issues like “Jesus is God,” “The father, son and holy spirit comprise the trinity.”  These are all understood as foundations to the church.

Core values and goals drill into more of the nuts and bolts of doing ministry, resulting in the strategy to accomplish the same.

However, missional fulfillment is the singular issue in the lane of board responsibilities that is of highest directional value.

Sometimes church board members can think “Oh, I don’t do much. I just sit here.”  And believe it or not, sometimes pastors in leading the board can think the same thing.

No-no-no!  The church board has an unbelievably high calling to protect mission.  They should be regularly asking the questions, “As a church, does what we are doing drive to the fulfillment of the mission of the church, to reach spiritually lost people with the Gospel?”

As world view, mission, core values and goals play out around the board table, then the strategy to make those things happen develops with the pastor, staff and key volunteers.  This is where the nuts and bolts of getting ministry done happens. The board wisely stays out of strategy and stays centered on protecting mission.

If you’ve been around church for any length of time at all, you’ve seen churches be full-on for the Lord and then begin to lose their edge.  I’ve wondered and bet you have, as well.  “How does that happen?”

Mission Drift

There’s a term for that both in secular and church circles. It’s called “mission drift.”

Let me tell you, in this high-value second purpose of the church board, it needs to regularly guard against mission drift. The pastor and church board together hold to mission and protect it with everything within them.

When pastors and churches stay true to their original mission, God continues to bring growth and fulfillment of the great commission, seeing people come to know Jesus and being discipled in the faith.

3. Policy Guidance

The third of the seven essentials is policy guidance. Now, I understand policy guidance does not sound very spiritual at all. But I will tell you, it is a critically important board function.

Church board policies and overall church policies need to be in place in order for the church to have just that – order in all they do.  Policies need to be broad, flexible, and provide guidance to the future and not reactions to the past.

One of the things I see is when a church has a huge policy manual it is not growing. Churches will small policy manuals tend to be the growing churches because the church has not boxed itself into 200 pages of policies for this, that and the other.

These churches had bad things happen in the past and didn’t want those things to happen again, so they wrote a policy to prevent it.  Nobody wants bad things to reoccur so they “policy” themselves to death.  Don’t do that.

It is a critical, functional purpose of the church board, but when doing church policies, always be aware of the need to streamline. Streamlined churches have the greatest capacity to move forward and protect themselves from things that are against mission, or that slow growth.

This essential purpose of a church board, that of policy guidance, is critically important for these reasons:

  • Sets direction.
  • Defines a course of action.
  • Is prudent and wise.

Correct policies are preparatory, not reactionary.

(NOTE: Want to know the proper roles and responsibilities for Church Boards? Click here)

Guidelines for church boards & pastors

4. Strategic Planning

The fourth essential purpose, of the 7 purposes of the church board, is that of strategic planning.

The definition of strategic planning is, “The process of thinking through future initiatives in a comprehensive manner.”

God is interested in our plans.  He references them regularly in Scripture. Here are just a few Old Testament references for a start:

  • Psalms 20:4 – May He give you the desire of your heart and may all your plans succeed.
  • Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
  • Proverbs 15:22 – Plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisors they succeed.

One of greatest things the Lord has provided for pastors and church boards is the ability to exercise spirit-power and brain-power all at the same time.

One of greatest things the Lord has provided for pastors and church boards is the ability to exercise spirit-power and brain-power all at the same time. Click To Tweet

My challenge to church board members is for you to think.  Frequently, board members feel free to express their “opinions” on the issues of the church. However, wise and discerning pastors really need their board members to engage in thinking with them.

Board member please don’t just pipe off with opinions.  Allow the Lord to use your brain to help the pastor in church board discussion. Use your head.

Then, of course, you know I’m going to encourage the church board to engage in prayer. It is critical that while board members think, they need to be constantly seeking the mind of the Lord on the issue at the church board table. Then talk about what the Lord is telling you.

When the pastor and church board merge the spiritual with the cognitive, God does amazing things in the life of the local church. As noted above, plans succeed, Prov. 15:22.

I would also suggest in your strategic planning, that the church board be aggressive and bold. And do so in complete alignment with the pastor and other board members. Don’t fall behind the pastor in this arena. Don’t get way out in front either.  Walk in aggressive and bold alignment.

It is important that the church board as a group act like a church planter/entrepreneur. When they do that with an equally aggressive and bold lead pastor, unbelievable things will happen at the church.

God honors the efforts of strategic thinking and planning pastors and church board members. The mission to reach spiritually lost people with the Gospel moves forward exponentially faster than it would otherwise.

5. Intentional Communication

The fifth essential purpose of a church board is that of intentional communication. This can be a major Achilles heel for pastors and boards.

Here’s the drill.  Pastors and church board members have to talk, talk, talk and then listen, listen, listen. And I mean REALLY listen!

This is what this looks like in practical terms. The first person who needs to lead this intentional communication is the lead pastor. They need to be regular in talking to board members even on things the pastor thinks are not that important.

Over-communication is the key.  Never assume board members know everything that is happening at the church. They don’t. And it is the pastor’s responsibility to keep flowing more and more accurate information to the board members.

Talk regularly of the good things the Lord is doing at the church. Pastors need to lead the charge in communication of everything.

Now in doing this, it does not mean church board members weigh in on how every little thing is done at the church. Much of the what the pastor will be communicating is the result of the strategy the pastor and team have put in place to accomplish mission. Strategy is the responsibility of the pastor/staff/key volunteers. Board members respond to this.

However, in all cases, the pastor and board need to talk about everything. Again, the wise and discerning pastor will always want input from the church board. These men and women are gifts from the Lord to help the pastor wisely make the best application of strategic plans.

Let me suggest a few ways the pastor and board should be intentional with their communication.

First…

There is email and text communication. This is probably one of the simplest and fastest forms of intentional communication. Sending out weekly updates and praise reports can be of great value for the pastor and church board.

I will say, it is important for all church board members and the pastor to develop an email and text protocol for their local church digital communications.

Here is the rule of thumb I find to be best for these kinds of communications.  Always, send and receive communications that are positive in nature. Never respond negatively to any email or text.

If the occasion arises where something is angling negative to any topic or a person’s thinking is heading that way, do not respond in the email or text. Always bring that up in person or by phone.

I know picking up the phone feels a bit old school but I’m telling you that if you begin to get negative comments going back and forth digitally, someone is going to get hurt and the issue will get blown way out of proportion.

Besides that, people re-read emails and texts.  Intentional communication that is positive will be re-read over and over and it will lift your church board.  Unfortunately, the re-reading is true with negative emails and texts, as well, and it will tear down your church board.

As an important aside, it is critical that with all digital communications the church board and pastor maintain an awareness of privacy issues.

Second…

Written communication is important.  This may seem a bit old school, as well. However, when done correctly, written communication can be a solid, consistent arm of your intentional communication.

Third…

There are times when spontaneous verbal updates happen in the lobby at church or in passing at a ball game, at the store, etc.  Be sure to always make sure to keep all board members and the pastor in the loop on any of these kinds of communications of consequence.

Fourth…

Conversation needs to happen at every church board meeting.  The pastor does updates, the board responds.

Many times, the verbal happenings at the meeting itself flow from the email and text communications that have occurred in the days and weeks leading up to the board meeting.

Certainly, there will be times when conversation continues out of the board meeting itself to assigned personal conversations and impromptu meetings between pastor and church board member over breakfast, coffee, etc.

Be sure in all communication the pastor and church board members maintain ultimate confidentiality.

In all cases, intentional communication should be the order of the day and is an essential purpose of the church board.

(NOTE: Want to know the proper roles and responsibilities for Church Boards? Click here)

Guidelines for church boards & pastors

6. Document Curation

The sixth essential purpose of the church board is that of document curation.  This is not a frequently used term by churches, but it is very important.

Churches need to have a process for gathering information. In all cases, this process in done in concert with the pastor. Doing anything other than this sets the church up for miscommunication and potential power struggles.

This may not seem very spiritual, but well-run churches maintain very good records of all aspects of the church. Church board minutes, board actions and board/church policies are all curated for permanent record.

Record of spiritual discipline should be maintained by the church. Human resource records and financial records are curated, as well.

It is for this reason that it is important to have people on the church board who give attention to maintaining these records.  They should not be fixated on dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” every minute of every day, but due diligence should be demonstrated in maintaining and curating church documents.

7. Fiduciary Responsibility

The seventh and final essential purpose, of the 7 purposes of a church board, is that of exercising fiduciary responsibility. Under the pastor’s leadership, the church board has to act on behalf and for the good of the church relative to the tithes, offerings, mission and building fund gifts given to it.

A typical problem occurs in the church when this is not defined or clearly followed.

In many churches, it is seen as the church treasurer’s responsibility to give oversight to the finances of the church.  If the church is a bit larger, then possibly a paid bookkeeper or church administrator fills this role.

I might mention that as the church grows, the official church treasurer’s role changes.  Staff members tend to be hired to accomplish the week-in and week-out tasks of receiving and dispersing the funds for the church.

Some churches outsource their financials either as an interim step from a treasurer who gets overwhelming with the task and to a full-time paid staff member who takes over these tasks.

In all cases and at any size of church, it needs to be made abundantly clear how expenses are proposed and approved.  Problems develop with lack of clarity.  When the church board or treasurer begins to see themselves as the “protector of the church” against the pastor or staff, the church is on the road to problems and disunity.

Exercising Fiduciary Responsibility

The pastor needs to lead in exercising fiduciary responsibility.  If the pastor is good with money, this is easy. If they are not, they may need to voluntarily ask for help from a trusted board member or treasurer.

I recommend the pastor and church board set the annual budget in advance of upcoming year. Then expenditures should have “approval-to-spend” thresholds that are pre-established. In other words, the pastor and staff should be able to spend up to certain limits without continually having to run back to the church board.

I recommend that very large expenditures (i.e. $3000 or more) approved in the annual budget, should require the pastor’s and church board’s approval at the time of the expenditure.

In other words, if the purchase of a new van was approved in 2019 for the 2020 calendar year, when the church actually goes to look for the new van in August, that it comes by the pastor and church board again for final sign-off.

In the exercise of fiduciary responsibility, the church board asks for accountability, not control.  Church with boards that want to “control” in the negative sense do not experience church growth. Churches with the right pastor-leadership and church board oversight/counsel in the arena of spending have the greatest capacity to grow.

Financial strength frees spiritual activity.  I’ve yet to meet a pastor or church board member who does not want to see more and more spiritual activity in the church. When the essential purpose of exercising fiduciary responsibility is in full bloom, the church experiences true financial freedom.

Churches with the right pastor-leadership and church board oversight/counsel in the arena of spending have the greatest capacity to grow. Click To Tweet

On the other hand, financial bondage stifles spiritual activity. Church boards that do not pay attention to their fiduciary responsibility see the church struggle. Mission is seldom met when the church can’t pay its bills.

As pastors we preach good stewardship. As a church we should do nothing less than to practice what we preach.

At the end of the day in all of this, the pastor and church board need to live within their means. This is a true exercise of fiduciary responsibility. This seventh essential purpose of a church board is prudent. It is wise and it is God-honoring.

So, what’s our takeaway with these essential purposes of a church board?

When discussing the seven purposes, I encourage you to ask where each member contributes easiest. Where it is more difficult?

Pastor, you need to lead this dialogue.  Board member, engage with your pastor and your fellow board members in healthy conversations that challenge everyone to step up to the highest purpose in service.

When you do this, you’ll watch God do amazing things in your midst.  I pray with you to this end.

Looking for other helpful blogs on the pastor and church boards?

Church Government: Democracy or Theocracy
Church Board Members: Disagreeing without Drawing Blood?
10 Steps to Navigating Change with Your Church Board
How to Set the Pastor’s Salary
Top 3 Responsibilities of Every Church Board
How Self-Policing Can Help a Negative Church Board Member Become Positive


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