Church Board Members Disagreeing Without Drawing Blood - Leaders.Church

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Church Board Members Disagreeing Without Drawing Blood

Strong lead pastors and strong board members CAN get along. And they CAN disagree without drawing blood and still get along.

I remember back in the day, I served a great church in Des Moines, Iowa. This was a church of 2000 average weekend attendance during most of my years of service there.

It was led by two strong pastors over the 20 years I was there on staff. The first lead pastor was there for my first six years and then I completed my time of service with the second lead pastor for the remaining 14 years.

In this post we’ll look at the following seven components of disagreeing without drawing blood for church board members:

Be Complete in Prayer
Demonstrate Respect
Walk in Love
Establish Clear Definitions
Maintain Boundaries
Understand Lines of Authority
Possess the Ability to Regroup

The church board over all those years was probably a model in how the board should interface with the pastor, seven great men of God who desired nothing more than to see the church move forward.

There was a bit of a quirk with this board in that six of them were aligned in almost every way board members can align. They thought about life the same, had the same politics, viewed family and ministry the same, led the same, etc. And the pastor and I were alignment with those six guys.

The seventh board member did not align quite so well. We’ll call him Bob to protect the innocent! 🙂

If there ever became a thorn in that board’s flesh or certainly in my flesh, it was Bob. Bob seemed wholly unable to disagree without trying to draw blood. I certainly hope he was not trying to draw blood, but there were times where his disagreement got completely out of hand.

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

Guidelines for church boards & pastors

One time, at a November budget meeting preparing for the next year, Bob just came unglued on me accusing me of being the sole reason for any and all ills of the church. The rest of the board looked on in shock and awe at Bob’s personal attack on me.

Most of the time Bob was agreeable to discussions and disagreements, but not that night. He drew blood. And the sad thing is, it didn’t have to be that way.

After the night was over, we went our separate ways and I called Bob to seek reconciliation. It went well and we were able to move forward. But it took a lot of intentional work.

So, how is it that a church can create a culture where board members can disagree without drawing blood?  As you might guess, it all starts at the top.

The lead pastor must be intent on creating a safe environment for healthy discussion and in rare instances, healthy disagreement. I say, “rare instances” in that I suggest that healthy boards are almost always unified in their views of the issues at hand.

Serious disagreements of long-term consequence rarely occur when the lead pastor is attuned to building this safe environment.

This doesn’t mean everyone walks lockstep with the pastor and with each other. It does mean, however, that the church board has a cultivated sense of unity that pervades all their conversations and decisions.

So, how is it a church board can have these healthy conversations and make good decisions in a way that is God-honoring and good for the pastor and for the individual board members?

Over the years I have observed what I consider to be seven components of disagreeing without drawing blood for church board members.

1. Be Complete in Prayer

For pastors and church board members, it is critically important they learn to pray for each other and the church. They need to do that both individually and corporately.

When I do board development training for pastors and church board members, I recommend praying for three entities.

First, church board members know the need to pray for their pastor. The enemy would love nothing more than to put a big target on the senior leader of the church and take them out, either through moral or ethical failing or simply from complacency or discouragement. The number one prayer group for any pastor has to be the church board.

Second, church board members must pray for the church. It goes without saying that any church that is doing anything at all toward the mission to reach spiritually lost people with the Gospel is doing so because that church is covered in prayer by key lay leaders.

The third area of prayer for church board members is too often missed. It is to pray for fellow church board members. When church board members pray for each other, there becomes a unity around the church board table that would not have existed otherwise.

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

Guidelines for church boards & pastors

I recommend the pastor create a prayer card of sorts with each of the church board members’ names on it along with the lead pastor’s name.

Encourage board members to put the prayer card in their Bible and/or on the refrigerator at home and to regularly and fervently pray for each other. You’ll be amazed at what will happen around your board table when church board members pray like this.

Believe me, it’s tough to be less-than-cooperative around the church board table when each person has been praying for the others. Unity and agreement will abound.

So, when church board members pray for their pastor, the church and each other, great things happen. This is where the pastor and church board member relationships go to the highest possible level and the mission of the church is strengthened exponentially.

2. Demonstrate Respect

One of the greatest needs of humans is to be respected.

I remember when I was a teenager my dad refused to let me go to a state youth convention our church always participated in.

I had arrived at the age (probably the wise age of 13) when I was eligible to go to the convention. It necessitated me getting out of school on a Friday to travel and be at the Friday/Saturday event. Dad was not having that.

I strongly disagreed with Dad then and let him know of my disagreement. I was respectful in my disagreement, but I was clear, as well. However, at the end of the day, I still respected him. To this day, I think his view was wrong, but he was my dad and I respected him, even in disagreement.

Even with board member Bob, I couldn’t help but respect the way he felt on issues of compassion and care for the poor. I viewed those things differently than he did back then.

Frankly, I was not at all mature in my understanding of Jesus’ instructions to care for those less fortunate than us. Bob understood those instructions. Pastors and church board members must always be respectful in disagreement.

In fact, as I look back on those times of disagreement, I’ve come to the conclusion I was wrong. Bob was right! I’m really glad that in my “wrongness”, I had the sense to be respectful of Bob.

3. Walk in Love

It might seem unnecessary to mention, but I’m going to anyway. Church board members should do as Jesus instructed in John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus knew that even in love we can still disagree, but we NEVER draw blood with those we love. On rare occasions, I disagree with my wife or my adult son or adult daughter. But they know beyond any shadow of a doubt that I walk in love with them and can disagree in love.

4. Establish Clear Definitions

It is critically important that church board roles and pastor roles are clearly articulated, preferably from the outset. Defining roles and expectations removes much of the misunderstanding that can occur with any group of people like a church board.

Pastors and church board members are people. They have preconceived ideas of what each other are supposed to be and to do. Establishing clear definitions mitigates much of drawing of blood in disagreements.

When the pastor will take the time to intentionally articulate the lanes of responsibilities for themselves and for the board members, they will find a greater sense of unity around the church board table.

I encourage the church to create written job or ministry descriptions for the church board members. It should not be seen as a “task list,” rather a guide for conduct, purpose and mission. When this is done, less concern exists when disagreements occur.

5. Maintain Boundaries

Like any organization, there are both formal and informal boundaries.

Generally, formal boundaries come from established bylaw statements or formal job descriptions. These formal boundaries are written down, but they are not frequently stated. Both the pastor and the church board member understand formal lanes and boundaries both the pastor and the church board member agree to respect.

Informal boundaries are those that exists around generally accepted roles and responsibilities not articulated by bylaw or formal job description.

For example, an informal boundary may exist when all the board members and the lead pastor recognized Board Member Joe as the general contractor by profession and he is the go-to guy on construction-related decisions.

The church board avails itself informally of Joe’s professional expertise. That same board probably would not turn to Joe when seeking advice on Worship Leading issues for the church, again acknowledging an informal boundary.

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

Guidelines for church boards & pastors

Along these lines, it is also critical to maintain sensitivity to board member’s or pastor’s personal life/family/situation. Remember, those around your board table are people with feelings, emotions, real life situations, etc.

It is important to understand that when disagreeing with either the lead pastor or a fellow board member, it is critical to maintain sensitivity to their personal situation.

Every person around your church board table has a life, a family, a career, a something. Spiritually sensitive leaders understand that in agreement or disagreement, no one is a robot.

The best church boards move forward with real awareness of the issues facing each person at the table. Some of those issues can be a distraction or diversion for the board member.

However, the church board cannot move forward ignorant of those issues. Awareness goes miles down the road in making sure you can disagree without drawing blood.

6. Understand Lines of Authority

Even in the church, it is imperative that the church board understand lines of authority. I write extensively on this issue in the blog Democracy vs Theocracy.

The lead pastor serves as the spiritual and corporate leader of the church. The church board serves in an advisory role to the lead pastor. Together they lead the church to the successful fulfillment of mission.

One of the places where I’ve seen dysfunction is when one board member is in disagreement with another board member. There is a lateral relationship one to another. One does not have authority over the other nor should any attempt be made to usurp authority one over the other.

These church board members are peers and can be free to disagree. However, if they’ve paid attention to that which we’ve covered in this blog, the incidents of disagreeing and drawing blood should be almost nil.

As well, I think it is important to note that even though the lead pastor leads the entire ministry, there may be times when a church board member needs to provide counsel “up” to their pastor. The wise and discerning pastor will pay attention to this genuine counsel and listen with both ears and all of their heart.

7. Possess the Ability to Regroup

When a bump happens, as it will sooner or later, you have to be able to come back together. For some personalities this is easier to do than others.

I had one pastor consider it a blessing that he just forgot stuff fairly quickly. I agree. However, personally I’m not so blessed in this way. I have to really work at forgetting the tough stuff.

Pastors and board members need to learn that about each other. The disposition of one type of personality’s ability to regroup quicker than another type of personality does not make one better than the other. Just different.

Everyone around the church board table needs to understand each other. The board needs to be able to regroup when disagreements happen. And certainly, it needs to happen if blood is ever drawn.

Regrouping is like recalibrating. The church needs to tweak and move forward. When it does, God is honored and the church wins.

So, what’s our takeaway with all of this?

In the world of doing the business of the church, we have to be able to do that business without drawing blood. We have to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.

And let me reinforce, these disagreements should be extremely rare in happening. Lead pastors of growing churches are intent on maintaining and cultivating unity among the pastor and church board members.

Frankly, this whole issue really has mostly to do with the heart. Where are the hearts of the pastor and the church board member? Where the hearts reside tell the pastor and church board where the ability to disagree agreeably resides.

Prayer, respect, love, clear definitions, boundaries, understanding lines of authority, and ability to regroup ALL contribute to the church board function as a spiritual leadership unit of the church.

When these can happen in a spirit of unity and with a desire to most successfully move forward the mission of the church, great things can happen… even in disagreement and certainly in the absence of drawing blood.

Never should disagreements at the church board level EVER leave irreparable harm to the board as a whole or any individual pastor or board member.

Spiritually attuned pastors and church board members are able to hold to strong opinions and do so without doing harm to any person around the church board table. When they are successful in doing so, the church and its mission win!


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