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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

19 May '14

Healthy board/pastor relationships in the church

Posted by T.J. Addington in church boards, Pastors
A key factor in leadership health in the church is the relationship between the senior pastor and the board. When this relationship becomes conflictual, dysfunctional or unhealthy it hurts the ministry of the congregation. Here are some things to consider in that equation.

While senior pastors are accountable to their board and an employee they are also members of the board and should be full participants of that board. Senior leaders should have significant influence in the crafting of the ministry in a collegial board atmosphere. When boards treat their senior leader merely as an employee in an employee/employer relationship they have moved from ministry to business and away from the model we see in the New Testament. In my experience, where this happens, leaders also tend to lead the church/ministry as a business rather than as a ministry (acknowledging that good business practices are always important).


Where boards seek to control their leader or the leader seeks to control the board and ministry it becomes about power rather than a healthy team under the lordship of Christ. Mutual respect, humility, deference for one another and a willingness to submit to the will of the majority after prayerful consideration of issues is the sign of board health. The desire to control is not healthy, nor is it in any way biblical.


Boards and pastors have many common ministry issues but they may also have issues of special concern to one party or the other. The ability to appreciate those concerns and the ability to speak candidly and respectfully about them is a sign of good relationship. The marginalization by pastors of concerns of the board, or of boards of the concern of the senior pastor is the sign of dishealth. I have met pastors who will not listen to their board and boards who marginalize the concerns of the senior pastor. Neither are healthy.


We all operate under authority and in most churches the accountability of the senior leader is the board. Accountability matters and when senior pastors are unwilling to be accountable to their board or resist it, they have stepped away from being under authority. 


Clarity between the roles of the senior pastor and his staff and the role of the board is critical to a good relationship. Management and governance are two separate responsibilities. Staff designs and  board refines! Too many boards get into management responsibilities that should be the purview of staff. Clarifying what each group is responsible for removes ambiguity and potential conflict.


If there is tension between the senior leader and the board, don't let it fester. Bring in someone you trust who can speak to the relationship, help clarify the issues and chart a way forward. The relationship between a senior pastor and board must remain healthy for the church to remain healthy. Don't allow it to deteriorate. Often tensions can be resolved if attended to early.


Never stop developing the health of the board. Candid discussion and growing the board is always a best practice. Talk about how the board is doing, read some good books on leadership together, study the Scriptures and pray together. Bring Jesus into the equation all the time. Jesus is reason that we serve in church leadership and we are simply His undershepherds.


Every board ought to have a board covenant that spells out acceptable behaviors and how the members relate to one another! Poor behavior without the will of the board to police itself is one of the major causes of dysfunction in the church. It is also a major discouragement to pastors. See my blog: Operate without a board covenant at your own risk.