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25 Jan '14

Passive boards and controlling boards in the church: Both are dangerous

Posted by T.J. Addington in church boards
Church boards operate in one of three categories: As passive leaders, controlling leaders and engaged leaders. The first two kinds of board leadership are dangerous for a church and for its pastoral staff while the third is healthy.

Passive boards are those who ignore real issues in the church or with its senior pastoral leadership. These are boards that in the name of avoiding conflict allow their congregation to drift and even go into decline because they are unwilling to address real issues. Many congregations are allowed to plateau and go into decline without the board asking the hard questions as to why it is happening. People leave, giving declines, conversion growth plummets and conflict becomes normative and the leaders of the church don't act, ask hard questions or address the issues.

Often, congregants with passive boards simply move on to churches that are missional. They recognize the problem even as their leaders either don't recognize them or are too fearful to address them. It is a fatal error because leadership passivity will eventually make it very difficult to turn the ship and move back to health. The lack of attention to known problems is often driven by fear, lack of courage and an unwillingness to deal with issues that may cause conflict. In the end it is a failure of leadership and a failure to protect the congregation and the mission of the church. 

Then there are controlling boards who want to micromanage and second guess the decisions and work of a senior pastor and staff. This is equally destructive as good leaders will not say in a culture of control, nor should they. Boards are not meant to do the work that staff are tasked with doing. Controlling boards will eventually cause the church to plateau and pastoral leaders to leave. Decisions that belong with staff are co-opted by church leaders who want to do things their way. Decisions that should be made once now need to be made a second time - with the board. 

Controlling boards do not understand the role of boards which is to guard the health and direction of the church and govern from a high altitude rather then manage the affairs of the church which is the job of church staff. Controlling boards disempower those who serve on church staff and undermine the leadership of the senior pastor. Essentially they don't trust the senior leader to make the correct decisions.

Healthy boards are engaged boards. They engage in the big rocks of ensuring that the spiritual temperature of the church remains high, that the congregation is led, cared for, taught, protected and that people are developed, empowered and released in meaningful ministry. They team with the senior pastoral leader to ensure a healthy ministry and a vibrant spiritual culture. They guard the values of the church and monitor the spiritual results of the ministry. They are always aware of what is happening, ask the hard questions when necessary and ensure that the mission of the church is being fulfilled. They are intentional in their leadership.

As you think about the board in your congregation, which of the three kinds of boards does it represent?