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28 Jun '11

Your church board is unhealthy but you are not on it and don't know what to do about it

Posted by T.J. Addington in church, church health, church leadership
It is not unusual that I receive emails or calls from individuals who want to know what to do about an unhealthy church board - in their church. They see that the board does not have its act together, they see the results of that dysfunction (including pastors whom they love leaving) but they feel impotent to affect real change. I have found myself in that situation at times and I am sure many others have as well.

In some cases, it is even worse for the fact that they know that the board has sought help but has rejected the advice they received and they muddle on in their dysfunction and that dysfunction is negatively impacting the church body as it always does. The consequence of sick boards is inevitably a sick church - but what do you do about it if you are in the church watching? 


Before I suggest a course of action, we need to recognize that there is a deeper problem to a sick board and that is that the congregation does not have a good way to vet potential leaders. Good leaders don't allow their board to get sick. Poor choices of church leaders and poor board leadership result in sick boards.


That being said, what does one do? The first thing we need to do is to make this a matter of prayer. This is a deeply spiritual issue for a congregation and for us as well. Unless our own attitude is right, we will add to the already problematic situation with our own anger which adds fuel to the fire. The evil one love sick boards and church fights. Don't give him that joy.


Second, commit to yourself that you will never intentionally "hurt the bride of Christ." Your local congregation is a local representation of Christ's bride, no matter how dysfunctional. Your board, through their lack of healthy leadership may already be hurting the church. You don't want to contribute to that hurt. I would rather quietly leave a church (and I have) rather than to contribute to church conflict.


Third, be honest with what you see with board members you can speak to.Give them your observations about what you see happening and how it is impacting the church. Ask questions, speak for yourself (not others) and clearly state your concerns.


If matters continue, I would consider doing the same thing in a congregational meeting if I believed it might make a difference - carefully. I would state my personal concerns, making it clear again that I speak for myself and not others doing so without a personal attack or hidden agenda. If I thought that saying something would not make a difference I would refrain and keep my own counsel.


Some will disagree with this and that is fine. If I thought that there was little chance that the dysfunction could be solved, I would leave the church and look for a healthy one. Unhealthy churches produce unhealthy disciples, muddle along without direction and are a magnet for people who like conflict. Do you want to be a part of that and do you want to bring your friends to a place with that ethos? It can be painful to leave a church but fortunately most of us have other expressions of the bride that are available to us. Obviously we need God's direction in such issues but we are often naive in believing that things will change.


Congregations, like families often have dysfunctional "family systems" which support that dysfunction. They make it hard to voice differing opinions or even to leave. In other words, the very church culture prevents the dysfunction from being dealt with. It is  a closed circle that does not allow outside views (taken to an extreme one has a cult). Sometimes you don't realize how unhealthy the culture is until you are out of that culture and experience the freedom of a healthy church. Closed systems rarely change and trying to affect change to a closed system will generally end up with you on the outside for trying. Even pastors have limited ability to impact a closed system which is why they often end up resigning when they find themselves in one (unless they are a part of it).


I often say that churches get what they deserve. Elect poor leadership and you get dysfunctional boards and congregations. Often such churches manage to repeat their same dysfunctions over and over again. I have met boards that did not want advice, did not want to own up to their own issues and proudly continued in their awful leadership. I feel for those in their church! I don't want to be a part of such a church.