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Think Spot – Balancing the Responsibilities of Boards and Staff

Who primarily ‘runs’ your local church? Is it the case that leadership is mostly provided by the Senior Minister or by the Board? On the other hand, does the priesthood of believers in 1 Peter 2 take precedence over the ministry gift personnel of Ephesians 4, so that every committed person plays a key part? The answer may well be yes to all, depending on the perspective. ‘We lead together’ is a common refrain, but it is often backed by very different opinions regarding what leadership should look like.

Someone once quipped that ‘ministers come and ministers go, but boards endureth forever.’ The faithfulness of board members, though, does not always guarantee the fruitfulness of the church, despite their diligence and the importance of their role. Sometimes, board members do release plenty of leadership authority to a Senior Minister, but only to find that his or her best gifts are not always suited to optimising the church’s most important factors for success.

Of course, if church governance and leadership structures inhibit Senior Ministers and prevent them from deploying their greatest strengths, then such leaders may unfairly be deemed unworthy of greater trust. Boards can too easily overplay the need for good governance in certain areas at the expense of good governance in others. Board rejuvenation helpfully guards against over-reliance on particular individuals. Nevertheless, both Board members and Ministers do not grow on trees, and it is important for each to better understand and value the other for maximum impact.

The solution to ensuring that an Affiliate has the best possible relationship between the Board and its Senior Minister is not ultimately found in choosing a particular ‘silver bullet’ structure, but in clarifying roles. A charter that outlines what the Board and Senior Minister both do and do not do will help each to stay in their lane to bring the best outcomes.

Boards, of course, should not be involved with day-to-day operations, including church services, except when an individual might act as a volunteer and thus remove their Board ‘hat.’ For example, a director may be a great guitarist or vocalist but will subordinate their operational function to the music team leader and, if necessary, the Senior Minister. Board members do not assert preferred song styles (or instruments!) as a matter of governance.

Remember, a Board functions collectively and never asserts decision-making through an individual.

A Minister who makes a supposed ‘leadership decision’ involving spending well beyond approved budgetary limits, however, will quickly find themselves accused of disrespecting their Board. Board members are volunteers who should lend an important skillset for the betterment of church governance. This is not for the purpose of controlling the church, but for resourcing the implementation of vision. Accountability is not the Board’s main focus, but it is nevertheless one important focus if staff struggling to raise funds in the first place then choose to live beyond their means!

Finally, if eldership functions involve the Board in ministry roles, then it will be helpful to specify in your charter just what such roles should look like. Importantly, how do ‘eldership’ functions performed by a Board differ from those enacted by senior staff? If the Board (whatever it may be called) sits at the top of the Church’s leadership and ministry tree, then one might rightly ask why.

What we have always seen fit to do in the past may not necessarily serve us best in the future. Again, there is not one right answer – and the people you have will often determine the answer you adopt – but establishing a healthy charter will surely necessitate some tough and transparent conversations.

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