The Burden and Blessing of Church Boards

This week a pastor friend sent me a link to a graphic that appeared this month in the popular magazine, Christianity Today. The magazine was reporting on a survey by the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability of more than 500 church leaders on what makes their church board effective. The responses were as follows:

  • 90% – Attends church faithfully
  • 52% – Gives consistently
  • 43% – Has other professional or business experience
  • 28% – Has ministry experience
  • 20% – Has been on other boards
  • 18% – Has financial experience
  • 6% – Has legal experience
  • 4% – Has counseling experience

Candidly, I found the report both interesting and troubling. Interesting because it revealed the paradigm many pastors embrace regarding the core values of church leadership and the qualities of those we recruit to guide the flock. The report was troubling because, while many of these qualities are good in themselves, there were some clear biblical essentials that were not mentioned at all.

Boards in the Bible?

Of course there are no “boards” in the Bible. This is a word and concept we have adopted based on the functions of corporate America, and perhaps in response to legal and financial requirements for the management of the church. This does not make a “board” a wrong thing. There are no verses for electricity, church pews, or bulletins, but most churches utilize these conveniences with no concern for violating biblical teaching. They are simply tools to help the functionality of ministry.

However, whenever an extra-biblical paradigm overshadows a clear biblical model, we have wandered into dangerous territory. In recent years I have witnessed a growing trend to summarily dismiss what the Bible teaches about the function and focus of church leaders in the name of management expediency. Sometimes modern models actually contradict the New Testament teaching about the nature of the church and the key elements of spiritual health and impact.

Qualified AND Functioning

Three times in my ministry journey I was called as Senior Pastor of large churches that had an existing “Elder Board.” These leadership teams were composed of good, godly men. However, in each case I quickly observed they tended to function more as a board than as biblical elders. While most of the men were spiritually qualified to be an elder, the function of the group was misaligned with the New Testament.

Through diligent study over a period of years, we saw great progress in embracing the biblical function of true elders while delegating other typical “board” issues to other capable groups. When the key leaders are spiritually vibrant and functioning according to the New Testament, spiritual health and impact disseminate into other areas of the church. When the “elders” function as a business-oriented board, the church may be efficient, and even grow in some ways, but will lack true spiritual blessing and health.

Acts 6:4 Paradigm and Priority

As we studied, we endeavored to follow the pattern of Acts 6:4 where the apostles refused to become distracted by personally solving an administrative breakdown in the widow feeding program. Instead the apostles said, “We will devote ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.” These were the core functional priorities of the apostles and, later, the elders. Admittedly the story from Acts 6 is descriptive, not prescriptive. It is an example, not a command. But there is more we must understand.

Jesus declared that His house (eventually the church) should be a house of prayer. He personally modeled a life of remarkable prayer as the ultimate example of gospel leadership. He laid the foundation of prayer as He told his followers to wait in prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit leading up to the birth of the church. This united prayer was a foundational function of the church at virtually every turn. When Paul gave Timothy instructions for leading the church he commanded him, first of all, to pray (not plan, program, strategize, or even preach). See 1 Timothy 2:1-2.

The ministry of the word was elevated by Paul in numerous places as he told Timothy to guard the treasure of sound doctrine (2 Timothy 1:12-14), study to show himself approved (2 Timothy 2:15), and preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). Prayer and the ministry of the word.

In my book, Old Paths, New Power, I delineate five priorities that elders should embrace. They are:

1. Dependence – A collective commitment to seek the Lord through extraordinary prayer and to lead the church to become a house of prayer through our example.

2. Doctrine – A collective resolve to study God’s word and engage in individual teaching of the word to ensure doctrinal purity and practical equipping.

3. Direction – A collective responsibility to discern the direction of the Holy Spirit and guide the church toward His plans for the ministry.

4. Discipline – A willingness to become engaged in the final stages of the process of spiritual restoration of believers caught in sin (outlined in Matthew 18:15-20).

5. Deployment – A commitment to constantly “equip the saints” to do the work of the ministry of the church for the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11 & 12).

(For more on the function of elders, CLICK HERE)

Pursuit and Product

There are many reasons to find faithful, generous, experienced, intelligent, and mature leaders for the “board” of our church. But when we pursue a corporate model that overshadows the biblical function of leadership, we get what corporate wisdom can produce. Admittedly, this outcome can appear quite impressive. The church might be efficient, attractive, and superficially dynamic simply by the virtue of shrewd management, persuasive personalities, and surefire formulas for numerical progress. In our day, with an abundance of pragmatic tools, churches can advance to “mega” status apart from the true blessing of God.

Yet we must remember that the eternal evaluation of any ministry will not be a question of the size a church achieved but the sort of ministry it embraced. In 1 Corinthians 3:10–15 Paul spoke of the necessity of building on the foundation of Christ and New Testament wisdom. He said, “Let each one take care how he builds.” He continues, “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw —  each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

A ministry that endures eternal scrutiny is one that is led biblically, functions biblically, and bears the lasting fruit of what can only be produced biblically. For every church, I hope this pursuit will be based, at a foundational level, on the kind of leaders we pursue, develop, and choose to shepherd the church.

Copyright © 2016 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.