Developing a Ministry Team in the Small Church:
Understanding the Role of the Board
By Glenn Daman
Pastor John and the board were well on their way to developing an effective team. Over the past several months they had realized the value of working together in ministry. As they became united in their decisions, the church began to have greater confidence in their leadership. The nit picking and complaining about the decisions of the board that had characterized the past was no longer present. When the pastor was gone on vacation, the board filled in when one of the members was hospitalized with an unexpected surgery. Because the board and the pastor had built up trust in one another, they were able to openly share their thoughts, concerns and ideas about a decision to buy an adjoining lot. However, as time went on, one of the questions that arose dealt with the role of the board. For years the board had been responsible for maintaining the facilities. Most of the time spent at the regular board meetings dealt with issues concerning the upkeep of the building and the payment of bills.
However, as Pastor John began to share ideas for the future vision of the church and as he brought up more and more ministry related issues, some of the board members were concerned they were not taking care of the building. As the discussion revolved around this issue, others brought up the idea of forming a new committee to deal with the facilities so the board could focus more upon spiritual issues. As the discussion progressed, it became evident to Pastor John that there was no clear consensus about the role and responsibility of the board. Instead of discussing it at the regular board meeting, it was decided that the board would get away for a weekend to discuss the role and responsibility they had within the church.
Before the retreat, each board member was given a number of different scriptural passages related to the tasks and responsibilities of leading God's people. At this retreat, after much discussion and prayer, they identified ten responsibilities they had as a board.
First, the board was responsible to pray. After reading Acts 6:4, they felt their highest responsibility was to pray for people and for the ministry of the church. Before, at their meetings, the Pastor or one of the board members would open in prayer and then they would spend the rest of the time discussing business. However, realizing that one of their highest priorities was prayer, they decided they would spend the first half-hour praying for the needs confronting people within the church. After their retreat, prayer would become a focus for their meetings. They agreed to set aside one meeting each quarter to devote themselves solely to prayer. During this meeting they would not discuss any business of the church, but they would only pray for issues within the congregation. They realized the more they prayed the less time they would need to spend discussing issues before they could come to a consensus.
Second, the board is responsible to teach others. As the board discussed 1 Timothy 3:2, they realized that even though they did not possess the gift of teaching, they were not absolved of the responsibility to instruct others in doctrine (Titus 1:6-9) and scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13). This meant they were accountable for overseeing all the teaching of the church to make sure that those who did teach were properly proclaiming biblical truth and correct doctrine. It also meant they were to set the example in teaching their children at home. As they went home, they had a greater awareness of the importance of informal training. While they are not called to teach a Sunday School class, they are responsible to instruct others. Consequently, each board member agreed to identify another person they could meet with regularly to mentor them in spiritual disciplines.
Third, the board is responsible to protect the congregation from internal and external dangers. In the past several months there had been a member of the church who had been living with his secretary at work. The board had been reluctant to do anything about it because his family was very influential within the church. However, as the board was discussing Isaiah's role as a watchman in Ezekiel 3:17, they came to realize they needed to take action. Part of being a leader within the church is protecting the congregation from internal dangers that arise when sin is left unchecked. As leaders, they were to be watchmen of the congregation. As they found in Matthew 18:15-20, they are responsible to disciple members of the church who were rebelling against scripture. It was decided that the pastor and one of the board members would visit this individual and if he refused to listen they would remove him from membership. Much to their surprise, not only did the church support them in the decision, but also the family of the man even called the pastor and thanked him for taking action.
Fourth, the board is responsible to be the leaders of the church. While it was always assumed they were to be the leaders of the church, they felt uncertain what that really meant. After reading Romans 12:8 and Hebrews 13:17, they came to understood that they were responsible for the overall spiritual health of the congregation. This meant they needed to know the broad picture of what was happening within the church. This involved having a clear understanding of the vision of the church and how each ministry fit into the vision. It required them to examine the direction of the church in order to assess whether or not it was fulfilling its biblical mission.
Fifth, the board is responsible to administrate the organization of the church. Because their church was small, they considered administration something for the bigger churches. To those on the board, talk about administration seemed unspiritual. However, as they studied 1 Timothy 5:17, it became clear that administration was necessary. For them to effectively govern the church, they need to make sure things were done properly and orderly. Policies were necessary in order to assure the ministry was conducted in a way that honored Christ and reflected biblical truth. This also involved structuring the organization of the church to assure that there were proper lines of accountability. As Proverbs 21:5 and 24:17 pointed out, planning was not a violation of faith but essential for effectiveness. When they left the retreat, they made a commitment to annually review the long and short-term goals and objectives for the church.
Sixth, the board is responsible to equip people for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). As they talked about what it meant to equip people for ministry, they identified two areas of responsibility they felt rested upon them. First, the board determined it needed to take an active role in making sure people were adequately trained for their ministry tasks. While the budget was always tight, the board made a commitment to set aside funds for people to obtain training. These funds were to be used for people who wanted to attend seminars or for committees who wanted to bring outside training for their workers. Second, the board made a commitment to make sure people had adequate resources for the ministries they were performing. They resolved that when they arrived home from the retreat they would send a letter asking each of the ministry team leaders to outline what was needed to be effective. They asked the team leaders to divide these items into three categories: mandatory, desired, and optional. With this list in hand the board prioritized each item in light of the overall direction of the church.
Seventh, the board is responsible to facilitate change. An examination of the leaders in the scriptures revealed that each of them was an agent of change. Furthermore, as scripture points out, God is in the business of change as he changes people into the image of his son. For any growth to occur, whether it be numerical or spiritual, change must happen. As the board talked about change, they realized that without change the church becomes stagnant. It was during this discussion that Fred, the chairman of the board, pointed out that if any change was going to happen then it had to come from the board. The laity could not effect change without the agreement of the board and the pastor could not implement any new strategies without the backing of the board. While they had never thought themselves as such, the board came to understand they were the change agents within the church.
Eighth, the board is responsible to resolve conflicts. When talking about leadership, Sam, a fourth generation farmer whose family had been founding members, expressed concern about the tension developing between the Sunday School Director and a teacher. Jack, the newest member of the board, thought the issue would eventually resolve itself, but Sam was not so sure. Pastor John suggested they look up occasions in the New Testament to see how the early church leaders handled the conflicts. Once they started looking they were surprised how many times conflicts developed. It seemed disagreements were a natural part of church life. What further surprised the board was the involvement the leadership had in resolving the issues (for example Acts 11:1-18; 15:1-21; Phil 4:2). When conflict arose, the leaders became actively involved in bringing the parties together to resolve the problems. Leadership involves taking an active role in resolving ongoing disputes. If they ignored conflicts, they would only intensify, causing greater problems for the congregation.
Ninth, the board is responsible to shepherd the congregation. As they were ending the retreat, Jack brought up 1 Peter 5:2 and the responsibility the leaders had in shepherding the congregation. He was not sure what this meant. In response someone also mentioned James 5:14 and the responsibility of the church leaders to pray for the sick. After a short discussion it was agreed upon that this involves more than just meeting together once a month to discuss the business of the church. To be a shepherd meant they had to care for the congregation. This involves not only seeing after the spiritual needs of the body, but also providing care and support for those going through physical and emotional difficulties. It was not enough to pray for these individuals, the board needed to take action to make sure people were being cared for. They agreed to start a special "deacons" fund to minister to people in crisis. They also decided each board member would be responsible for a group of people within the church. It would be his responsibility to visit these people in times of crisis as well as inform the pastor of any special needs. If they needed long-term financial help, then the board would approach the congregation to set up a special fund for these families.
Last, the board is responsible to support the pastor. As they were driving home, someone mentioned that the pastor had not received a raise in the past three years. The board then started talking in the car about the responsibility the board had to care for the pastor and protect the pastor's family from the difficulties of ministry. As they talked, they concluded that they needed to sit down with the pastor to discuss several issues. First, they wanted the pastor to honestly state what his financial needs were. They realized if they wanted the pastor to stay (and they did), they needed to make sure his family was provided for. Second, in order to make sure the pastor was not neglecting his family, for a one month period they would ask the pastor to give a weekly report of his time spent at work. They knew the pastor was very dedicated to the ministry and a hard worker, but they were concerned he was not spending enough time with his family. This would be followed-up by the chairman who would periodically meet with the pastor to make sure the pastor was taking days off and spending at least four nights each week with his family. They also gave him another week's vacation. Last, they agreed to provide the pastor with funds for continuing education. The pastor could either attend a conference or take classes at a nearby city. In conjunction with this, they offered to give the pastor a three-month sabbatical for every ten years he had been in the church so he could spend concentrated time in study and renewal.
As the board came home from the retreat, they were a little overwhelmed by their awareness of the responsibilities placed upon them as board members. But they were also excited, for they knew they were doing more than just running an organization. They knew they were accomplishing God's eternal purposes and fulfilling the biblical mandate assigned to them.