Bill M. Sullivan, former Church Growth Director for the Church of the Nazarene, used to say that behind every healthy and growing church is a senior pastor and church board who are in sync. He recognized that the partnership between pastors and boards was a critical element to an effective church, and that a breakdown of this crucial relationship
was often at the center of congregational dysfunction and ineffectiveness.
In April 2012, pastors and church leaders in the Church of the Nazarene met at the denomination’s Global Ministry Center to engage in a conversation on effective practices of church boards, which was moderated by Jeren Rowell, superintendent of the Kansas City District. The panel included LeBron Fairbanks and senior pastor Dwight M. Gunter, co-authors (along with Jim Couchenour) of Best Practices for Effective Boards, a 2012 publication from Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, and four senior pastors from the Kansas City District: Clark Armstrong, Dave Hazel, Deanna Hayden, and Dennis Solis. The meeting was convened by Grace and Peace Magazine.
An adapted and edited* portion of the roundtable discussion appears below. Video of the discussion is available here
Rowell: The relationship between pastor and church board is at the center of leading a healthy and effective church. Dwight, the Manual of our church charges pastors and boards to work “in harmony” with one another. Why is that important?
Gunter: Our very governance, our polity, calls for us to work together and assumes cooperation. Sometimes, culture can influence the way we think, and we can focus on power rather than responsibility. From the twelve tribes of Israel working together, it is just the nature of the kingdom of God to work in harmony. In the New Testament, you have the example of leaders and laity working together. The apostle Paul says the church is most effective when that happens. And then, theologically, it reflects the Trinity. If the body of Christ is to be a reflection of the relationship within the Trinity, then pastors and lay leaders must work in harmony. So, our whole system assumes it, and we cannot be effective without it.
Rowell: Are there other thoughts about how the relationship between pastors and boards is a theological issue?
Hayden: When I think about Jesus’ interaction with his disciples—leading them, serving them, and distributing responsibility among them—that is something we need to look at as we work with our boards. We need to be able to work together, not in some hierarchical structure, but as a team, allowing board members to carry out their responsibilities and be leaders in the church.
Armstrong: I see two theological foundations: one is grounded in holiness doctrine and a personal experience of sanctification. Church boards make serious decisions, and I have appreciated working with devout people who will defer to others. The other theological foundation is the body of Christ, where everyone is working in harmony as we come to the table.
Rowell: Our Manual casts the expectation for church leaders and officers (in paragraph 39) not in terms of skill sets, but in character and spiritual maturity. The language of harmony is remarkable to me. I know just enough about music to know you do not get harmony by singing the same note, but different notes that go together. So, we can bring our uniqueness and individuality to our leadership community. LeBron, help us think about the proper role of a board—the difference between governance and management.
Fairbanks: I heard a quote several years ago by leadership expert Max De Pree: “The board holds the future and mission in trust.” As that relates to a local church, we could paraphrase, “The local church governing board holds the future and the mission in trust.” The question is, “What is a governing board?” A governing board is an elected body that oversees the mission and ministry of a local church between annual meetings. They have an official responsibility. In our situation, that governing board is guided by the Manual, the bylaws, the articles of incorporation, and a board standing policy Manual, if one exists for the local church. In strong and effective governing boards, the focus of the board is on policy formulation and mission strategy. Max De Pree made another statement that relates to this distinction; he said, “The chief responsibility of boards is to be effective on behalf of the organization.” If we relate that to the Church of the Nazarene, “The chief responsibility of our local church board is to be effective on behalf of the local church membership.” When you look at the responsibilities of the board listed in our Manual, they can be brought under three modes of thinking: the first is the fiduciary mode, which ensures the legal and financial integrity of the local church. Second, is the strategic mode, where the members of the board work in concert with a pastor in the strategic planning process for mission and vision fulfillment. Third, is the representative mode, where policies are developed and priorities are established consistent with the mission, vision, and values of the church. In summary, when the board gathers for an official board meeting, they have governance and coordinating responsibilities for the local church in areas of mission and vision vitality, financial health and legal standing, doctrinal integrity, spiritual well-being, and strategic planning. The board holds the future and mission in trust. The working assumption in what I have said is this: strong governing boards empower effective leaders, and strong pastors embrace engaged boards.
Rowell: We sometimes hear conversation about “board-led” or “pastor-led” churches. This is probably not an either/or, but a both/and, situation. Dave, you are leading a church that started as a church plant five or six years ago. What are your thoughts about this interplay between board-led and pastor-led congregations?
Hazel: LeBron hit on a key aspect: if you are on a mission together, then there is harmony and unity. As we have developed in size and in capacity, there has been unity of mission. The concept of whether you are board-led or staff-led is often dictated by the context and size of your congregation. If you have no staff, then it is difficult to be a staff-led church. But having clarity of mission helps a pastor lead the way.
Rowell: How does that play out in a larger church or an established church?
Gunter: One of the first questions I asked in my first board meeting at Trevecca Community Church was how they saw their role. I wanted to determine whether or not they wanted to be involved in the implementation of mission and policy or in the creation of mission and policy. And honestly, in our context, everything we do is based on mission. Our staff is involved in creating mission along with the local church board, so they have to work in harmony in terms of the mission. In a smaller church, the same people who sit on the board creating policy are also involved in implementing the mission, so it is easy to confuse lines. In a staff-led church, staff can provide input on creating and implementing the mission.
Rowell: When I meet with boards, they are interested in how accountability works. Who works for whom? Who is accountable to whom? Dennis, what are your thoughts on this?
Solis: Before accountability, you have to have healthy relationships: a high level of respect between the pastor, church leaders, and the congregation. That builds trust. As a pastor, one thing I love about our denomination is this concept of accountability. You are not a lone ranger, and there are standards you need to maintain. I think the pastor has to model what accountability looks like, even provide guidelines, so leadership understands how accountability works between people.
Hazel: It is important to clarify roles. When our new board year begins, we work hard to define roles. We ask what people are passionate about, where they feel called, and what is needed. We also talk about servant leadership, which we want to model across the congregation.
Armstrong: We reinforce accountability when our people report what they are doing or what they have tried to do. This provides opportunities for affirmation and encouragement, which engages, empowers, and recharges people.
Hayden: When it comes to accountability, it is important to lead through authenticity and honesty in our own spiritual walk. So, when it comes time for a board meeting, and we look at Scripture together, it is important to be honest about our own spiritual journey, about where we are. If we are going to hold others accountable, we need to be honest about ourselves from the beginning.
Solis: People pick up on authenticity and appreciate vulnerability. Transparency is so critically important.
Gunter: To hold anyone accountable, permission must be given. For the pastor to give that permission and be vulnerable, open, and transparent, reflects servant leadership and models exactly what we are asking of the board. This moves us away from power bases and power structures and back into responsibilities and roles, which allows the church board and the pastor to function as a team.
Rowell: Not long ago, I sat with a board in tremendous conflict, but they came to realize, accept, and embrace that the spiritual health of the congregation was never going to go deeper or higher than their own spiritual health. It is a core pastoral task to help our church boards understand the spiritual leadership aspect of this struggle. Across this panel, do you think the role of the board, and the relationship with the pastor, changes across church sizes?
Armstrong: I think it does change. At the start of every year, I write a letter and tell my board we have three kinds of leadership: spiritual, visionary, and practical. Smaller boards focus on practical leadership. The more the board grows, especially into subcommittees and ministry teams, the more stress is given to visionary leadership. The spiritual dimensions have to be there at every level, but visionary leadership increases, and the practical role people play diminishes as the church grows.
Rowell: While our Manual gives pastors capacity to exercise some measure of flexibility, what is critical and non-negotiable, and what is flexible in the structure of a board?
Gunter: There are a couple of responsibilities absolutely critical for the board: one is policy making, and one is fiduciary, as LeBron said earlier. Those in particular can be assigned or delegated to subcommittees. We have created a subcommittee that looks at the whole financial picture of the church. They report to the board, and the board decides how to respond. We have another subcommittee we call “personnel and parish” that does the same thing. They look at the life of the church, and the relationships within the church, and the policies of how the church functions. That subcommittee also reports to the board. We have other subcommittees, such as facilities. So, we do not elect trustees and stewards. We elect board members and try to move them into their areas of giftedness. One thing remains constant: every person that serves on the board must be involved in some type of ministry.
Armstrong: Why is it important that board members be involved in a ministry?
Gunter: People can easily slip into a top-down mentality. We want our board to model servant leadership, which means there is someplace you have to serve, rather than just give opinion.
Solis: I have a niece who just got out of the service. One of her responsibilities was packing parachutes. Though she packed parachutes for those in training, they had to periodically jump themselves to be reminded of the importance of what they were doing. In ministry, it is the same. If you have someone on the board who is not engaged in a particular ministry, they will not relate as well. If they are in ministry, they understand what people are going through, and they are more sensitive and have more credibility.
Rowell: In my current role, I have noticed as long as things are going well, everyone is happy with a flexible structure. But, if things go south, people become experts in the Manual really quick, and start saying, “Wait a minute! We are not doing this right. We are not structured right.” What is the balance between flexibility and appropriate structures?
Gunter: When I started pastoring, someone said, “The Manual will become your good friend.” And it has! As a result, I don’t want to violate the Manual, but I do take the liberties it provides to contextualize the leadership approach that is needed. I would caution anyone against disregarding the Manual and going their own way, because conflicts will arise. You need to have an anchor and a foundation, and the Manual provides that for us.
Rowell: I would like to point out while flexibility is in the Manual, it does call us to get that approved through the District Advisory Board.
Hazel: The Manual became a foundational anchor for me, even early on. Sometimes, I have asked for help from district leadership: “Hey, am I in line with this? Am I okay with this aspect?” And that conversation and approval has provided the flexibility and confidence to say to our board leadership, “We are right in line with where we need to be.”
Solis: As I have said, if relationships are good, you do not have to keep going back to the Manual and prove every little thing.
Rowell: That’s good. LeBron?
Fairbanks: I have noticed that a best practice of strong and effective boards is assessment. They are free to assess themselves, their prior decisions, and make needed changes. They are not frozen into thinking what was approved in the past is binding on the present. Healthy boards even bring in ad hoc committees, or specialists, to provide fresh ways of thinking.
Rowell: We have alluded to the expectations we have for those elected to the board. Manual, paragraph 39, is the key piece of that. From a pastoral perspective, what are the ways you go about identifying people who would fulfill those expectations, while ensuring they remain qualified?
Hayden: I like what you said earlier, Dwight, about needing to give permission for accountability. If I hold board members accountable to the Manual, I want them to hold me accountable in the same way. We need that understanding from the beginning. If I have not talked to a board member for months, and a problem comes up, there may not be the level of respect necessary to be effective. But, if there is a relationship of mutual accountability that is ongoing through pastoral care, it is a lot easier to sit down and say, “You know, I sense something in your spiritual journey that does not feel right. How are you doing with the Lord?” Or, it may be a more practical issue about tithing and attendance. It is easier to have that conversation after establishing a mutual relationship of accountability, trust, and respect.
Rowell: I recently had a conversation with a church board member whose pastor asked him to lunch. He wondered if there was an agenda, but his pastor simply asked, “How is it with you? How is it with your soul?” He reflected on how meaningful and rewarding that was to him. He thought it was going to be about function, but it was about pastoral love and care.
Gunter: As a pastor, I always want to know what people expect. Then, I can reflect and decide if that is a legitimate expectation. If not, I may need to do some educating. If so, I may need to make some changes. I have found that board leaders also want to know and meet expectations. We created a leadership response card we send to every person nominated for the board. We list things like agreeing with the mission and vision of the church, being able to work in harmony with other leadership, tithing, attendance, doctrine and theology, and so on. A prospective board member has to agree to these things, or they cannot participate on the board.
Rowell: I have pastors say, “I have a board member that is not tithing. What do I do?” Dwight, how do you approach that?
Gunter: You approach it carefully. Again, the Manual is a real good friend. I ask, “If you are not tithing, how can you make decisions regarding money entrusted to the church?” To me, tithing is not a money issue, it is a spiritual issue. Over the years, I have confronted a few board members about tithing, and I do it based upon the fact they agreed to tithe. I am bound by the Manual and the Bible to say this is a necessity. If you cannot do this, you need to resign. I have never had anyone push it further. This also applies to the pastoral staff because I want them to be spiritual leaders.
Hazel: If you are a church planter with a newer congregation, you’ve got a great percentage of young believers who are still taking steps toward Christ. So, we have adopted the language that you tithe or are willing to step into that. It is an opportunity to teach and to help people take those significant steps.
Solis: Many people in my congregation live with little but work hard. We have people often going through financial crisis, so if I were strict about tithing, I would have some trouble. So, you look at their spirit, their attitude, and the direction they are heading. And, we teach our people it really goes beyond the tithe, right?
Rowell: This changes things from a checklist to a conversation. Dennis, one of the things you have been passionate about is making sure there is diversity, that everybody has a place in leadership. I know you have helped us think about that, even on a district level.
Solis: A pastor is called to help the church stay centered, and this is a pastoral responsibility. Our congregation is an ethnically diverse church of whites and blacks, and we knew one ethnicity could not tell everybody else what to do. You have got to reflect the community you are in, so I have been very proactive through the nominating committee in shaping who gets to that leadership team.
Rowell: I have been thinking about pastors who work in multiple staff settings. Dwight, how do you look at the presence and participation of staff members in board meetings?
Gunter: I have been all over the map on this one and have settled into a “yes and no” kind of approach. There are several issues to consider, and one of them is about polity. In the Church of the Nazarene, the pastoral staff works for the pastor. Many larger churches are now operating with smaller boards. In our case, we have nine board members and three department heads, and if I brought eight or nine staff members into a meeting, it could be overwhelming. Conversely, there are times when the board is aided by having staff in a meeting. Sometimes, I may bring a staffer that I know will someday be a senior pastor. I want them to have an opportunity to see how it is done. But I have cautioned staff: “Speak rarely.” Be part of the team, but hear the board.
Rowell: So, can we frame this in terms of accountability? Can it be seen that way?
Gunter: Yes. My rule of thumb is to ask, “What is the point?” If there is a point, come. If there is no point, don’t. Sometimes, I leave it up to the staff. I’ll say, “If you want to come, feel free to come.” Sometimes I will say, “I’d like you to come and present something.” There is no one way for me.
Rowell: Any thoughts about that? I know we have some situations with one staff member or two or three. But is everyone comfortable with that conversation?
Hayden: As a smaller church, we have a small staff. The style I’ve established with the church board is a kind of team-pastoring leadership style. As the head pastor, I want to make sure associate staff are also looked upon as pastors. Our staff is probably not going to overwhelm the board when they are all brought in together. It is useful for them to be there, to speak to the different spiritual and practical issues that arise.
Rowell: Let’s talk about board tenure. Should a person be able to serve on the board for several consecutive years or should we elect every year? Clark, how do you do it?
Armstrong: We do not dictate the tenure or rotation, or anything like that, but in some settings it may be wise and appropriate, so other people with the same gifts and skills have an opportunity to serve the Lord.
Hazel: We rotate our leadership. If you have the same people in the same leadership role, you are not developing new leaders, and you are not going to experience the level of growth you want. For us, it is a two-year commitment, then a year off, and then they can jump back in.
Solis: We tend to have people on our leadership team who have been there a number of years. But it is renewed every year, and our eyes are always open for potential leaders.
Rowell: Have you done helpful activities with your board that go beyond regular business?
Hayden: I enjoyed the board retreat we took this past year because it gave us the chance to re-evaluate the church: where are we, where do we want to go, what are the strengths and weaknesses that we have experienced? And, it gave the board members a chance to say, “We need to get into people’s homes.” It was exciting for me to respond, “Let’s do that,” and then lead and guide them in ways that build leadership.
Fairbanks: While serving as a university president, we set aside time for board development. In fact, there was a standing committee on trusteeship (or board development). Local churches should intentionally set aside time for board development. Initial questions to ask during such a segment would be, “What areas of responsibility are you least acquainted with?” “In what areas do you think we need the most help and understanding to be effective?” Discuss this for 10 to 15 fifteen minutes, and do it intentionally and continually as part of the meeting agenda.
Solis: We have done book discussions. Sometimes, a member will lead a chapter discussion. We do many things related to our vision and mission, and that has been helpful.
Rowell: Let’s talk about conflict. LeBron, how can pastors help a church board navigate conflict in healthy and productive ways?
Fairbanks: I have come to realize that good and godly people differ and often collide. Most collisions happen over vision and values, rather than issues of right or wrong, good or bad, and sin or righteousness. Concerns often center on questions like, “Where are we going?” “How are we getting there?” I have developed an illustration that has been helpful in expressing the tension leaders feel between future vision and present realities: I extend both my arms, parallel to the ground. My right arm represents the vision of the future, the vision the pastor (or leader) feels is of God and is right for the church. My left arm represents the present reality. It can be focused on circumstances or finances, but most often, it is over people who honestly differ and have questions about the future vision presented by the pastor (or another person on the leadership team). So, the challenge we have as leaders is to hold on fully and passionately to both, despite the tension and pain. If we relax our pursuit of the vision, our arm feels better, but we move into maintenance mode. If we hold tight to the vision, but let go of the people, there may be a vote coming in the future, and we may be someplace else. So, we hold tenaciously to the future vision AND the present reality—knowing that letting go of either has difficult consequences for all.
Over the years, I have developed “seven anchors” (or convictions) that have held me steady during such tensions. They have been forged and formed by my own experience and have helped me deal with others. The first is to speak gracefully—to watch the words I use. Second, is to live gratefully. Don’t whine, don’t cry, don’t pout, but be grateful in the spirit of I Thessalonians 5:18, to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Third, is to listen intently. Seek to understand before you insist on being understood. Fourth, is to forgive freely. Be proactive in extending forgiveness. Fifth, is to lead decisively. Harness the power of community life and make informed decisions with grace and deep humility. Sixth is to care deeply. In your decisions, value people, not power; do not lord it over others. Finally, the seventh is to pray earnestly. You lead from your knees in conflict situations. Believe that God can work in you, your situation, and in others. Believe that God can work in you to become the change you want to see in others. These convictions have held me steady in conflict situations, and have also kept me steady in my relationship to the Lord.
Rowell: My family uses a phrase I have passed onto church boards: “You can say absolutely anything you need to say, but you cannot say it any old way you want.” Sometimes, I hear people shoot off angry words or harsh kinds of things. They say, “Well, that is just who I am, you just have to accept it.” Actually, our holiness ethic calls us to more than that. So, LeBron, I deeply appreciate your seven anchors.
Gunter: Many believers do not expect a church to have conflict. I have never seen a healthy marriage (or family) without some conflict. Best friends deal with conflict. The issue is learning how to deal with it. I offer resourcing on conflict management to help our board understand the sources of conflict. We walk through what we will do if we find ourselves in a conflict, and how we will respond. Setting that expectation is huge, and it has been very helpful.
Rowell: Let’s connect that to board development. It makes sense for a pastor to say, “Let’s talk about conflict during a non-conflict time to discuss how to handle things when it inevitably does arise.”
Gunter: It can actually be quite humorous to discuss this when emotions are not involved. A board retreat or during leadership development is an excellent time to do that.
Solis: Year ago, I pastored a church that had a major conflict. I told a senior pastor what happened. He said, “Dennis, get on your knees. Go to them, and for the sake of the body of Christ, beg them to reconcile.” I said, “No, they offended me. I cannot bring myself to do that.” Conflict resolution sometimes requires swallowing our pride for the sake of the mission of God. I am still learning how to do that.
Rowell: Thank you, Dennis, for that testimony. It reminds me of conversations I have with pastors. During a conflict, a pastor will ask, “How do I get on top of this? How do I control this?” I have said many times, “You know, you do not have to win. We are not called to win. We are called to lay down our lives in service to Christ and the gospel.”
Armstrong: When LeBron was speaking about the vision on one side and the people on the other side, I realized there is often a misperception over where vision originates. It is not always from the pastor, sometimes it comes from a team rather than one person.
Gunter: Clark, you are right. I think vision is something we hear before we see. As I listen to leadership within the church, and in various entities which I serve, I hear it before I see it. It is almost as if God is speaking through various people, and then brings it together. Every good gift comes from God. But even if it came to me first, I am scared to say, “This is the way. This is exactly what God wants us to do. This is where we are going.” It is better to say, “This is what I’m thinking. This is what I’m feeling. This is what I’m sensing.” As pastors, we need to move beyond our vision to God’s vision.
Rowell: That is part of the dysfunction.
Gunter: If we can operate with Christ as the Head, as the Vision-Caster, and seek His vision together, that vision will outlive and pastor's tenure. I want to invest my life in a vision that will outlast me. Conflict arises when we get on different visions, different missions, and different agendas.
Rowell: Despite humility, there are times when a pastor has to discipline a church board member or a staff member. Dwight, you eluded to this earlier, what are the most effective ways for a pastor to administer discipline?
Gunter: It begins with your arm around a shoulder with grace and humility. You do it with grace and with an authority that goes beyond yourself. This is not about you and your opinion, but a deeper accountability. That is the way I have expressed it in the few times I have had to engage it.
Hazel: It is a challenge to deal with discipline issues, but if we sweep them under the carpet, the damage it does to our vision, the board, and the leadership of the church, is potentially far greater. But, you have to approach this in a loving and caring way. If not, the damage could take years to repair.
Hayden: As Dennis said, it is easier to approach someone in a discipline situation when you have established an attitude of repentance, when we are quick to confess our sins to each other, and that has been modeled by the pastor and the board.
Rowell: It might help us to reframe the word “discipline” and bring it back from a punitive definition and connect it to discipleship. It is about learning. It is about being shaped in the image of Christ as a people and as a community.
Gunter: In situations when one-on-one conversation has not been productive, I bring the person and myself before a team of believers, and say, “If I am wrong, I want to apologize.” If I am mistaken, and divisiveness is being sown, I want to come before a team of believers, and say, “Talk to me. If I am wrong, I want to apologize. I want to change, and I will expect the same from you.” Some people refuse discipline, so I have to ask myself if I am willing to receive disciple too.
Rowell: LeBron, we have the Manual, but you have suggested it might be appropriate for congregations to also have a statement of particular policies. Explain this.
Fairbanks: It is helpful to have bylaws, and even articles of incorporation, available to new board members, especially during an orientation. It is also helpful to have documents on the church’s mission, vision, and values, and the key components of a strategic plan (at least what has been approved and passed as policy). As boards change, it is important to keep up on policies passed in prior meetings. I also recommend a statement, usually no more than one or two pages, on the way the board operates, as well as a statement on board/pastor relationships, with parameters on how the pastor leader can function outside of the board. This information, which should not take up more than 15 to 20 pages, can be placed in a three-ring binder and updated when needed.
Rowell: I will hear boards ask, “Did we not pass something on that a few years ago?” And they have lost track. Not many boards collect this material all in one place in a purposeful way. A danger we have with policies is creating too many. Sometimes, just a conversation will do.
Armstrong: I think policies should be revisited because what was made at one point, even two years ago, might not fit a particular moment later. So, there is a need for adaptation.
Rowell: Let’s go on with that, Clark. The Manual calls pastors and boards to have an annual planning session to review expectations and goals. Is that still helpful?
Armstrong: I think so, but many boards find a three- to five-year vision works better than an annual planning session because some plans cannot be easily implemented in one year. Then, the annual review can assess the progress of the three-to five-year vision.
Rowell: Any other practices relative to ongoing assessment?
Hazel: Going back to the earlier conversation of being staff-led or board-led, we gather for vision and planning twice a year, separately from the board, but then the board is brought into that conversation before we create a game plan.
Fairbanks: I think the key word is “intentionality” and planning far in advance so people can protect the time on their calendars, regardless of the meeting format. Related to that is guarding the agenda, so that the larger issues that need discussion are not swallowed up in minutia.
Rowell: Let’s think more about the strategic planning component. What are the best practices of a local church board to ensure we are intentional and thinking ahead?
Gunter: There are different methodologies related to strategic planning. Whether you use the SWOT method (evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) or others, the questions are similar. The clarification of values is huge. If you take a model like Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Church,” which focuses on discipleship, community life, compassionate ministry, evangelism, and worship, you look holistically at the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges posed by these values. Then you look at externals: what opportunities are our culture, society, and surrounding community bringing to us? Is there a new neighborhood going in? In our case, there is now a mega-convention center a mile down the road. What is that going to do to the projects we have adopted, like inner-city housing? We are not sure if that is an opportunity or threat, but those are the questions you have to ask. What is threatening the local church from accomplishing its mission? Answers often surface; you identify and discuss these things. We hold our methodology loosely enough to be able to change and modify it as needed.
Rowell: LeBron, other thoughts on strategic planning?
Fairbanks: We must continually ask assessment questions. Are there processes that need to be clarified? Are there policies that need to be changed? Are there questions—big questions—that still need to be asked? Are there plans to be developed? Are there projects to initiate? What are the objectives, timelines, and budgets? What are the next steps? It is hard to deal with these questions in a monthly board meeting, so there may be a need to arrange a yearly retreat or a quarterly one-day or half-day session to look long-range, so you can focus on operational issues on a monthly basis.
Rowell: The speed of change has increased. We can set-up structures, get organized where everything is running smoothly, and, lo and behold, the world changes. Something major happens. How do we build in capacities to respond to change quickly?
Solis: You have to have clear objectives and be flexible, which is critical.
Gunter: Change has to be built into the system. You start by identifying your mission, your purposes, and your values. Once these are identified, you can begin to make the changes that are necessary. For example, if our purpose is discipleship, we look at how that affects children’s ministry. We ask, “How can we best disciple our children in the next 12 months?” That very question puts everything on the line. If something does not work, we tweak or modify it, or try something else. We look at every purpose of the church relative to every age group. This helps us anticipate and respond to change.
Rowell: What are some critical components of orienting board members to their work? LeBron, get us started.
Fairbanks: Take time to bring new members along, even sharing the Manual paragraphs on responsibilities. Early on, discuss the essential functions, roles, and responsibilities of the board. Share the best practices that characterize effective local church governing boards. This can be overwhelming to some members, so be sure to look at the two or three areas where the board most needs to focus. Continue to clarify the roles, responsibilities, purposes, and the function of the board.
Help new members understand the importance of board accountability. Dysfunctional boards air disagreements after the board meeting. After a vote has been taken and decisions are rendered, help new members understand the importance of being unified to the rest of the congregation. I also ask boards, “Are you growing as a Christian as a result of serving on this board?” Accountability must go beyond policy-shaping and development to service and care. After all the business is done, it is thrilling to be part of a board that asks each other, “How is it going with you and your family?”
Finally, new members need to understand that part of their role is to develop new leaders for increased responsibilities and commitment to the local church.
Rowell: LeBron, as you talked, I thought about having “outsiders” come occasionally to resource a board and a pastor in these kinds of ways.
Fairbanks: Sometimes an objective person, a consultant, a fellow believer, can come in and say things that even the pastor cannot say.
Gunter: We have our entire first board meeting (we call it “orientation”) in a fellowship context. We grill, relax with our spouses, and just hang out and talk for an hour to 90 minutes. Then, for 30 to 40 minutes, we meet to elect positions and review expectations. To be able to sit down and talk about life sets the context for doing leadership.
Rowell: Think with me about the board meeting agenda and how to structure a good meeting. What helps you to be effective?
Gunter: What is on the agenda is crucial, and we focus on four major components. One is prayer. We are spiritual leaders, not just leaders. We have to see our place and our role in a spiritual context, so we pray for one another, for the needs of the church, and for direction. Another component is leadership development, which we focus on for about 30 minutes every meeting. Earlier, we spoke about board rotation and term limits. We have two years on, then one year off, before you are eligible for re-election. At first, that bothered me; it seemed short. However, over 10 years, we have developed many leaders and many people understand what boards are about.
Another component is informational; we call it “FYI”: What does the board need to know, and what do we need to know from the board? We do not read reports during our meetings, but dispense them ahead of time and ask people to bring their questions. Finally, we look at action items, what individuals or committees want to bring up. If the action item suggested is not appropriate for the full board, we send it to committee, and bring it up next time, or by special vote or meeting, if necessary. So, we focus four basic components: prayer, leadership development, information, and action.
Rowell: Who sets the meeting agenda? Is the board actually approving an agenda?
Gunter: We send out a tentative agenda and ask members if they have items to add, and then we distribute another agenda with those items. So, we may send out two or three emails with the agenda, but it is based on conversation.
Solis: Ours is similar to that. We add a section called “Prayer and Praise,” which asks our people to share a prayer request or praise. Usually two or three things come out. It sets a tone, and I always try to add either a Scripture or a quote related to leadership.
Rowell: One board on my district has a policy on the ending time of their meetings. It requires board action to extend the time.
Well, this has been a productive and helpful conversation. We have been privileged to have our authors with us, and we are thankful for their book, Best Practices for Effective Boards. LeBron Fairbanks and Dwight Gunter, thank you for joining us. Also, thank you to these good pastors, and my colleagues: Dennis Solis, Anna Hayden, Dave Hazel, and Clark Armstrong. We thank you all for joining us.
*Editor’s Note: Transcripts of conversations can be especially difficult to edit, especially for smooth readability. This transcript was edited and, in places, was condensed or re-worked for clarity’s sake, while trying to ensure that the spirit of what was said remained.
About the Panel Participants:
CLARK ARMSTRONG is senior pastor of Victory Hills (KS) Church of the Nazarene
LeBRON FAIRBANKS is retired after serving as the former president of Mount Vernon Nazarene University and as the former commissioner of the International Board of Education for the Church of the Nazarene
DWIGHT M. GUNTER is senior pastor of Trevecca Community (TN) Church of the Nazarene
DEANNA HAYDEN is senior pastor of Southwood (MO) Church of the Nazarene
DAVID HAZEL is senior pastor of Village Community (KS) Church of the Nazarene
JEREN ROWELL (moderator) is superintendent of the Kansas City District
DENNIS SOLIS is senior pastor of Crosspointe (MO) Church of the Nazarene