Ask that question to a dozen different people and you will get a dozen different answers. And all twelve will most likely be driven by opinions and experiences, mostly bad ones, from somewhere in their pasts. When it comes right down to it, most folks have no clue as to what a church board member is really supposed to do. But don’t tell them that. Most of them don’t know that they don’t know.
So, what are board members for?
In an oversimplified overview, a church board has three major functions: to insure that the church remains true to its doctrine and bylaws; to make sure the church operates within the law (mostly involving the IRS); and to provide resources for the church to accomplish its purpose.
Some church structures place the board in charge of all church business. The vision and direction of the church, along with the daily business practices, are decided and managed by the board. Staff members simply carry out the decisions mandated by the board.
This type of structure pulls the board from its birds-eye view of oversight down into the muck of daily operational decision-making. It is impossible for a board to function as an advisory and accountability group and, at the same time, manage the day-to-day operations. It’s like a husband giving himself marriage counseling when his wife wants a divorce. The family deserves (and needs) to have someone who is above the fray to give guidance and advice.
The church’s values and mission should be articulated in the bylaws and other foundational documents. The pastor, as the spiritual leader, should cast the vision for the church body. That vision will then determine the activities the church commits to and the way resources are used. (How the vision is formulated is the subject of another post). It is the board’s responsibility to make sure the vision and expending of resources support the church’s values and help accomplish the church’s mission.
The average church member would be astounded to know how many laws and regulations her church is subject to. The list grows larger and more complicated every day. The church board is charged with making sure that the daily business practices of the church fall within the acceptable range of these various regulations.
If the board is casting the vision and micromanaging the daily operations, who is the church’s “eye in the sky” watching over the entire process?
You cannot objectively evaluate the operations that you daily control. You need somebody who has no skin in the game who can give you an unbiased “big picture” assessment. When a board dictates a specific process, they own it. The more processes they own, the less objectively they view the operation. Eventually, their ability to hold themselves accountable becomes compromised.
It is far better to empower the leadership team and hold them accountable than to dictate specific actions.
With vision and mission set, the board can then determine what resources will be necessary for the church to be successful. From expensive investments in buildings and vehicles, to determining when additional staff or equipment is needed, the board has the important task of making sure the church has the resources to accomplish the purpose for which they are organized. This responsibility must be meshed with other board duties – such as making sure property is insured, income tax withholdings are not spent, reserve funds are secure – which again illustrate the importance of the board not being involved in the day-to-day operations so that they can make decisions based on the good of the whole organization.
For a church to be successful, there must be cooperation and unity of purpose between the church board and its spiritual leadership team. That unity begins with each group understanding their role and how it fits within the structure of the whole. That unity can only be maintained when each individual knows his particular place and is content to work within it.
In the future, we will take a closer look at all of that.