This week we are talking about a pastor’s church board. I’ll never forget how hard I laughed at a Saddleback conference when Rick Warren asked us if our church was “Deacon-possessed?!” Yeah, some of you were there and heard it too! All in good fun…
On Wednesday Dave Jacobs joins Jonny and me to talk about what to do if you have a dysfunctional church board. However… before we think about the dysfunctionality of our church board – I have three thoughts for you about the men and/or women on your board:
Board members are people too.
The men and women on your board are real people with real lives and real relationships. Sometimes we only see our board members in the board room. We might see them as questioning us (as well they should), poking holes in our ideas, not getting right on board with our programs and initiatives, and generally making our leadership tougher.
What we don’t see are the people they left behind to attend the meeting, or the frustrations they experienced at work, at home, or with the in-laws or neighbors. We don’t see their fears and failures that haunt them more often than they care to admit. We don’t see their past experiences with pastors, who ran an end run around them, failed to consult them when they should have, or simply disappointed the heck out of them when they resigned and left – with the board member left behind thinking they actually had a relationship.
Bob was increasingly irritable and obstinate in our board meetings for the previous few months. I was frustrated with him and wished he were not on the board. He had not been this way, and I assumed that my recent decisions must be angering him. I assumed, until I found out that he and his wife were divorcing. After 24 years of marriage, he just could not stand the thought of another 24 years, and he pulled the plug. He did not want to, but her incessant behavior forced his hand. Oh, that’s why he’s been this way…
Board members overwhelmingly don’t set out to make a pastor’s day harder, meeting tougher, or life more miserable. They are real people who have stepped forward, or been appointed forward – to fill a role for God and his church. Board members are people too.
Board members are often in over their head.
Pastor, do you ever feel overwhelmed, unduly burdened, or stressed out? So do your board members. Ever feel frustrated and perplexed as to how to move the church forward with this board? The board may feel the same way “with this pastor.” (ouch) Do you ever feel like you just don’t know how to move the ball down the field at this church? Your board members may often be in the same place, and feel like they are in over their head.
George was named chairman of the board he served on, and assumed the role without objection. His performance was lackluster at best, but he never let on how confused and lost he was. He made decisions he knew would trouble others, trying to find a reason to be asked off the board. Finally, he objected to a routine decision by the pastor and resigned, leaving the church. He could not find it in himself to be honest and admit weakness, and boardroom ignorance. It would have been okay. Really.
It might not hurt to admit your fears and weaknesses Pastor, and ask if anyone in the room can identify with you. Once you knock down the first domino of admission and authenticity, others will fall. The sheer relief people feel when they’re able to admit weakness and struggle is liberating if not exhilarating. After most of you share honestly, you’ll find yourselves on a level playing field and hopefully realize you’re all on the same team. Sometimes board members feel like they are in over their heads.
Board members are looking to you as not just a leader, but also a shepherd.
Your board members want to know that someone is steering the ship, yes. They also want to know that someone cares for their soul. They should have confidence that if they share their honest assessment of an issue with you that you will still love them and shepherd them, and not nurse a grudge or hold them at arm’s length.
If they had to choose between your leading them or your shepherding them, it would only take one life crisis to prove which one is most valuable.
I had been in bed for forty minutes and asleep for twenty when the phone rang and caught me fuzzy headed. Someone asked in a panic if I would come right away. Less than five minutes later I knocked on their front door.
Dave, a board member, opened the door and said, “Pastor, what is going on?! This is not supposed to happen. She’s only 51 years old.” She was his wife, and lay dead right there on the living room floor, her eyes open but vacant. I did not ask him at the time, but I’m very certain that what Dave needed right then was not a leader, but a shepherd.
Those next weeks and months with Dave were a shepherd’s task, not a leader’s. We didn’t get called by God and go to seminary to be a leader, but a pastor – a shepherd. Several years later I got to be Dave’s best man as he remarried. He needed me more as a best man that day than the minister performing the wedding. So cool.
Watch your heart and your attitude toward your board members. They’re people too, with real hurts and real feelings. They may be in over their heads and afraid to admit it, or they may not be willing to be honest, for fear they will forfeit their relationship with you, and they’ll be a sheep without a shepherd.
As one of my board members often says – “We’re all dysfunctional, and everyone’s a study…”
See you on Wednesday for Episode 58 – What To Do If You Have A Dysfunctional Board. It's going to be a good one!
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