Pastors and their boards: How to connect

People who are called to ministry often have personality traits that are different from those who are called to work in the for profit sector. In addition, their training is different and so are their work worlds. Yet their two worlds intersect when pastors meet with their boards. With such very different backgrounds, how can they connect well?

The pastor’s world

A regional director for a denomination (who prefers to remain anonymous) recently gave me some great insights into pastors as organizational leaders. He says they must, and can, become good managers.

Ministers are primarily spiritual care-givers who work in a culture requiring of managers understanding and skill in four areas; the mind (non-clinical), communication, expediting, and administration. This requires them to often function outside their preferred trait. The challenge is to balance the care-giver orientation toward people with the task demands of managing the ministry.

Characteristically, most ministers are outgoing and gregarious, have high social service interest in directly helping people, strong persuasive tendencies and low or moderate interest in clerical or office work. They are happiest with artistic rather than managerial responsibilities. They generally have a people orientation and primarily prefer a communications-based culture designed to influence others, an intangible work environment that emphasizes collaboration, promoting, directing, and motivating others. They enjoy a culture of ideas, usually with a strong strategic focus, and a work environment that emphasizes planning, innovating, and creating.

To successfully lead in a multi-dimensional environment, pastors must be intentional with understanding the language, expectations and how individuals assess success in each of the four areas referred to earlier. Pastors and boards must be on the same page with not only what and how the church functions but why it exists and evaluate progress accordingly.

 As servants of the people, most pastors develop good management skills. Failure to address management issues eventually shows up as distrust at the board table. Leading well in today’s church environment requires pastors to have a knowledge of and progressive ability to manage the work of the ministry. You cannot separate ministry and management from a position of healthy influence and control.

This regional director gave me a much more nuanced understanding of the board-pastor relationship than I had before.

Church boards are made up of church members, and since only 12% of Canadians work in the nonprofit sector, chances are that most employed church members are used to the more task-oriented ways of business. This means that when they get together with a pastor who is most comfortable operating in the people-oriented realm, and discuss results and staff reports, they are likely to think the pastor is “shooting wide of the mark” when giving reports.

Target with bullet holes all over the place

Used with permission

What to do? As the regional director suggested, pastors must learn to work outside of their natural comfort zones and learn about administration and so forth. But could the board also show some flexibility and move towards the people-oriented side and meet in the middle somewhere? I think they can. Here’s how both pastors and directors can move towards a common understanding.

Board & Pastor Development

An easy thing is for:

  • Board members to learn about the differences between the charitable and for profit sectors, and
  • Pastors to learn about the organizational responsibilities entailed with having charitable status.

There are two free resources which should help accomplish both goals:

  1. A 30 minute webcast on the CCCC website called “Welcome to Charity Leadership.” This is a quick, high level overview of things that are unique about charities that directors and pastors must know.
  2. My post called Business people as charity directors discusses how directors from the for profit sector need to adjust their thinking and terminology when they sit on a charity board.

Check the governance model

Many church boards have adopted a policy governance model, which is the most liberating model for the staff. It works quite well when properly implemented, but only if the church has a fully functioning management team. Policy governance demands from staff expertise and a way of thinking that pastors may find difficult to provide without strong administrative staff support.

So in a church with no management staff, a management board (also known as a traditional board) may be more appropriate because it draws on the expertise of church members who have the requisite skills for the administrative work, and leaves the pastoral work to staff. My caution is that a management board requires directors to set aside personal preferences, and in a church setting where board members are also beneficiaries and donors, setting personal preferences aside can be difficult. I have a post about the unique challenges of church boards that provides more information on this topic.

If the board is committed to a policy governance model, and if there is an administrative staff, one solution would be to have the church administrator report to the board as well as the pastor. Policy governance allows for this. The problem, though, with having two staff reporting to the board is that the board must now resolve differences between its two reports. With a single report, such differences get worked out by the staff.

Another solution, perhaps the best one, would be to have the administrator prepare the pastor’s board reports (in which case the pastor is still accountable for everything the administrator puts in the report).

Ensure the pastor sees the value of administration

Anyone who feels a strong sense of God’s call will be absorbed by that call. A question that is always on their mind is, “What relevance does this or that have with my call?” Why should pastors care about board reports when they are driven by mission?

Well, there are two key reasons why a pastor should care about having a good reporting structure in place:

  1. Both the board and the pastor want the church’s mission accomplished, and board reports are a way that they can know that real results are being achieved and that the church’s programs are effective. Both parties should want to know the truth so they can make corrections. Who wants to arrive in heaven some day and discover the fruit from a lifetime of ministry wasn’t nearly what it could have been? Better to know now, when you can do something about it.
  2. Both the board and pastor should also be vitally interested in the church’s organizational health. Is the local church sustainable? What might it look like in 5 or 10 years if current trends continue? Pastors should be interested in knowing how secure their ability to live out their call is.  When pastors know that the church is meeting its civil responsibilities (eg., government filings, compliance with regulations), has a viable cashflow, is able to attract good staff, and has a growing membership, they can be assured that they will be able to continue working on their call in that local church if they continue to grow professionally themselves.

A common language for board and pastor

When boards design the reports it wants and requires the pastor to complete them, they are asking pastors to do something they probably would rather not give a lot of time to, while at the same time imposing a reporting structure on the pastor. I’m told that pastors are not against structure per se, but they don’t like imposed structure; they’d rather design it themselves. So designing the reporting requirements should involve both the board and the pastor.

Are the people-oriented pastors up for this? Yes! Pastors may not naturally be comfortable with the corporate-style language often used by board members, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a good handle on the church’s affairs. They just have another way of thinking about it and a different vocabulary to describe it. If the board and pastor can come to a common language for reporting that the pastor naturally relates to, they will both feel better about the reporting structure.

Christian agencies have long been using a theory of change as part of their strategic planning. This theory is a model that appeals to the logical and factual way directors often think. Pastors, however, are usually well-trained to think in terms of a ministry philosophy, which fortunately functions in a way that is very similar to a theory of change. If your pastor doesn’t have a ministry philosophy, there are some excellent reasons why they should make the effort to write one for the church. (The one they have may relate only to their own ministry portfolio.)

A ministry philosophy gives you:

  • a definition of mission
  • a way to link activities to mission and an opportunity to look for untested assumptions
  • a definition of success, and the basis for figuring out how to measure it

The questions the board should then ask the pastor are:

  • How do you know how well you are doing in fulfilling your call to ministry?
  • How do you know how well the church as a whole is fulfilling God’s purpose for it?

Some of the pastor’s answers may be tangible and measurable, but others may be anecdotal. That’s okay. Both quantitative and qualitative information is helpful. If it is difficult to define or obtain tangible measurements, you can fall back to other indicators of success.

How do you measure what is going on in the heart of a church member? Are they closer to Christ than a year ago? How do you measure that? You could consider other indicators of Christian growth. One might be engagement with the local church in terms of attendance, volunteering, and giving. Another might be the freshness of their testimonies of God’s work in their lives. Or you could ask people to share stories about how they live out their faith in the broader community, perhaps through volunteering or even informal, personal activities. The danger here is that you could become legalistic and start thinking of what people should be doing. The important thing is that people find their own ways to live and grow in their faith.

You can also take your board policies (“executive limitations” in policy governance parlance) and ask questions that get at those policies in terms the pastor thinks about. For example, if you have a policy about treatment of staff, you could ask:

  • Has each staff member had a formal performance review within the last year?
  • Do you have a professional development plan for each staff member?
  • What is the atmosphere in the office like? How would you describe the environment?
  • Is anything about staff troubling you?

Mutual support

This year’s regional seminar The Board’s Most Important Relationship (coming to a city near you this fall) covers many ways that pastors and boards can best support each other. Pastors and directors should attend and learn about the best practices of healthy board-staff relationships.

I’d welcome any ideas you may have on this topic. Please comment.

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Thoughts on Pastors and their boards: How to connect

    1. John PelloweJohn Pellowe Post author

      Hi Rose. There isn’t an easy yes/no answer to your question. When it comes to churches (but only churches), CCCC recommends that you follow your denominational policy or preference, which may allow pastors to serve on boards.

      For all other organizations, CCCC advises that paid staff not be on the board, for two key reasons:
      – Since one of the board’s primary functions is to hold staff accountable for use of the charity’s resources, it is a conflict of interest for the staff to be on the same body to which it is accountable
      – Trust law (in Common Law jurisdictions) treats paid staff on the board (or any personal financial benefit) as a conflict of interest, although if a government has passed legislation allowing staff to be on the board, that trumps trust law.

      You mention 3 pastors being on the board, but you don’t say how many board members there are. If the pastors are the majority of the board, it defeats the purpose of having a board (my opinion), since staff control all the decisions.

      Furthermore, what are the optics as far as the congregation is concerned? Is the board transparent? Are both the staff and board accountable to the congregation for stewardship of their tithes and offerings?

      I must note that there are churches where the pastor appoints the board (often when it is a church plant and there are no mature Christians in the congregation yet), or the board perpetuates itself by selecting new members as needed (without a congregational vote), and these may be acceptable. As a church member, I just want to be sure that my tithes and offerings are being used for good purposes.

      In the end, you need to decide if your church’s governance structure is one that you can support.

      Reply
      1. Rose

        It’s a Pentecostal church.
        There are 10 board members, and 3 of them are pastors.
        One of them is the Senior Pastor, one of them is the Admin Pastor
        (he deals with finances as well), and the other pastor is actually the treasurer of the Board.

        Reply
        1. John PelloweJohn Pellowe Post author

          Rose, it is good that the pastors are not the majority (assuming the rest of the directors are truly able to act independently). My concern, from a governance perspective, is that it appears the staff have pretty much complete oversight oversight of the church’s finances. My questions are: Is there an external financial audit? Does the board have an audit committee which excludes staff as members (hard to do when the treasurer is a staff member)?

          Rose, by asking questions I’m trying to help you think through what your position on this situation should be. I can’t judge anything about it without doing a lot more work, which I can’t do. The pastors or the board may have very reasonable answers to my questions. I suggest you go to a non-staff board member and see if you can get your questions answered.

          Blessings,
          John

          Reply
          1. Rose

            Thank you,
            I feel that this is wrong.
            I don’t know if I can report them, or have anyone audit them. If I can, I need it done CONFIDENTIALLY.
            Or if anyone would do anything about this.

          2. Rose

            It’s not that I want to get people in trouble, because I don’t.
            I just feel that what this church is doing is wrong.
            I need them exposed in a way, hopefully they will learn from it.
            They don’t listen to anyone anyways..
            Maybe a little kick in the butt.. but in a good way..
            Maybe they will listen to someone else..??

            Another question..
            What about credentials?
            Is it important for pastors to have credentials??
            One pastor at my church doesn’t have credentials.

          3. John PelloweJohn Pellowe Post author

            It is not unusual for some pastors to not have ministry credentials. Your senior pastor typically must have them, but there are varying practices for other pastors, such as worship pastors. Youth or children’s pastors may have a lower level credential such as “Recognized Ministry”, which is useful when someone doesn’t have a Bible college or seminary education, but has life experience and is gifted for a particular ministry.

            If they haven’t listened, and if you want to maintain anonymity, then your options are limited (short of just leaving the church and finding one with a governance structure more to your liking). First, I would contact your denominational office and ask about the scenario. There may be a reasonable explanation. A final option, one that I would think long and hard about before doing, would be to go to your provincial government (assuming you are in Canada). In Ontario and BC, you would go to the provincial Public Guardian and Trustee. In the other jurisdictions, you would go to the Solicitor General or Attorney General (whatever that role is called in that province). Only Ontario is likely to investigate a general complaint such as you have. If you have a specific allegation of wrongdoing, it is possible but still unlikely unless a major amount is at stake, that the other provinces would investigate.

            With this reply, I’ve given as much advice as I can. I pray that you find a God-honouring way forward!

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