Distinctive Functions of the Rural Church Board.
By Glenn Daman
A brief perusal of the various books available dealing with the role and function of the church board reveals that most of them have been written by those involved in a large church context. While there is much that we can learn from their experience, for many of the principles are transferrable to the rural church, it is important that we realize that there are uniqueness’s to the rural church and how the board functions. It is necessary, as we lead the church, that we understand these distinctive and that we learn to minister in the context of them in order to be effective as leaders of the church. The failure to understand these differences will result in frustration as people have different expectations. This is especially true as more and more urban people move into rural areas but do not have an understanding of how the rural church operates. Because of this, they have different expectations of themselves, the church and the board. Many times, these expectations come in conflict with the rural church culture.
The rural church board is Multi-task oriented. In the larger church, the more people’s involvement in the church is specialized. They are usually involved in one particular ministry and they are expected to perform that task with a high degree of professionalism and excellence. Because they have only one job in the church, they can devote all their time and energies to that ministry, making sure that it is run effectively. However, in the rural church, people are involved in a number of ministries, therefore they are required to be multi-task oriented, exercising their spiritual gifts in a number of different contexts. Instead of being specialized in ministry, they are to be general practitioners who may not be an expert in one particular area, but are responsible to be knowledgeable in a number of different areas. For example, a person may be a Sunday School teacher and a worship leader, requiring them to be both knowledgeable in teaching methods and in principles of worship. The same is true of the rural church board. In a large church, there are a number of different boards and ministry teams that oversee the various ministries. The responsibility of the church board is limited to the organizational and spiritual oversight of the church. Unless there are major problems in a particular area, they focus on specific aspects of the church ministry (the vision and organizational structures, budgets, goals, etc). In the rural church, the board is responsible to provide oversight over all the various ministries of the church. Not only are they to oversee the direction and goals of the church, but they must also provide oversight of the church facilities, the various ministries, and the minor issues confronting the church. Consequently, to be on the board, one must have knowledge of all aspects of the church ministry, not just a particular area. Thus, within the training of the board, we need to recognize that not only must we be trained on spiritual leadership, but also need to be taught the basic principles of all aspects of the various ministries of the church. We must not only learn what it means to be a board member, but we also need to have a general understanding of what is worship, what is an effective Christian Education program
The rural church board must be involved. Within the larger church, the person serving on the board is only expected to serve as a board member. They are not expected or even encouraged to be involved in another ministry, since that would only serve to distract them from their primary duty of serving the church as a board member. In the rural church, the board member is not only encouraged, but expected to be involved in other areas of ministry. Because the rural church functions by having a people who are willing to do a number of different tasks, the same is required for the leadership. The board member must not only set the example by being involved in other ministries as well, but people expect them to do so. If they are not involved, then people will question their commitment which will undermine their influence within the church.
The rural church Board has limited time available. Because the board member is involved in other ministries, they will have less time to be committed in the board. As a result, the board and pastor should be cognizant of how much time they require of the members and should be sensitive to the time commitment that the person is required to give when serving the board. Rather than have meetings merely because they are scheduled, we must make sure that we have a specific reason and purpose for the meeting. Furthermore, we should look for issues that can be delegated rather than occupy the board’s time. For example, many of the maintenance issues in a rural church may be delegated to several individuals who are assigned the responsibility to take care of the church rather than have the board evaluate every maintenance decision. The challenge for the board is to not get bogged down in the minutia of the ministry. While they provide oversight to all the ministries that must make sure to focus upon spiritual leadership and not get focused only upon organizational leadership.
The rural church board must be family oriented. The rural church functions as a family rather than an organization. As a result, the board and those on the board must be family patriarchs rather than Chief Executive Officers. They are not an executive board, rather they are family leaders. As family leaders we lead more by our example and influence than position and authority. Rather than being “elder ruled,” where the board makes all the decision, in a family it functions more as “elder led” where the board leads the congregation through recommendations and counsel. As the leaders of the church family, the board needs to be more in tune with all the needs and issues confronting each individual within the congregation. We need to be connected to people, where we are seen as someone who has a deep concern for the church. It also means that we are expected to attend all the church fellowship functions. Just as it would be unthinkable to have a family gathering without mom and dad present, so it is in the family church. Because the board is seen as the family leader, to fail to participate in ‘family gatherings’ is seen as a slight to the whole congregation.
The rural church board operates by consensus rather than votes. Because it operates as a family rather than a business, rural churches are reluctant to merely operate by a vote. Voting is seen to create divisions as people take sakes and oppose one another. If something is passed because a majority voted for it, but there was strong opposition to it, even those who voted for the decision will eventually undermine the implementation of the action. Instead, the rural church operates by consensus. Consensus is sought for when everyone is in agreement so that they will support the decision. This is true as well for decisions made on the board. This does not mean that people will not have differing ideas and thoughts, but in the end they can set aside those differences and support the resolution even though the decision would not had been the preferable choice to some people. This is why in the rural church board there is often no “official” vote taken. Even when there is a vote it is usually unanimous. This is not to say that there has not been heated debate, for often there has been. But that in the process the board continues to talk about the issue until there is a consensus by everyone. If there is strong opposition, even by a small minority, they will continue to discuss and look at alternatives, until they can come to a consensus. This is why rural churches are often criticized for being slow to make changes. It is not so much that the church is unwilling to change, but that they will continue to discuss and deliberate the proposals until a consensus is achieved, and this simply takes longer than to reach a point where a simple majority can decide the issue. To rush the decision merely for a majority vote is seen as potentially divisive, something that the rural church will avoid at all costs.
The rural church Board must remain unified. Because the rural church functions as a family, and they see the board as the leaders of the family, it is critical that the board remain unified, especially when the church is going through difficult times. While there is the need for open and honest (and yes sometimes heated) discussion within the board meeting itself, yet the board should always remain unified in its position within the church. Once a decision is made, then everyone should be supportive of that decision regardless of whether or not they felt it was the right one. While unity is important in every board and congregation, it is especially critical in the rural church. If a board member is critical publicly of the board, it can have a far greater impact in the congregation than a larger church where people are not as aware of the issues confronting the church. When confronted with difficult and potentially divisive issues, what sustains the unity of the church is the unity of board.
The rural church board determines the overall health of the church. In the large church, the health of the church is largely determined by the spiritual health and vision of the pastor and the staff. They are seen to be the leaders of the church and they will have the greatest impact on the overall health of the congregation. While the board certainly influences the church, their impact is lessoned by the fact that they are not involved in the day-to-day operation of the church and the people see the pastor and staff as the primary leaders. In the rural church the board plays a far more critical role. Because the pastors in smaller churches have a shorter tenure, the people tend to look to the board to be the ones to provide the leadership of the church. If the board is unhealthy, marked by division, spiritual shortsightedness, or immaturity, then the congregation will demonstrate the same spiritual weaknesses. Consequently, it is important that the board continually examine itself to make sure that it is demonstrating godliness in their conduct, searching scriptures in their decisions and following the spiritual instruction of the pastor. If the church is not healthy, then the board usually has no further to look than itself.