Qualities of a Small Church Board
By Glenn Daman
In 1 Timothy 3:1-13 Paul sets for the various qualities and characteristics that are essential to leadership. These requirements are foundational for all board members regardless of the size, location and polity of the church. However, within each church there are qualities that are essential in order for the individual to be effective within the specific congregation. Every church has a specific culture and distinctives that mark out the uniqueness of that particular congregation. Just as people have their own personalities that make them unique from others, so also every church has its own personalities and uniqueness’s that distinguish it from all other congregations even within their own denomination. These distinctives are more than just theological or even constitutional. They penetrate to the very fabric of the congregation. These distinctives relate to the specific culture, the interpersonal relationships, expectations (expressed or unexpressed) and attitude of the people within the congregation. If we are to be effective within the small church we need to understand the expectations and underlying qualities that the small church desires of its leaders, otherwise we will find ourselves at odds with the congregation and unable to effectively lead the congregation.
In order for a leader to be effective and gain the respect and following of those we serve we must demonstrate ownership of the ministry of the church. Ownership is both an action and an attitude. When we speak of ownership of the church we are referring to our sense of responsibility for all aspects of the church. We do not look for others to take responsibility for the ministry, rather we take responsibility ourselves. Often when people are placed on the board they fulfill their duties out of a sense of obligation because they are on the board. While they are on the board they are involved in the ministries and decisions of the church. However, when they are off the board, they become uninvolved, merely attending the church and expecting others to take the initiative and responsibility for the ministries and growth of the congregation. This belies a lack of ownership. Ownership has a sense of responsibility regardless whether the person is in an official position of leadership or not. People who have ownership in the church do not expect or wait for others to take the initiative do make sure things are being done in the church, rather they take responsibility themselves. First it involves taking ownership in the overall health of the congregation. The health of the church is not dependent solely upon the pastor. If it is, we are setting up not only for the pastor to fail, but also for the church to become and/or remain in a state of poor health. Second, it involves taking ownership in the outreach of the church. Research continues to demonstrate that most people attend a church because of the invite of a friend or family member. Rarely do they attend because of the pastor. Therefore, if the church is going to reach its community, everyone, and especially the board, must accept the responsibility for inviting others to church. Third, ownership includes responsibility for the ministries and needs of the congregation. Too often 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work within the church. Many are content to sit on the sidelines waiting for other to take the initiative to get involved. When asked to get involved, they are too busy with other things yet they complain when things are not being done. As board members we are not to look for others to get things done, rather we set the standard for being involved. We are not content to merely sit on the sidelines. Rather we get involved in order to build and strengthen the church.
Providing an Example
The health and involvement of the congregation will never rise above the spiritual health and involvement of the board therefore it is critical that the leadeshhip of the church provide an example for the church. But this not only involves the present but it involves the past and future as well. When a person is placed on the board by a congregation it is because they are respected by the congregation. While every board member, regardless of the size, should provide an example for the church to follow (see 1 Timothy 4:12), it is especially critical in the small church. Because the congregation is small, people not only know everyone, they know all about their daily lives. In a large church, most people in the pew will not know the board member (except by name only), much less how the person conducts his life during the week. No so in the small church. Everyone not only knows the board members, they know their life both within the church and outside the church. Even children know about the person and will emulate their life based upon the example provided by the leadership of the church. However, tragically, after serving on the board, many board members stop being involved and living as consistent disciples. The result can have a lasting impact upon the lives of those within the church. It is important that the small church board member understand the impact that their lives will have upon others, not only in the present, but in the future as well. Just because we are no longer on the board does not mean that we are no longer leaders in the church.
The small church is relationally driving. The leadership will be evaluated, not by their effectiveness or even their knowledge of church administration, but by their ability to relate well to others within the congregation. Unlike the large church where the congregation functions as an association, the small church functions as a family where family connections play an important role. These family connections may be spiritual, connecting people together based upon a shared spiritual history, or they may be physical, driven by family ties that span generations. The effective board member recognizes the place these have within the congregation and learns to operate within them. Although this does not preclude a new member from being elected to the board, we will either gain or lose credibility based upon how well we maintains the relational ties of the congregation. This begins by being a person who spends time with others within the congregation. An effective board member is one who is hospitable, taking time to spend with others within the congregation. However, it is also important to realize that as a board member his ultimate responsibility is to God. While it is critical to work together with the main family (or families) within the church, the board must not allow the dominate family to run roughshod over the whole congregation. The task of the board is to make sure that everyone is heard and everyone is equally ministered to.
Maintaining the Heritage
A corollary to the family nature of the small church is the importance of heritage within the church. Heritage is more than shared history; it is the fabric that serves to connect the church not only with people in the present, but people in the past as well. Heritage is the events, people and circumstances that made a significant contribution to the past and present health and growth of the church. When a person comes on the board they are seen to be guardians of the heritage of the congregation. The decisions they make, while driven by the present circumstances and needs of the congregation are not to undermine or violate the heritage. If people in the congregation perceive the board or members within the board to violate that heritage, they will begin to question the legitimacy not only of the decisions, but of the board member as well. Learning the heritage is important; especially when a person is placed on the board who does not have a long history within the church. This is obtained by listening to the stories people share when they are talking about the church. These stories may be about a person, such as Betty’s long time involvement in the Sunday School, or about events, such as the church building a new addition. As the board leads the church, they must not only do so with an eye upon that shared history, but also with a focus of tying the present events to the past heritage.
Last an effective board member is one who is a servant to the congregation. In an age when we often view leadership from the context of authority, in the small church it is important to view leadership from the context of being a servant. A servant is someone who is not out for their own personal agenda, or demanding that things go according to their ideas. Instead, a servant is one who is more concerned about ministering to the needs of others and helping them than they are about exercising authority. If a person seeks the position of being a leader because they want to have authority in the church, in many ways they are disqualified from being a leader. In the small church they desire board members who serve more than lead. This does not mean that the board does not have authority, they do, and at times they must exercise that authority. Nor does it mean that the board does not lead, they do. The board must be able to lead the church by setting spiritual and organizational direction for the congregation. However, the focus must be upon being a servant first and foremost. A servant is one who is not afraid to get in the trenches to help others be successful. A servant is one who does not allow his personal priorities from hindering him from being present when people are in need. A servant is more concerned about the needs of others than they are their own. A servant recognizes that Christ is the Shepherd and we are merely his under-shepherds.