The notion of ‘sacrifice’ is deeply ingrained in Christian understanding. The sacrificial rituals defined in the Old Testament were integral to Judaism, sustaining covenantal relationship with Yahweh and providing means of restoration and renewal. The incarnate Messiah presents himself as the unique, atoning sacrifice for human sin, as he is executed at Calvary and rises the third day. Followers of Jesus, in response to the grace of salvation, give themselves to God as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). Their entire lives become a constant offering of self in service to God (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-5). Spiritual life and service are defined by the category “sacrifice,” something modelled by Jesus himself (cf. Mark 10:45). We are defining a spiritual discipline as “attention paid to the instructions of Jesus such that we follow him obediently and take seriously our relationship with him.” If Jesus sacrificed himself and expected his followers to “take up their cross daily and follow him,” then sacrifice is a constant spiritual discipline for every believer.
Spiritually speaking, the service of a chair person, facilitating a church board in advancing the congregation’s mission, fits within this larger frame of being a “living sacrifice.” Your leadership constitutes a continual series of sacrificial acts offered in worship to God (1 Peter 2:4-5). Ancient sacrifices were costly and regularly resulted in the death of the victim. Board members are called upon to “present themselves as holy, well-pleasing sacrifices” expressing their worshipful service to God (paraphrasing Romans 12:1), willing to bear the cost and pain of such strategic, spiritual leadership.
But how does this spiritual discipline of sacrifice apply to board chairs and board members particularly? Probably the most significant aspect is the willingness to surrender our preferences in order to advance the mission. Or to put it more positively, to support what is good for the whole body, even though my personal preferences may not be accepted. After a rigorous discussion about eating meat that has been offered to idols, Paul concluded that “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). These are radical concepts — ones we all struggle to embrace and apply consistently. Yet, these are the principles that the spiritual discipline of sacrifice requires — from church board chairs and church board members.
This spiritual discipline is not counseling compromise, but rather the prayerful discernment of what is good for the body of Christ, given the mission, values and vision that it has embraced. Paul noted that the Christian attitude of ‘agape-love’ is “not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Sometimes our pursuit of this discipline may cause us to be the dissenting voice among the board members because we sincerely believe that the direction proposed ultimately will harm the body of Christ. We sacrifice our pride, our desire for unity, our longing to be accepted by others, because humbly we believe that our perspective has merit. Yet at some point we will have to come to terms with the fact that the other board members see things differently and so we have to be prepared to yield and trust God. As Earl Creps noted (Off-Road Disciplines, 163) “grace elicits more sacrificial service than Law ever can.”
As board chair the spiritual discipline of sacrifice hits us with respect to the time required to prepare well — we might prefer to spend that time doing other things. It hits us with the burden of congregational unity that we carry, struggling with our best wisdom and spiritual understanding to guide the board well. It hits us with the constant need to be gracious when people in the congregation get upset at decisions made by the board or do not understand the process that the board has followed. It hits us when we have to be courageous and present good, prudent board decisions to the congregation which desires to follow a different, potentially unwise path filled with significant risk and dangerous threat. It hits us when we are called upon to provide extraordinary financial support to advance the mission.
The spiritual discipline of sacrifice gets embodied in conflict of interest declarations. When people serve on a church board, they do so with the expectation that will not profit personally from decisions taken. If personal profit or benefit may derive from such a decision, then the board member has to excuse himself or herself from the discussion and perhaps even from the meeting.
Creps articulates this spiritual discipline of sacrifice as the “the ability to mold [one’s] life into a missional shape…to fit a purpose larger than [oneself]” (166). For Paul to follow Jesus meant beatings, whippings, ship-wreck, and physical hardship. Church board chairs in North America probably will not have to embrace this kind of sacrifice in pursuing God’s call to the spiritual service of chairing the board. However, they will have to embrace other kinds of sacrifice — identifying with people, loving people, pursuing the church’s mission with passion, working with organizational structures even when they seem cumbersome.