All too frequently I hear pastors or church board members yearning to have more time in board meetings to deal with the “real spiritual issues” of ministry rather than the administrative or board stuff. Whether it be financial reports or policy development, facility issues or human resource questions, somehow for many church board members this is not the stuff that is the heart of “spiritual ministry” that should be the focus of church board deliberations.
Exactly what belongs in this “spiritual ministry” circle rarely gets defined. People just intuitively know it when they see it. Apportioning funds from the benevolent fund to assist a family is “spiritual ministry” but developing a budget to manage the ministry programs of the congregation is not. Caring for the spiritual needs of the congregation by providing good pastoral counseling is overseeing “spiritual ministry,” whereas ensuring that members of the congregation have a safe, clean, and inviting facility for worship and activities is not. Investing in the leadership training of volunteers is “spiritual ministry,” but providing fair and positive human resource policy for congregational employees so that they can flourish in their roles is not. I am sure you could add to the list of anomalies from your own church board experience.
What leads to this schizophrenic perspective in church board operations? I think the foundation for this continual battle between spiritual work and the mundane lies in a faulty understanding of life in Christ. What changed in our lives when by God’s grace we received his gift of salvation in Christ? In various places in the New Testament this transformation is described. For example, in Galatians 2:21 Paul says that “I no longer am living, but Christ is living in me. The life I am living in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God,…” Or consider Romans 8:28: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Our conversion has “made us new in the attitude of our minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Everyday we commit ourselves to God “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God….transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:1-2). We see everything now through the Spirit’s perspective, as we live as agents of Jesus Christ. Everything we do occurs under the mantle of the Spirit, with whom we keep in step. We bring the Spirit of God into every place, every decision, every moment of our lives. Every space now becomes sacred space for us because our lives are consumed with the worship of God 24/7.
So when mature believers gather as a church board to advance the mission of the congregation, the Spirit of God gathers with them. He ‘sanctifies’ the agenda and their work together. It is all sacred work contributing to the health of God’s people and the advance of the kingdom. Because our lives collectively and individually form the “temple of the Spirit,” we have the capacity, as Peter affirms, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God as we carry forward the activities of our days under the Lordship of Jesus. This does not mean that spiritual warfare does not exist, rather it magnifies its reality, but gives us hope that we have the victory in Christ over our pride, selfishness, greed and ambition.
I also think that wrong perceptions arise from common interpretations of Acts 6:1-7. Every indication we have from this text describes the entire process as a spiritual exercise conducted for the spiritual health and welfare of the Jerusalem church. The development of diverse areas of responsibility was not a division between the spiritual and the mundane. The diakonia of widows’ care (6:2) is matched by the diakonia of the word (6:4). The qualifications of those responsible, i.e. being filled with the Spirit and wisdom (6:3), are necessary for both kinds of spiritual assistance. The appointment of Stephen to oversee the care of widows does nothing to hinder his spiritual ministry of teaching and evangelism. Their work together enabled “the word of God to grow and the number of the disciples to multiply” (6:7). We do a disservice, in my opinion, when we use this passage to suggest that the work of some Christian leaders is less spiritual than others. That is not the point of the text.
When such perspectives are left unchallenged, it erodes the effectiveness of the church board. Some members who consider themselves “elders” will become impatient with the board’s necessary attention to finances, facilities, employees, and policy development. They long to give attention to the “spiritual ministry” that in their view the Bible calls elders to pursue. Those in the board who struggle to see themselves as spiritual leaders will be uncomfortable or feel unqualified when the board discusses theological questions, deals with member restoration, or considers ways and means to enhance evangelism. They will sense they have little to contribute to such discussions. This split in the self-perception of board members can lead to some regarding themselves as the spiritual elite. It might lead to discussions about setting up two boards, one that looks after spiritual matters and one that attends to mundane issues. However, such a move inevitably results in conflict and division sooner or later. Finally, it can lead some board members to fail in their due diligence because they pick and choose among the board issues in which they have interest.
What can a chairperson do to help a church board develop a more holistic understanding of the work of a church board in terms of the spiritual oversight of the congregation?
1. The chairperson must first develop a clear understanding on such matters and know the firm basis in Scripture for such a Kingdom perspective. Without such clarity the chair will be subject to the opinions of the more vocal board members.
2. In developing the board agendas use titles for specific issues that help board members connect the specific matter with the spiritual health of the congregation. For example, if it is a matter of facilities, then perhaps in the agenda describe it as “Repairs for the safety of the congregation in ministry” or something similar. If it is financial in scope, then link the discussion to the ministry programs that will be resourced by the decision. In other words keep the agenda items closely linked with the advancement of the mission.
3. In the board’s initial worship times use your opportunity to raise this question and suggest some Scripture that encourages a more holistic understanding of the spiritual ministry of the church board.
4. When you hear banter or comments in the board meeting in which a board member expresses a wish to spend more time on the “real spiritual challenges facing the congregation,” then it might be an opportunity to remind all of the board members how their entire work together advances and supports the congregation’s spiritual life.
5. Perhaps a conversation with the lead pastor will be a significant and strategic step, because the lead pastor may be one of the elders that chaffs under the necessity to discuss matters of finance, facilities, etc.