In 2006 John Kaiser’s book “Winning on Purpose. How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in their Mission” was published by Abingdon Press. He presents an organizational strategy which he terms “accountable leadership,” describing how to “set up congregations for success in mission by setting up their pastors for success in leadership” (21). He acknowledges that his book “has been influenced most by Paul Borden’s ‘staff-led model,’ John Carver’s ‘policy governance model,’ and Stephen Block’s ‘executive director-concerted model'” (8). His ideas arise from a extensive base of denominational and local church leadership experience and consultation work.
Kaiser operates within some very definite boundaries. For example, he asserts categorically that “a board member is not the pastor” (20). He distinguishes intentionally between governance and leadership. A congregation not only must articulate its mission, but must also require its accomplishment. The critical factor connecting these two aspects of mission is “the organizational culture of the congregation, which is woven from its deepest values…that determine how money, time and attention are distributed” (27). He reveals “a high value on strong pastoral leadership is central to the strategy in this book” (29). Another key idea is that “groups are led” and cannot normally provide leadership.
I want to affirm at the beginning that there is much to commend in Kaiser’s book, particularly his passion to discern strategies that enable congregations effectively to accomplish their mission. The key to this in his view is defined responsibility with effective accountability. Those familiar with Carver’s principles, for example, can see how Kaiser adapts Carver’s ideas in order to define his “accountable leadership” model. Kaiser’s emphasis on the distinction between governance and management and the clear delineation of the relationship between the church board and the lead pastor reflect his wise judgment.
Implementing “accountable leadership” requires a church board and lead pastor to develop and operationalize three groups of principles — mission principles, boundary principles, and accountability principles. In the case of the first two sets of principles the direction flows from the board to the lead pastor. In the case of the third, the direction flows from the board to the chairperson (110). These sets of principles and their appropriate implementation enable then the board to “play governance,” the lead pastor to “play leadership,” the staff to “play management,” and the congregation to “play ministry.”
Before assessing some specifics, let me comment upon a few general aspects. He defines leadership “for our purposes” as the “position that provides vision, direction, and teaching to achieve the mission” (106) and he limits it to the pastoral role. I found his limitation suspect. If as he argues the board determines the ends which the congregation must attain to fulfill its mission, then surely this expresses strategic leadership. If one of the significant board responsibilities is evaluating the pastor, this requires them to exercise leadership. I would also suggest that the church board must participate vigorously in defining vision and setting direction. It is also responsible to ensure that the teaching office within the congregation is entirely appropriate to the mission.
A similar problem arises in Kaiser’s categorization of the congregation’s function as “ministry” (note his distinction on page 107 where he states “the board does not exist to ministry” even though “the individuals on the board are also members and therefore ministries,…(107). This creates potential confusion and contradicts the New Testament concept of diakonia (ministry) as something that every believer engages as part of their calling in Christ. The board, the pastor, the staff and the congregation are doing “ministry” in all of their activities.
I think his designation of the lead pastor as “the elder” in the congregation does not coincide with New Testament teaching. From the limited data we do have in the New Testament it seems that local churches often operated with a number of “elders.” If other members of the church board also serve as “elders,” then their “leadership” contribution within the congregation needs some recognition, as well as accountability, particularly as they exercise their leadership in governance.
Even though he affirms that the congregation appoints board members, he does not make the board accountable to the congregation. Rather, the board is accountable to Christ, the head of the church. While I understand the theology for his statement, I think it disregards the reality that the board must steward the trust of the congregation and in this sense has to consider itself accountable to the congregation. Perhaps the board demonstrates its accountability to Christ by being accountable to Christ’s mission and his body.
I am going to focus my comments on Kaiser’s tenth chapter entitled “The Board Plays Governance.” Already in chapter three Kaiser states some key ideas about governance: “the board undergirds the pastor in a similar way that the staff supports the congregation. The function of governance is to support and ensure effective pastoral leadership using the Guiding Principles” (47). Figure 3.4 “Accountable Leadership Functional Chart” expresses this clearly. However, although it is a very important part of a church board’s role (and I would certainly make it one of a church board’s top priorities), it is not its only role. For example, risk oversight surely deserves separate mention. He repeats this description of the role of governance at the beginning of chapter ten, namely to “provide the crucial…combination of accountability and support for (my italics) [on the same page he repeats this but says “to provide accountability and support to (my italics) the pastor” — I do not know whether the change in prepositions is important] the pastor, which safely allows the pastor to empower the members for ministry” (107). The board focuses all of its energies on enabling the pastor to lead, because the pastor is “responsible for the entire congregation.” However, I would submit that the congregation holds the church board accountable for its nurturing its life and advancing its mission. A key part of the board’s response to this mandate will be the support and empowerment of the lead pastor.
In chapter ten he explains “who the board represents, where the board sets standards, what the board monitors, and how the board supports the pastor.”
Kaiser denies that the members or congregants “own the church.” Rather he argues that “our congregation belongs to Christ and to those who Christ calls his Church to serve” (109). Yes, a church board’s allegiance is first to Jesus Christ as Lord of the local church. In his view the “first task of a governing board is representation” of this “moral ownership.” However, he does not explain how the board demonstrates accountability to this ownership. If the congregation appoints the board, surely there is some accountability to the congregation by the board for its “stewardship of this trust.” I agree that the board does not represent personal agendas, people groups and ministry departments, rather the board’s loyalty is primarily to the mission defined by the congregation in the constitution and bylaws. This mission is the one that Jesus Christ defined for his church.
I agree that the board, one of whose members is the pastor, has to establish guiding principles to direct its operations (“accountability principles”), define its relationship to the lead pastor and define the limits of his ‘authority’ (“boundary principles”), and also define the ends which must be achieved if the mission is to be accomplished (“mission principles”). These principles express, among other things, how the board will support and hold accountable the pastor.
He also identifies that the one “who makes sure that these vital tasks of governance actually get done and get done right” (106) is the chairperson (110). The accountability principles define “the process of governance agreed upon by the board and the pastor” (111). One might want to suggest that the congregation has something to say about accountability principles because some aspects will be set forth in the congregation’s bylaws. Kaiser emphasizes three kinds of accountability: “the accountability of the board to the Owner and his beneficiaries, the accountability of the board to itself for the integrity of its work, and the accountability of the pastor to the board for fulfilling the mission and respecting the boundaries” (111). Kaiser has expressed well these aspects of board work.
I think the only other place in his book where he discusses the role of the board chair is on pages 113-14. . There is no listing in the index for this function. While he acknowledges the importance of the role, he limits its function quite severely, namely “to see that governance [as Kaiser defines it] happens.” He advises against a pastor serving as chairperson because of the accountability issues. I would add as well the huge potential for conflicts of interest. Kaiser’s comments regarding the chairperson’s role are helpful as far as they go, but I think much more could and needs to be said for example about the relationship between the chairperson and the lead pastor, about the chairperson’s leadership within the board, and about the chairperson’s own development.
If as I argue throughout this website that a church board is the strategic leadership ministry team in a local congregation, then the chairperson has to be the second, key leader within the congregation. I would agree that the pastor has some voice in establishing the board’s agenda, but I am not sure the pastor leads in this regard (115). Nor does the pastor lead “in the deliberation of the board’s decisions.” I would argue that this is the responsibility of the chairperson. I would not use the term “enforce” to describe how the chairperson relates to the board (see Kaiser’s Figure 10.1). The chairperson as Carver indicates serves the board as the board may define those responsibilities. This role enables the board to do its work effectively, filled with missional intent.
There is a fine line to be drawn between the board’s responsibility to set boundary principles for the pastor and the thought that the board “controls the pastor.” The board does not “manage” the pastor, but the board does delimit the boundaries for the pastor’s work and these boundaries can change. Annual evaluation also implies that the board exercises some responsibility for the vocational development of the pastor.
I miss any sense that the work of the board is “worshipful work,” filled with the Holy Spirit’s power and wisdom. Nor is there any direction about how the board as a group discerns the will of God collectively. His annotated bibliography is helpful.
If as Kaiser argues the governing board within a congregation plays a significant role in supporting the pastor, then perhaps the thesis of his book needs to be altered somewhat. He “seeks without apology to set up congregations for success in mission by setting upon their pastors for success in leadership” (21) and their boards for success in governance.