In the description of responsibilities that guide many church boards there is some statement to the effect that the board oversees the teaching office of the church. This is particularly the case in situations where the board is composed primarily of elders. Although the board members themselves, apart from the lead pastor, may not participate actively as teachers in the congregation, nonetheless they collectively are responsible to ensure that teaching consistent with the congregation’s values is occurring.
Precisely how a church board fulfils this function can be expressed in various ways. Presumably board members are present for the majority of the worship services and so hear first hand the preaching offered by the lead pastor and others. They do so first as members of the congregation responding to God’s Word, but also as advisors and evaluators, assisting the lead pastor to oversee the teaching office in the congregation. They will also be concerned with the teaching that occurs in other church-sponsored events. Generally this oversight occurs through the careful selection of trusted leaders for such programs. It also gets fulfilled through offering opportunities for training in teaching God’s Word and in some cases mandating which leaders need to participate from time to time.
There are at least two other teaching functions of a church board and they generally receive less attention. First, Scripture enjoins church leaders to be models and examples. Note this strong emphasis in 1 Peter 5:1-4 — “examples for the flock” — as well as the frequent encouragement in Paul’s letters that his audience should imitate his life in Christ. Church leaders — and this includes church board members — are always in a teaching mode formally or informally, individually and collectively. They model within the congregation mature discipleship in their speech and actions.
So if the congregation gets wind of dissension and poor relationships among board members, what does this teach the congregation about spiritual leadership? When a church board disregards the bylaws, even if it seems to be for good reasons, what message is this sending to the congregation about authority and submission within congregational life? When a board makes decisions that reflect obvious conflicts of interest, what ethical guidance does this provide to other believers? In every decision it takes, the board is teaching by word or example something about spiritual leadership. When boards consistently evaluate their own work as board members, this sends a message of accountability and a desire for excellence to all within the congregation. It is worth striving to make those lessons as excellent and positive as possible.
Secondly, within the church board teaching should have a high priority. Board members need to develop their spiritual and board-leadership competence. This becomes a continual pursuit of excellence. When the board demonstrates their desire to govern the congregation in the best way possible so that the mission gets advanced effectively, this builds trust and confidence in the board’s leadership.
The value placed upon individual and collective board learning can be emphasized in the written expectations developed for the board. A board governance committee can be mandated to oversee on behalf of the board this aspect of board life and to ensure that good learning opportunities are available for the board from time to time. Board retreats become good venues for such learning.
Church board chairs should be aware of the multi-dimensional aspects of the board’s teaching responsibilities. Brief reminders to the board members about this reality and responsibility can help them discern an important part of their spiritual role as leaders within the congregation.